1 Million Skilled Workers Stuck in 'Immigration Limbo'

Immigrant business founders were highly educated in science, technology, math and engineering-related disciplines, with 96 percent holding bachelor's degrees and 75 percent holding master's or doctorates.

"It becomes clear that we're headed for a crisis," said Vivek Wadhwa, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard University who led the "Intellectual Property" study with noted economist Richard Freeman and NYU sociologist Guillermina Jasso.

"The data was astonishing," said Wadhwa. "No one knew how many were in line."

"We brought hundreds of thousands of workers to the U.S. on temporary visas, trained them in our technology and market and now are forcing them to leave, just when they have become even more valuable."

He predicted that unless immigration laws are reformed and backlogs corrected, hundreds of thousands of highly skilled immigrants could leave. Many who were educated in the United States and raised their families here will take American know-how elsewhere.

Many will close companies putting employees out of work and set up shop overseas, competing against the United States or attracting American companies eager to outsource, he said.

"The yearly inflow of talent from the world to the U.S. is worth billions of dollars," said Wadhwa, an India-born technology executive.

"It could be that India has provided more in intellectual-capital to the U.S. just over the last decade than all of the financial aid the U.S. has given to India over the last 60 years," he said. "So one may ask, 'Who's helping who, here?'"

Congressional Reform

Immigration Voice, a grassroots organization that represents the nation's skilled immigrants, expects 5,000 of its members to march in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18 to press Congress for reform.

"The issue of undocumented has overshadowed the issue of legal skilled immigrants," said organization spokesman Jay Pradhan.

Pradhan, a Nevada software developer, has worked in the United States for seven years and filed for his green card in 2004. But fears he may have to wait another three to four years.

"I can't really plan my life and my career without knowing what is going to happen," he said. "Congress has to let us know if they want us here or not."

For the Kauffman Foundation, whose main mission is to advance the understanding of entrepreneurship, the stakes are high.

"Immigrants are a high-growth force and power in the economy," said Litan. "Put aside nationality, throughout American history immigrants are disproportionately entrepreneurial because they are locked out of the mainstream. The way to get to the first rung is to open their own businesses."

He rejects the notion that hiring Indians and Chinese workers takes jobs from Americans.

"We've run out of American tech workers, and companies like Cisco and Microsoft have to go follow [skilled immigrants.] If we let them go home you accelerate the outsourcing of American research and development."

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