NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Circulating Brains Through Immigration

January 15, 2002

Immigration of high-tech workers should not be viewed in simplistic terms of displacing U.S. natives or creating a "brain drain" from the sending countries, says a University of California at Berkeley professor.

Instead, says AnnaLee Saxenian, we should view the new economic dynamic as "brain circulation" where high-skill immigration benefits all countries involved.

  • Foreign-born engineers, for example, are starting new businesses and generating jobs and wealth at least as fast as their U.S. counterparts; for example, in 2000, Chinese and Indian engineers ran 29 percent of Silicon Valley technology businesses, accounting for $19.5 billion in sales and 72,839 jobs.
  • And for every one percent increase in the number of first-generation immigrants from a given country, California's exports to that country rise nearly one-half percent.
  • High-skilled immigrants form professional and social networks that help create global institutions connecting them with their counterparts back home -- and an increasing number of them return to their native countries while maintaining ties to the U.S.
  • New transportation and communications technologies allow even the smallest firms to take advantage of overseas expertise, cost-savings and markets.
  • The language, cultural and technical skills of first-generation immigrants are invaluable in developing these global partnerships.

Thus, Americans should not view immigration issues as a zero-sum game and instead encourage immigration of skilled workers.

Source: AnnaLee Saxenian, "Brain Circulation: How High-Skill Immigration Makes Everyone Better Off," Brookings Review, Winter 2002, Brookings Institution, 1775 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 797-6000.


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