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U.S. welcomes foreign athletes, yet blocks high-skilled workers?

August 31, 2012

By Sean Hackbarth
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Free Enterprise magazine

The New Yorker’s James Surowiecki answered a question I had while watching the Olympics: How many athletes competing for other countries athletes train in the U.S.?

Nearly four hundred Olympians who this year represented other countries went to school in the U.S., and many other foreign athletes live and train here—like the British runner Mo Farah, who won gold medals in the five and ten thousand metres after moving to Portland last year to work with the legendary marathoner Alberto Salazar.

Surowiecki turns this bit of trivia into a brief look at the unfortunate fact that while the “U.S. is the world’s most popular destination for foreign students,” many can’t stay because they can’t get work visas. American innovation suffers because of it. Surowiecki writes:

As the work of the economist Paul Romer has shown, economies grow faster when there is more innovation, and having more smart people in the workforce is a key driver of innovation. And the quickest, cheapest way to get more smart people is to make it easy for them to move here. What’s more, historically there has been a clear connection between immigration in the U.S. and entrepreneurship, with immigrants creating companies (and jobs) at a disproportionate rate.

Immigration is also good for innovation in general. One study found that in 2006 foreign nationals living in the U.S. contributed to almost twenty-six per cent of U.S. international-patent applications, and last year immigrants contributed to three-quarters of the patents that came out of the country’s ten most prolific research universities.

If much of this sounds familiar that’s because there has been much written on Free Enterprise about this [here, here, and here for starters].

To improve innovation and global competitiveness we need immigration policies that make America as welcoming for high-skilled immigrants as we are to world class athletes.

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