Our nation's universities simply aren't graduating enough citizens with math, science and engineering degrees to sustain the long-term needs of U.S. tech employers. Enrollment by U.S. citizens or permanent residents in graduate science and engineering programs declined 10 percent from 1994 to 2001, according to the National Science Board, while enrollment of foreign students increased 35 percent. As of the 2000 census, immigrants held 17 percent of the bachelor's degrees, 29 percent of the master's degrees, and 38 percent of the doctorates in science and engineering. Ten years earlier, they held just 11 percent, 19 percent and 24 percent of those degrees.
For one reason or another, the children of American computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers are choosing other careers. Despite this trend, Silicon Valley and other tech enclaves have managed to carry on as the engines of U.S. economic growth, sustained in large part by the intellects of immigrants and visa-carrying foreign nationals. But as other countries increase their investment in technical education and build up their own technology industries, U.S.-trained foreign nationals will have far more reason to return home. Either we make it easier for the best and brightest technical minds to work in the United States, or we send them packing to create jobs and arm competing companies abroad.
Every time a foreign-born entrepreneur starts a technology company in the United States, or every time a foreign-born CTO helps drive a U.S. company to new heights, countless other technical jobs--as well as sales, marketing, finance, HR, administrative and other jobs--are created. To deny this multiplier effect is to deny reality.
No doubt, foreigners granted visas or permanent U.S. residency will continue to displace some American tech pros. There will always be losers in a competitive labor market. But in aggregate, the more smart, hungry people we employ, the more opportunities we open up for other smart, hungry people.