A Cautionary Tale About Brain Drain

If you’re following the financial mess in Europe, the U.S. economy in comparison doesn’t look that bad. Yes, the United States is suffering through its worst economic malaise in more than a generation but our entrepreneurs, small business owners and inventors are giving us hope by slowly getting us back on our feet.

That’s not the case in Europe, which is experiencing a domino effect as once financially viable countries are drowning in debt and are in danger of defaulting.

What we do have in common with Europe is some of our best and brightest people are leaving our labor force, for many of the same reasons.

Currently in Europe, the economic downturn is driving tens of thousands of skilled professionals away from their home countries. Spain and Portugal have been hit hardest by the flight of skilled workers, but the problem is worsening in Ireland, Slovenia, Greece and Cyprus.

A Wall Street Journal story reports that during the decade ending in 2008, more than 500,000 workers entered the Spanish work force each year. Last year, with a 20 percent unemployment rate, “Spain became a net exporter of people for the first time since 1990. Some 55,626 more people left the country in the first nine months of 2011.”

Workers are bringing their skills to Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, where ex-pats have found a new, more-profitable life.

At the same time, since Europe is losing its luster as a financial haven, skilled and highly educated workers from developing countries are returning back home because of rapidly diminishing opportunities.

Consequently, the future of some European countries looks even bleaker since there is steady erosion in the skilled labor force, which directly and significantly impacts productivity and economic growth.

Another consideration is the flight of trained medical personnel leaving some European countries, putting patients in these counties at risk due to a lack of healthcare practitioners.

This brain drain is also hurting America, where the State Department now estimates that 6.3 million Americans are studying or working abroad, the highest number on record.

In fact, according to a survey by marketing consultants America Wave, the percentage of Americans aged 25 to 34 actively planning to relocate outside the United States has quintupled in just two years, from less than 1 percent to 5.1 percent. This is an alarming statistic and unthinkable a few years ago.

This problem is exacerbated by scores of overseas students possessing great potential attending U.S. universities that are being forced to take their hard-earned knowledge back home.

Yes, part of the problem is the American economy isn’t producing jobs. But the bigger problem is that our current immigration policy is broken. So, even those who want to remain in America are punished by a poorly administered visa program that forces technically savvy workers to leave.

Let Europe serve as a cautionary tale for the United States. We must do more to keep workers with the greatest potential in the United States. That means creating an environment where entrepreneurs are inspired to invest so we create the jobs to keep the most talented here among us.

However, there are endless barricades to growth.

We need to provide entrepreneurs access to financial resources while lowering crippling taxes and ratchet back stifling regulations; all of which kill employment.

Just 44 years ago, America eliminated U.S. immigration discrimination based on race, place of birth, sex and residence. Now we need to enact a fast-track visa program so the most skilled would-be immigrants continue to come to this country, bringing with them their creativity, dedication and business skills that fuel our economy.

We have our historical roots in Europe, but have come a long way since our first ancestors arrived on the shores of the New World in pursuit of freedom and opportunity.

America has learned a thing or two over more than 200 years. We are now leaders, not followers.

In order to keep America strong, we must stay committed to a strong work force and work ethic, backed by innovation and inclusiveness. That’s what has got us here and that’s what will continue to make America the most sought after destination in the world.

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