I’m not a huge Tom Friedman fan, but this reaction to seeing a bunch of foreign-born newly minted PhDs seems just right:
Don’t get me wrong. I’m proud that our country continues to build universities and a culture of learning that attract the world’s best minds. My complaint — why I also wanted to cry — was that there wasn’t someone from the Immigration and Naturalization Service standing next to President Jackson stapling green cards to the diplomas of each of these foreign-born Ph.D.’s. I want them all to stay, become Americans and do their research and innovation here. If we can’t educate enough of our own kids to compete at this level, we’d better make sure we can import someone else’s, otherwise we will not maintain our standard of living.
It’s really baffling that we would give someone a visa to pursue high-level education in the United States and then do anything other than automatically give them a visa to work here. If we’re going to be stingy with anything, it should be with spots at our universities (in practice, there tend not to be Americans clamoring to get graduate schooled in technical disciplines), not spots in our labor force. Unlike the immigration of unskilled workers, immigration of highly skilled people is a totally uncomplicated balance of considerations. It’s good for the immigrant, it boosts the American economy as a whole, and instead of putting mild downward pressure on the wages of the least-fortunate native born people, the costs are borne by better-off Americans. It’s a total no-brainer.