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George Will and I don't share the same political views at all, but I've
usually given him credit for careful, tightly-reasoned analysis. Yet
unfortunately, no well-reasoned argument has much chance of being
correct when it is based on false premises, as is Will's column enclosed
below. And some of the reasoning itself is strikingly poor.
Here is his key passage:
# Two-thirds of doctoral candidates in science and engineering in U.S.
# universities are foreign-born. But only 140,000 employment-based green
# cards are available annually, and 1 million educated professionals are
# waiting -- often five or more years -- for cards. Congress could
# quickly add a zero to the number available, thereby boosting the U.S.
# economy and complicating matters for America's competitors.
Will may not be an expert on the education system or the tech industry,
but even he should have realized that we aren't producing 140,000 new
foreign PhDs in science and engineering per year. The actual number in
2000, for example, was 29,951, for instance. (See
http://www.nber.org/digest/jan05/w10554.html) Moreover, PhDs get
priority in the immigration queue. So why does Will think 140,000 per
year isn't enough?
To be fair, it must be mentioned that spouses and minor children are
included in the cap. On the other hand, Will doesn't explain why we
need all these PhDs anyway. His main example, the late American
inventor Jack Kilby, didn't have a doctorate, nor do Bill Gates, Larry
Ellison, Steve Jobs or the vast majority of others who've made big
impacts on the tech industry. Andone has to wonder why Will thinks we
need to bestow green cards on, for instance, all those doctorates with
dissertations on color change in chamaeleons.
It gets worse. Though Will may be correct in his statement that "1
million educated professionals are waiting [for green cards] -- often
five or more years," had he done his due diligence he would have found
that these people don't have PhDs, nor do they even have Master's
degrees. These are Bachelor's-level people, in the EB-3 category, the
lowest of the three employment-based green card categories. Those PhDs
Will wants so much are in the EB-1 and EB-2 categories, and the wait in
those categories is quite short. Indeed, as of Sept. 2007, the wait was
ZERO for EB-1, and it has been zero or short for a long time. See the
details at http://heather.cs.ucdavis.edu/Archive/WadhwaIII.txt.
Will speaks of these foreign workers in the same breadth as Jack Kilby,
inventor of the computer chip. Yet he offers no evidence for this
implicit comparison of brilliance or creativity. On the contrary, the
vast majority of the foreign tech workers being sponsored for green
cards are ordinary people, doing ordinary work, for ordinary wages.
Will offers the argument that at worst, it doesn't hurt to have these
people around. Well, it DOES hurt. If Kilby were to come of age and
enter the field today, he likely would never get a chance to innovate.
Upon graduation, he would probably be shunted into one of the "talking"
jobs, such as customer support or production control, while the foreign
workers are hired to do the real engineering work. If he did manage to
get engineering work at first, he would find it more and more difficult
to get such work once he reached age 35 or so, as young foreign workers
are paid much less than older Americans. Even the pro-industry NRC
report, commissioned by Congress, documented extensively that engineers
have trouble getting work in the field 10 or 15 years after graduation.
All this is even more interesting in light of the fact that Kilby filed
his patent for the computer chip when he was 36.
In fact, Will's point that large numbers of the PhDs that U.S.
universities produce are foreign students itself shows why it DOES hurt
to have these people around. Back in 1989, our National Science
Foundation called for an increase in the number of foreign students in
order to keep PhD salaries down--yes, this was their explicit
rationale--and moreover, the NSF pointed out that the resulting low
salaries would drive domestic students away from pursuing doctorates,
which of course is exactly what happened. (See
The proposals now in Congress to give automatic green cards to new
foreign graduates in science and engineering would make things even
worse than what the NSF wanted. As mentioned above, young workers have
lower wages than older ones, and almost all the new grads are young. So
the proposals would swell the labor pool at the young end, making it
even harder for our Jack Kilbys to make a viable career out of
engineering. No wonder our brightest young people with top math talent
are finding it far more lucrative to pursue careers in finance than in
Does that matter? You bet it does. America's only advantage over the
rest of the world is its innovativeness. Most of the foreign workers
come from cultures which do not foster innovativeness and in fact tend
to suppress it. In other words, the muddled thinking Will exhibits here
is ruining the only good thing we have going for us. So YES, it
Lastly, Will brings up that constant industry lobbyist refrain that
"We'll lose these people to our competitors" if we don't give them green
cards. Again, the putative good ones, the ones in EB-1 (for "foreign
nationals of "extraordinary ability" and for "outstanding professors")
and EB-2 (for those who are either of "exceptional ability" or possess
an "advanced degree"), are getting their green cards quickly, so we're
NOT "losing" them. However: Even with green cards, the fact is that
they often don't keep their technology in the U.S. anyway. The study by
UCB Prof. Annalee Saxenian found that many eventually return to their
home countries even after attaining U.S. citizenship, that many who do
stay here start businesses back home, and that more than 80% share
technology with people in the home country. This may not be all bad,
but it certainly shows that the shrill "We've got to give them green
cards to prevent them from helping our competitors" argument is
Very poorly researched piece (or nonresearched, if it was based on from
those slick "educational" literature packets that the industry lobbyists
send to journalists). For shame, George!
