At a time of historically high unemployment rates, when it becomes convenient, even “fashionable” to highlight the frailties and abuses of the H-1B program, it is refreshing to take note of the “feel good” story of certain immigrants who have come to this country and achieved greatness and are living the “American Dream.” Indeed, the recent Nobel Prizes awarded this week to the first six (6) Nobel Laureates were to U.S. citizens—four of whom were born outside the United States. Perhaps we should take a closer look at the current popular theme of closing our borders to protect U.S. workers.
The recent resurgence of xenophobia is not only shameful but it obscures reality. However one may feel about Silicon Valley’s employment of large numbers of H-1B workers, overseas brainpower helps to drive the research needed to power our economic growth.
No doubt there are “bad apple” employer sponsors that take advantage of the H-1B program and exploit foreign national workers. Such abusers need to be brought to justice swiftly. However, those abusers should not overshadow the overall benefits of the H-1B program or the bigger picture of U.S. immigration.
Indeed, there is no question that without a visa category which allows the United States to attract some of the world’s best and brightest, our economy will not renew or prosper to its fullest extent. This is especially so given the marked decline in the output of U.S. born scientists and researchers from our colleges and universities. According to statistics from the National Science Foundation released in February, foreign-born science and engineering students in 2003 earned one-third of all Ph.D’s awarded in the United States.
So let’s take a break from the criticism and scrutiny of the H-1B program (and U.S. immigration in general) and celebrate the achievements of U.S. citizen/Australian-born Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, professor at the University of California-San Francisco, and recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine. Dr. Blackburn’s discovery of a “Jekyll and Hyde” enzyme present in our cells could have a universal benefit in helping extend healthy lifestyle and prevent cancer. In the words of Ms. Blackburn, “the flow of intellectual ideas is crucial," and "to have borders for it seems counterproductive."
We should likewise celebrate the achievements of U.S. citizen Charles Kuen Kao, born in Shanghai, and U.S. citizen William Boyle, of Bell Laboratories, born in Nova Scotia, who were joint recipients of the Nobel Prize for Physics for laying the foundations of modern communications through fiber optics; as well as that of U.S. citizen Jack Szostak, of Harvard Medical School, joint recipient of the Nobel Prize in Medicine, who was born in London.
These individuals immigrated to the United States in search of opportunity, the “American Dream”, and they have certainly all succeeded in finding it. Such “opportunity” benefits us all. However, in a bad economy, the natural reaction becomes a shortsighted one -- to turn one’s back on U.S. immigration by touting its abuses and shortcomings rather than offering comprehensive solutions to fix its problems.
The truth is, we should all be thankful that such accomplished individuals chose not to remain in their home countries, or to seek opportunity elsewhere. The innovation and excellence upon which our country is built remains today as dependent on the tremendous contributions of those born abroad as on the day of its founding. Let us not allow the abusers of the H-1B program to foster false patriotic manifestations and cloud the fact that the H-1B temporary worker program is essential to continued innovation and a vibrant U.S. economy.
New York Times columnist, Thomas Friedman, summed it up best when he wrote:
“Dear America, please remember how you got to be the wealthiest country in history. It wasn’t through protectionism, or state-owned banks or fearing free trade. No, the formula was very simple: build this really flexible, really open economy, tolerate creative destruction so dead capital is quickly redeployed to better ideas and companies, pour into it the most diverse, smart and energetic immigrants from every corner of the world and then stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat, stir and repeat.”
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Post Authored By: Anthony F. Siliato, Esq. and Scott R. Malyk, Esq. of Meyner and Landis LLP