The United States faces intense competition from foreign countries, especially China, who seek to persuade highly skilled citizens who have settled in our country to return home to start businesses there, according to a report released Tuesday by an immigration group led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York.
“China is proving the most aggressive and ambitious” among the United States’ economic competitors in seeking to reverse a brain drain and lure back their scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs, the report by Mr. Bloomberg’s group, the Partnership for a New American Economy, found.
The report is broadly critical of the American immigration system, which says is slow, inflexible and not in sync with the nation’s labor needs. “Self-inflicted economic wounds” caused by the system, the report says, discourages foreigners from investing and blocks foreign students with advanced degrees from American universities from remaining here.
Two years ago, China started a program focused on “talent development” to draw in Chinese who studied or worked abroad, according to the report. China offers bonuses equivalent to about $158,000 to experienced university professors and researchers, particularly in the sciences and technology, who return to teach.
Returning scholars and business people are offered housing subsidies and even tax exemptions to locate new enterprises in government-designated districts. One program is designed to attract Chinese expatriates who hold overseas patents in specialized science fields, the report found. China is also recruiting Chinese managers in high-level positions in non-Chinese companies.
A review of the results of the Chinese program showed that 55 percent of Chinese who returned under its auspices came from the United States.
Last year, the study found, about 160,000 students from China were enrolled in American universities, more than from any other country, and they were far more likely than Americans to be studying engineering, science or technology. While the growth of American students in those fields is “among the lowest of any academic category,” the analysis reported, about 60 percent of foreign graduate students in this country in 2010 were enrolled in those subjects.
With limits on residence visas for foreign students graduating from American universities, thousands have been forced to leave in recent years. The United States has no visa for foreign entrepreneurs with novel ideas for starting businesses here, unless it is in the national interest and even that visa is incredibly difficult to meet the requirements.
Canada and other countries are also vigorously recruiting highly skilled foreigners trained in the United States who are frustrated with the cumbersome immigration system here, according to the report.
Singapore gives a one-year visa as well as matching funds to foreign entrepreneurs who invest $50,000, with the possibility of renewal. Chile offers work visas and subsidies up to $40,000 to technology entrepreneurs who go there to start businesses.
Mr. Bloomberg has been an outspoken advocate for immigration, saying it has been vital to the continued growth of New York. The report dismissed as a “short-term challenge” the lingering high unemployment in this country that has generated forceful resistance to expanding immigration in Congress.
In a move Tuesday that showed progress in the American system, but also highlighting its inefficiencies, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that grants immigration documents, started a Web site where for the first time foreigners can apply electronically. Until now, all procedures have been done on paper.
Alejandro Mayorkas, the agency’s director, called the Web site a “significant milestone” in its history.
For now, though, the site will handle only one type of application, for temporary visitors who want to stay longer. The agency hopes all documents will be processed electronically “within the next few years,” said Christopher Bentley, an agency spokesman.
While the change by USCIS is significant to making the process less cumbersome and more manageable for foreign travelers, until those changes can also apply to helping retain talented individuals, the reverse “brain drain” will continue so long as the U.S. remains in a recession.