The Land of Opportunity

By Suyash Tibrawalla

Flickr/Cristian Ramírez

A 2011 USA Today article by Jon Swartz stated that when the U.S. economy was desperately trying to create as many jobs as it possibly could, Kunal Bahl, who had formerly lived in the United States, was generating almost 70 jobs a month in India. Bahl’s initial plan was to start a tech company in the United States, but because of visa problems he was denied residency and forced to return home. Swartz’s article is still relevant, because today Bahl is the proud founder and co-owner of one of India’s fastest growing tech companies, Snapdeal.com. Snapdeal.com, which has drawn comparisons to Amazon.com, is an e-commerce website that is still experiencing exponential growth ever since it was founded in 2008 (). So, let’s talk about immigration.

Overtime, many highly skilled immigrants who wish to build profitable companies in the U.S., that could potentially generate hundreds of jobs and stimulate a sluggish economy have been denied the opportunity to do so. U.S. immigration laws have long been rigid and obstructive, not just for bright young foreigners seeking to build their “American dream,” but also to Americans themselves. This is because they lose out on new employment opportunities created by these dreams. Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, strongly endorses the fact that immigrants are more likely to become job creators rather than job stealers. And ironically, wasn’t the United States essentially founded and built by immigrants? If so, is there a need to even debate this issue?

For instance, the current cap on the number of work visas granted to immigrants has fallen significantly from 195,000 to just 65,000 in the last 10 years. Clearly, the U.S. government believes that by keeping skilled immigrants out, it is protecting jobs for its citizens. What it doesn’t realize is that by turning immigrants away it is losing bright and innovative minds like Bahl who are capable of generating close to 100 jobs every month.

This flaw in the immigration system has been around for a long time, with the simple reason being deliberate ignorance by Congress. Certainly, comprehensive immigration reform is a much more complicated matter, considering the 11 million illegal immigrants residing in the country, but denying a work visa to a highly talented foreigner who has left his own country to come and work here in the U.S. is like shooting oneself in the foot. Moreover, American policymakers don’t need rocket science to figure out that rectifying this fault can only soothe a tight job market and bolster investor confidence.

So while the U.S. economy is suffering from its self-inflicted blows, some of these well-trained individuals are welcomed with open arms in their home countries. Many of these countries are developing competitor nations, like India and China, which offer nascent markets for innovative business ideas with great potential. These ideas sometimes develop into thriving businesses, like Snapdeal.com, and then have the potential to compete with the same Fortune 500 companies their creators formerly worked for in America. India, for instance, has great potential to become a hotbed for e-commerce and Internet services, given its young and tech-savvy middle class. Whereas China, having invested billions in research and development with limited success in America, can become a major competitor in the field of innovation once Chinese youth graduating from American colleges return home and contribute to the those research and development sectors of big Chinese firms.

All in all, what could have been American dreams are fast becoming Indian or Chinese dreams. The U.S. immigration system is gradually crowding out the incentive, let alone possibility, of the American dream happening, as many skilled immigrants are overwhelmingly choosing to work in their home countries rather than migrate here. President Barack Obama in one of his speeches on immigrants said: “They are job generators. We don’t want them starting an Intel in China or France. We want them starting it here.” This was followed by some good news when he and the Senate agreed on a great proposal to issue an automatic green card to anyone who obtained a master’s degree or a Ph.D. in science, technology, engineering or mathematics, collectively known as STEM, from an American university. It shows that the federal government is considering immigration reform as an important part of their political agenda as this issue percolates into Washington. However, we still don’t know the extent of Congressional debate this simple issue will require before it is completely resolved.

Suyash Tibrawalla is a Collegian Columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]