The global race for talent is already under way.
Under a bipartisan bill led by Sen.
The bill, which may become part of Obama's comprehensive immigration reform plan, is very likely to pass, congressional sources say.
While Democrats and Republicans are still arguing over other parts of Obama's immigration plan, which would give a path to legal status for up to 11 million undocumented residents, both parties agree on the need to dramatically increase the number of visas for foreign scientists to help make the U.S. economy more competitive.
"This is a big, big step forwards," says
Right now, most U.S. visas are given based on family ties, rather than on professional skills. Only 7 percent of U.S. visas are given to foreigners based on their skills, compared with 25 percent in
Under the Hatch bill, the number of highly-skilled foreigners admitted into
"The race for skilled immigrants is intensifying in today's knowledge-based economy," Wadhwa told me. "In the past, it was all about manufacturing, and you needed workers. Now, it's all about technology and innovation, and you need skilled scientists and engineers."
So what should Latin American countries do? Most experts say countries in the region will have to upgrade their universities to produce more and better scientists and engineers, and provide a better business climate for their science and technology sectors.
Right now, only about 14 percent of Latin American students are enrolled in science and engineering schools, and no Latin American university is ranked among the world's best 150. In addition, few Latin American countries are providing big tax incentives and funding to attract new technology industries.
My opinion: If Latin American countries play it smart and join the global race for knowledge-based industries - creating joint science degree programs with foreign universities, offering better conditions for their graduates returning from abroad, and creating a better business climate for high-tech industries - they could benefit from the proposed U.S. talent grab.
They could turn the "brain drain" into a "brain circulation" phenomenon.
But if Latin American countries don't get into the game, and if
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