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'Brain Drain' or 'Brain Exchange': What Is the Cost When Immigrant Entrepreneurs Go Home?

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For a majority of highly skilled immigrants who want to start companies today, the promised land is no longer the United States, according to a recent report from the Kauffman Foundation. Some experts say the flow of immigrants back home to countries like India and China is a "brain drain" that robs the U.S. of new jobs and companies, and requires an immigration policy overhaul. Others see the flow as more of a "brain circulation" that benefits economies on both sides of the sea.

Wadhwa, a senior research associate at Harvard Law School and director of research at Duke's Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization, falls on the "brain drain" end of the spectrum. "It's not a brain drain; it's a brain hemorrhage," he insists. He sees the flow as a policy problem, the result of a visa system that broke down after 9/11 and the dot-com bust, stymying more than half a million skilled immigrants. Would-be entrepreneurs now wait years in "green card limbo," stuck in jobs tied to H-1B visas that allow neither transfer nor promotion, Wadhwa notes. "Not only can you not start a company, but you are stagnant in your career."

It's a world away from three decades ago, when Wadhwa immigrated from India. "It took me 18 months to get a green card," he recalls. He started his first company 15 years later -- and wasn't alone. In fact, one out of every four technology and engineering companies launched between 1995 and 2005 had at least one immigrant founder, Wadhwa discovered in a nationwide survey of more than 2,000 companies in 2007. In Silicon Valley, the number was 52%.    More...

Source: Knowledge@Wharton

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