3.12.2009

Turning Away the Best and Brightest


As a child of highly educated immigrants, this article sends a special shudder down my spine: "It's a Terrible Time to Reject Skilled Workers." Of course, H-1B's have always gotten the shaft around here, but the Employ American Workers Act, which was embedded in the recent stimulus bill, now says companies getting government support can't hire skilled immigrants with H-1B visas unless they show they haven't laid off or plan to lay off an American from a similar occupation. Frighteningly, this may even lead to non-US students deciding not to come here for grad school in the first place, fearing their future employment prospects here are impaired.

Both my parents came to America as grad students. In words that simultaneously demonstrate my parents' terseness with words and the breath-taking nature of the decision they made in their 20's, they simply explained it to me like this: "We bought a one-way ticket." Their intention was that of millions of highly educated immigrants that have culturally, economically, and civically enriched America over the years: to get the best education in the world, work in the best economy in the world, and in doing so provide the best opportunities in the world for their children.

How many smart, honest, devoted, and eager 20-somethings around the world are holding the American dream in their heart, perhaps seeing the economic and political carnage in their homelands, daring to consider a new life in the land of opportunity, only to have second thoughts on account of subtle and not-so-subtle messages that "skilled immigrants need not apply"? How many born and yet-to-be born children are the 2009 equivalent of me, circa 1973, with the possibility of either being raised here in America and given every advantage to become all they can be intellectually and socially and inter-personally, or else potentially settling for something less than that in their home country?

I do not know how we will turn around this dismal economy. But I sure as heck know that it can't possibly involve turning away the world's brightest and most daring people, and with them their born and yet-to-be born children. My parents were fortunate enough to make that one-way trip many years ago, and I am forever indebted to them and to this country for all of the privilege and opportunity I have had in my life. Accordingly, I take the responsibilities of citizenship and of giving back very seriously. For the sake of this great nation, it would be a shame if there were less such stories in future generations; that would not be the America that I have come to know and love.
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