Commentary: We shouldn't be eager to see immigrants leave

A key measure of the nation's economic health is its ability to attract capital, not only the financial kind, but capital of the human sort.

The immigration debate in recent years has often discounted the contribution of new arrivals, while sometimes implying that the United States would be better off if most immigrants would simply go home.

Well, we should be careful what we wish for. Many immigrants, namely those offering the skills our economy needs most for innovation and economic growth, are doing just that – going home.

The outflow began well before the current recession and financial mayhem, according to a new study made public last week by the Kauffman Foundation. Its conclusions are a reminder that America can no longer take for granted its ability to attract the world's top talent.

The research, led by Vivek Wadhwa of Harvard, found that skilled immigrants were leaving the United States and returning to their home countries in greater numbers.

They're drawn by better career opportunities, a better quality of life and the need to be closer to family and friends.

The study, titled "America's Loss is the World's Gain," surveyed 1,203 Indian and Chinese immigrants, all of whom had worked or studied in the United States and subsequently returned home.

The outflow of this talent is a threat to American competitiveness. As Wadhwa noted in a recent BusinessWeek article, immigrants started 52 percent of Silicon Valley technology companies and contributed work for more than a quarter of America's global patents.

In 2006, U.S. companies founded by immigrants employed 450,000 people and reported $52 billion in revenue.

No government agency keeps track of immigrants returning to their homelands. But human resource directors in India and China told Wadhwa's research team that over the last few years, the job applications they received had risen by a factor of 10.

To read the complete column, visit www.kansascity.com.

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