Analysis | How America is Losing the World’s Top Talent in the Race Against China


We possess every piece of the puzzle to lead as the world’s tech giant. It’s time we piece them together.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL)

Image: iStock

Numbers do not lie. Year after year, data tells us America remains the number one destination in the world where people outside our country want to work and live.

You would think this data would reflect the recipe for success in attracting the world’s best STEM talent, the fundamental driver of long-term economic competitiveness. Instead, a growing number of developed nations are attracting these highly-skilled workers, while the United States falls critically behind in tech proficiency, threatening the nation’s continued technological leadership.

Our biggest competitor, the People’s Republic of China, has long wanted to surpass us in this competition. As the world’s second-largest economy seeking to be №1, their goal is to become a “global leader in terms of comprehensive national power and international influence,” said Xi Jinping, the nation’s chairman. A growing number of other countries have begun to follow suit. Now more than ever, the truth remains clear: if the United States does not find more attractive ways to bring in the world’s brightest talent, other countries will.

The U.S. visa program was a turning point in America’s ability to attract top talent, creating more diversity in our immigration pool. But since its implementation in 1917, the process to secure such visas has become too tedious and cumbersome. Typically, candidates must undergo at least four applications just to begin the process. Of those who pass this stage, delays, backlogs, and legal limbo leave many qualified and eager workers waiting years to enter the United States.

In comes Canada. In 2023, the second largest country in the world launched a pilot program inviting high-skilled foreigners working in the United States to work in their country instead. On its first day, the program met its target of 10,000 applicants. Since then, the country has invited more than 6,000 highly skilled U.S. workers. Germany also passed a new law to attract skilled immigrants to work in their country. And in 2021, studies revealed that the PRC gained more than 2,000 scientists from around the world, while the United States lost scientists to other countries.

It is time we build on our greatest advantage in our economic competition, namely with the CCP, which threatens long-term U.S. technological competitiveness. This task is not an easy one, but we’ve begun to roll up our sleeves. Last month marked one year since Congress established the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, a bipartisan group of lawmakers working to thwart threats posed by the CCP. In our first year alone, we’ve begun to see how the CCP uses technology to threaten the democratic values of our country. Now as the Committee heads into its second year, Congress must take action.

In December, 24 members on the Committee agreed to bipartisan recommendations on areas we’ve not had consensus on before, and adopted nearly 150 recommendations in a report that outlines a comprehensive strategy to reset our economic and technological competition with the PRC. The report’s third pillar underscores just how badly the United States is falling behind in the race to lead in tech. To catch up, we must reform our “dual intent” policy for international students, so we retain skilled individuals we educate within our borders. Our existing system requires non-immigrant students to declare their intention to return home after completing their studies, which loses our appeal and undermines our global competitive edge. Numerous nations have already revamped their immigration and employment regulations to vie for students who possess the most sought-after technical expertise. We must restructure our approach to ensure we compete for and retain these valuable individuals as well.

We must also prioritize investing in our workforce to ensure it remains competitive for jobs of the future. This will involve providing support for workers to acquire skills-based training when adapting to technological transitions. And while we want to attract key talent to work in the United States, we must also implement visa security screening protocols to safeguard against foreign adversaries seeking to unlawfully obtain technical expertise within our open system. This will involve mandates from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in screening high-risk researchers applying for visas.

Winning the tech competition with the PRC requires a multifaceted approach that will involve embracing the democratic vision of our country, which rejects the idea that we can do it alone. If we want to win, we need to invest in attracting top talent across the globe, work strategically with our allies and partners, and build collective economic resilience to maintain our position as the most powerful technology center in the world. If we fail to redefine the terms of how to win the tech competition, we are sure to lose long-term prosperity and resilience.



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