This weeks “Ask a Science Blogger” is:
“Do you think there is a brain drain going on (i.e. foreign scientists not coming to work and study in the U.S. like they used to, because of new immigration rules and the general unpopularity of the U.S.) If so, what are its implications? Is there anything we can do about it?”
A “drain” seems to imply a net outflow, and that doesn’t seem to be happening. But, as the paranthetical makes clear what meant is the reduction of the extent of the inflow. And yes, from all I can gather this is an issue in regards to student visas. My father had to pick between the US and the UK for graduate school, and he opted for the US for a variety of reasons. Today because of visa related issues he might have chosen the UK as a default option.
What are the implications? Well, I don’t know, I am inclined to think that genuine “superstars” can still get in, and they produce the first order innovation necessary for a modern economy (and it isn’t like intellectual property can’t flow between countries). That being said, work-a-day scientists are essential cogs in the system, and they are far more likley to produce the n + 1 generation native born superstars than Joe-Schmo. In other words, the biggest implication is that the USA is shorting itself in terms of intellectual capital, and I’m skeptical that is a good thing.
The solution? Where there is a will and political influence there is a way. We are discussing the inability of scientists to immigrate to this nation at the same time that millions of illegals are going enter onto the path toward citizenship. Peasants and urban protelariat can contribute to social capital, but I think the probability of this is lower. To be honest, the current immigration system is ass-backwards, driven by emotional talking points and short-term economic considerations as opposed to the long term health of the republic.
Scientists by their nature seem to follow the rules, so change the damn rules!