By George F. Will
Thursday, June 26, 2008; Page A19
PALO ALTO, Calif. -- Fifty years ago, Jack Kilby, who grew up in Great
Bend, Kan., took the electrical engineering knowledge he acquired as an
undergraduate at the University of Illinois and as a graduate student
at the University of Wisconsin to Dallas, to Texas Instruments, where
he helped invent the modern world as we routinely experience and
manipulate it. Working with improvised equipment, he created the first
electronic circuit in which all the components fit on a single piece of
semiconductor material half the size of a paper clip.
On Sept. 12, 1958, he demonstrated this microchip, which was enormous,
not micro, by today's standards. Whereas one transistor was put in a
silicon chip 50 years ago, today a billion transistors can occupy the
same "silicon real estate." In 1982 Kilby was inducted into the
National Inventors Hall of Fame, where he is properly honored with the
likes of Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
If you seek his monument, come to Silicon Valley, an incubator of the
semiconductor industry. If you seek (redundant) evidence of the federal
government's refusal to do the creative minimum -- to get out of the
way of wealth creation -- come here and hear the talk about the
perverse national policy of expelling talented people.
Modernity means the multiplication of dependencies on things utterly
mysterious to those who are dependent -- things such as semiconductors,
which control the functioning of almost everything from cellphones to
computers to cars. "The semiconductor," says a wit who manufactures
them, "is the OPEC of functionality, except it has no cartel power."
Semiconductors are, like oil, indispensable to the functioning of many
things that are indispensable. Regarding oil imports, Americans agonize
about a dependence they cannot immediately reduce. Yet their nation's
policy is the compulsory expulsion or exclusion of talents crucial to
the creativity of the semiconductor industry that powers the thriving
portion of our bifurcated economy. While much of the economy sputters,
exports are surging, and the semiconductor industry is America's
second-largest exporter, close behind the auto industry in total
exports and the civilian aircraft industry in net exports.
The semiconductor industry's problem is entangled with a subject about
which the loquacious presidential candidates are reluctant to talk --
immigration, specifically that of highly educated people. Concerning
whom, U.S. policy should be: A nation cannot have too many such people,
so send us your PhDs yearning to be free.
Instead, U.S. policy is: As soon as U.S. institutions of higher
education have awarded you a PhD, equipping you to add vast value to
the economy, get out. Go home. Or to Europe, which is responding to
America's folly with "blue cards" to expedite acceptance of the
immigrants America is spurning.
Two-thirds of doctoral candidates in science and engineering in U.S.
universities are foreign-born. But only 140,000 employment-based green
cards are available annually, and 1 million educated professionals are
waiting -- often five or more years -- for cards. Congress could
quickly add a zero to the number available, thereby boosting the U.S.
economy and complicating matters for America's competitors.
Suppose a foreign government had a policy of sending workers to America
to be trained in a sophisticated and highly remunerative skill at
American taxpayers' expense, and then forced these workers to go home
and compete against American companies. That is what we are doing
because we are too generic in defining the immigrant pool.
Barack Obama and other Democrats are theatrically indignant about U.S.
companies that locate operations outside the country. But one reason
Microsoft opened a software development center in Vancouver is that
Canadian immigration laws allow Microsoft to recruit skilled people it
could not retain under U.S. immigration restrictions. Mr. Change We Can
Believe In is not advocating the simple change -- that added zero --
and neither is Mr. Straight Talk.
John McCain's campaign Web site has a spare statement on "immigration
reform" that says nothing about increasing America's intake of highly
educated immigrants. Obama's site says only: "Where we can bring in
more foreign-born workers with the skills our economy needs, we
should." "Where we can"? We can now.
Solutions to some problems are complex; removing barriers to educated
immigrants is not. It is, however, politically difficult, partly
because this reform is being held hostage by factions -- principally
the Congressional Hispanic Caucus -- insisting on "comprehensive"
immigration reform that satisfies their demands. Unfortunately, on this
issue no one is advocating change we can believe in, so America
continues to risk losing the value added by foreign-born Jack Kilbys.
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