I came to this [position as U.S. Secretary of State] with two very basic propositions, and I’ve seen those propositions, I think, validated by the experience we’ve had over the last three years. One is that if the United States is not engaged, if we’re not leading, then one of two things [will happen]: either someone else is, and probably not in a way that advances our own interests and values; or no one is, and then you can have a vacuum that’s probably going to be filled by bad things before it’s filled by good things.

Secretary of State Anthony J. Blinken — July 28, 2023 — in a Conversation With Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass

Secretary Blinken’s words struck me as hollow and sadly ironic when considered in the light of a decision announced yesterday by Canada to lure noncitizen tech talent from the U.S. to Canada in order “to help businesses in Canada thrive in a competitive landscape.”

Canada has decided that it will establish “an open work permit stream for H-1B specialty occupation visa holders in the US to apply for a Canadian work permit, and study or work permit options for their accompanying family members . . .” The new immigration policy will also include “open work permits for up to five years for highly skilled workers in select in-demand occupations,” and establish a 14-day processing time. It seems laughable, were it not so sad, that the new Canadian strategy was launched at “Collision 2023!”

What does this say about America’s antiquated and beleaguered immigration system?

  • U.S. legislators and the several federal immigration agencies should blush with embarrassment. Our leaders have forgotten the timeless message of John F. Kennedy that they must be Profiles in Courage: that they must put the interests of the nation first and resist the pressure to be popular, get re-elected, or be distracted by the pressures of their constituency, party and interest groups.
  • If this is what a friendly nation with which we share a border does to our country, what will countries that are less friendly, indeed adversarial, do to eat our lunch? The outcome is foreseeable and grim, as Secretary Blinken observed, “probably not in a way that advances our own interests and values . . .”
  • How dystopian is the status quo, given that our nation and economy benefit tremendously from noncitizen students attending America’s colleges and universities, yet after we educate them we shoo them away to other nations with more welcoming immigration policies. According to NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, almost a “million international students at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $33.8 billion to the U.S. economy during the 2021-2022 academic year—up more than $5.5 billion (or 19%) compared to the prior academic year—and supported more than 335,000 jobs.”
  • What’s worse, there is no predicting how badly the U.S.’s broken immigration system will harm future generations of Americans in falling behind in the development of advanced technologies, such as AI. The National Foundation for American Policy paints a bleak picture if we lose this “brain-gain” population: “Immigrants have founded or cofounded nearly two-thirds (65% or 28 of 43) of the top AI companies in the United States, and 70% of full-time graduate students in fields related to artificial intelligence are international students . . . Seventy-seven percent of the leading U.S.-based AI companies were founded or cofounded by immigrants or the children of immigrants. Forty-two percent (18 of 43) of the top U.S.-based AI companies had a founder who came to America as an international student.”

It’s all too sad.