NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Foreign-Born Techies Heading Back Home

November 7, 2002

With tech engineering entering the third year of its slump, a significant number of foreign-born engineers who flocked to America in the 1990s are packing up and heading back to their native countries. In some cases the returns are by choice, but increasingly they are the result of layoffs or the loss of work visas.

  • Some of those returning are abandoning their Silicon Valley homes and their cars to return to live with their parents while they set up their own tech businesses.
  • Tech industry executives here are deeply worried by the outflow and the prospect of the U.S. losing its dominance in the field.
  • China produces 200,000 electrical engineers a year, while the U.S. last year granted 70,000 undergraduate and 37,000 graduate degrees in electrical engineering.
  • Compounding the problem, 54 percent of engineering doctorates went to foreign students -- many of whom went home after graduation.

Experts say some foreign engineers are leaving because they think perhaps the current downsizing of the U.S. information technology industry is not a temporary thing -- in fact, that the U.S. is headed to becoming a second-class citizen in the world of IT. According to Microsoft strategist Craig Mundie, "If the U.S. cedes its leadership in IT" to countries like India and China, "there will not be a second chance."

And according to a prominent Silicon Valley investor, in 20 years there may not much software development in the United States.

Source: Janet Guyon, "Waves of Doubt: The Reverse Brain Drain," Fortune, November 11, 2002.


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