Writes Graham Allison and Eric Schmidt on why “The U.S. Needs a Million Talents Program to Retain Technology Leadership”:
What is the single most significant step the United States can take to sustain the technological predominance it has enjoyed since World War II? The answer should be obvious: to actively recruit the most talented minds in the world and welcome them into a society where they have the opportunity to realize their dreams. From physicist Albert Einstein and the other European scientists who helped the United States win World War II and land on the moon to the founders of Intel, Google, eBay, Uber, and the many technology companies that have powered economic growth, smart and ambitious immigrants have been the country’s secret sauce.
They recount the case of a foreign scientist who help invent 5G, and how the U.S. failure to retain him, benefited China:
It’s not just a matter of enticing new immigrants but of retaining bright minds already in the country. In 2009, a Turkish graduate of the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Erdal Arikan, published a paper that solved a fundamental problem in information theory, allowing for much faster and more accurate data transfers. Unable to get an academic appointment or funding to work on this seemingly esoteric problem in the United States, he returned to his home country. As a foreign citizen, he would have had to find a U.S. employer interested in his project to be able to stay.
Back in Turkey, Arikan turned to China. It turned out that Arikan’s insight was the breakthrough needed to leap from 4G telecommunications networks to much faster 5G mobile internet services. Four years later, China’s national telecommunications champion, Huawei, was using Arikan’s discovery to invent some of the first 5G technologies. Today, Huawei holds over two-thirds of the patents related to Arikan’s solution—10 times more than its nearest competitor. And while Huawei has produced one-third of the 5G infrastructure now operating around the world, the United States does not have a single major company competing in this race. Had the United States been able to retain Arikan—simply by allowing him to stay in the country instead of making his visa contingent on immediately finding a sponsor for his work—this history might well have been different.
Similar stories are far too common. The founders of China’s leading companies in semiconductors, smartphones, and app-based deliveries—the Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, Xiaomi, and Meituan—were all educated at U.S. universities.
To this end, the U.S. Congress should streamline the country’s immigration rules and establish programs to recruit and retain established tech superstars and the world’s best students researching advanced technologies. And if Congress will not act, then Biden should use his ample executive authority to create a million talents program and promote the United States’ leadership in the technology of the future.
It’s time for the United States to poach with purpose. To start, Washington should grant an additional 250,000 green cards each year. The current backlog of green cards—which entitle their holders to permanent residency and unrestricted work—is well over 1 million for high-skilled immigrants and is projected to grow to nearly 2.5 million by 2030. Right now, the U.S. government is hopelessly behind, approving two applications for every green card it actually issues. The United States also requires that no more than 7 percent of employment- and family-based green cards be issued to citizens from any single country, disadvantaging scientists and engineers from India and China. Congress should eliminate this cap and create new green card categories for experts in frontier technologies.
We might add an easier, less micro-managed, pro-freedom solution: the entire removal of immigration quotas: if you are a peaceful, loving, rights-respecting productive person, America welcomes you to her shores.