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Winning the global war for talent

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For centuries, the best and brightest from around the world have come to America seeking a better life. They come to study in our universities and work at our companies. We take this “brain drain” to the United States for granted, but times are changing, and other countries are catching on to the importance of attracting the most gifted minds. While other nations are making it easier for highly skilled immigrants to start companies and create jobs, in the United States we are making it harder. It is time to recognize that we are engaged in a global war for talent and must start winning again.

Although our education system has worked to increase student interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — and has improved test scores in recent years — we still cannot meet the demand for skilled workers. We need to intensify our efforts to encourage American students to pursue advanced degrees in STEM disciplines and do a better job at retaining the foreign graduate students in these areas. In 2009, foreign students obtained 57% of advanced engineering degrees at U.S. institutions. Unfortunately, many of these graduates have no option but to return to their country of origin at the expiration of their student visas, taking with them the skills and ideas they developed here and creating jobs overseas.

To maintain our competitive advantage, we must invest in a highly skilled workforce that is both innovative and entrepreneurial. While it may not be surprising that a recent study found that nearly half of our country’s top 50 venture-funded companies were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs, it is worth noting that for every foreign-born worker who puts his or her advanced degree to work in this country, more than two jobs for American-born workers are created.

For far too long, U.S. immigration policy has made it difficult to retain the talent we need to compete in a global economy. We need to look at what drives job creation and refocus our immigration policy toward recruiting and retaining the best and the brightest workers from around the world. The world sends us their best and brightest to study in the United States; let’s not give them back.

The need for a jobs-oriented immigration policy is why we introduced the INVEST in America Act. This bill would allow foreign students who have graduated from American universities with STEM degrees to start a new business here and to earn a green card by creating jobs for Americans and attracting investments. Our bill would give entrepreneurs five years to build their companies by creating either five new jobs or by spurring investments of $500,000.

In President Bush’s 2006 State of the Union Address, he announced the American Competitiveness Initiative, which included immigration policies to attract and retain highly skilled workers. Likewise, President Obama recognized during his 2012 State of the Union speech that many foreign students gain science and engineering skills here, then “we send them home to invent new products and create new jobs somewhere else.”

Our bill will make it easier for highly skilled entrepreneurs to build the next great company and to do it in America. Our universities are educating the next generation of Steve Jobs’; let’s make sure they build the next Apple — and the next iPhone — in the United States.

Schiff (D) is a U.S. congressman representing Pasadena, Burbank, Glendale and neighboring areas. Bass (R) is a U.S. congressman representing New Hampshire.

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