Is America Losing the Battle for Tech Talent?

America has always been a nation of immigrants. Ever since the first colonists came over from Europe, wave after wave of people from foreign lands have moved here in search of a better life. But today, we are turning away the best and the brightest among them, and that is hurting the competitiveness of the United States.

That's the starting point of Vivek Wadhwa's e-book, The Immigrant Exodus: Why America is Losing the Global Race to Capture Entrepreneurial Talent, published by Wharton Digital Press in September.

Wadhwa, an Indian who lived in the United States as a child and returned as a young man to become a citizen, has already had a successful career as an entrepreneur, having founded two software companies. Today, he works as an academic, writer, and gadfly. He has posts at several universities, including Duke, Singularity, Stanford, and Emory. In the book, he argues that a combination of misguided US immigration policies and growing opportunities in other parts of the world has created a brain drain of innovative immigrants.

He has compiled some convincing evidence of the contribution immigrants make to the high-tech industry in the United States. Among the statistics:

  • First-generation immigrants or their children had founder roles in more than 40 percent of the Fortune 500, according to a 2011 study by the Partnership for a New American Economy.
  • A 2012 report by the same organization found that immigrants were responsible for more than one quarter of all new US businesses founded in 2011, even though they make up only 13 percent of the population.
  • In 2011, immigrants started nearly half of America's top 50 venture-funded companies and are key members of management or product development teams at more than 75 percent of those companies, according to a study by the National Foundation for American Policy. The same study also found that 25 percent of the publicly traded companies created between 1990 and 2005 that received VC funding had immigrant founders.

At the same time, Wadhwa is worried that the talent has begun to flow the other direction. He tells the stories of talented immigrants being forced to go back to their home countries because they can't get green cards or visas. Anand Chhatpar, for example, came to the States from India to get a degree in computer engineering and, in the process, launched two companies. He and his wife applied for citizenship but were denied, even though Chhatpar had been featured in BusinessWeek as one of the “Best Entrepreneurs Under 25.”

He is now trying to run both companies, which are located in the US, from Bangalore and starting to hire programmers there instead of in the United States.

While some people in this country complain about US companies moving jobs offshore, here is a talented entrepreneur who would rather have his companies in America, providing jobs here. But this country won't let him.

At the same time, globalization has changed the balance of opportunity in the world. More countries are competing for talent. Developing nations like China are making tempting offers to keep, or lure back, their most talented people. And it's working. Wadhwa describes a trend of Chinese expats who come to the States for education, spend a few years working in high tech, and then return to China to found their own companies. The Chinese call them “sea turtles.” They see plenty of economic opportunity, and often a better quality of life, back home. These are talented people who are going East, not West, in search of opportunities.

America is starting to feel the effects. Wadhwa's latest research shows that the proportion of immigrant-founded companies in the United States is declining. In Silicon Valley, it has dropped from 52.4 percent in 2007 to 43.9 percent today.

Wadhwa offers a prescription for fixing the problem, including increasing the number of green cards for skilled immigrants, changing the H1B program, and instituting a visa program for immigrants who want to start companies in the United States. But I doubt that Congress or the administration, whoever ends up winning the election, will have the political will to do much about the problem. Our leaders pay lip service to some of these ideas, but nothing ever gets done.

The so-called “startup visa,” which would allow foreign entrepreneurs to found companies in the United States if they could attract a certain amount of venture capital and create a certain number of US jobs, has languished in Congress for two years. Most recently, a bill that would have increased the number of green cards available to foreign students who graduate from a US university with advanced degrees in science and engineering fell victim to partisan bickering, despite bipartisan support. (See: Partisan Quibbling Kills Green Card Bill.)

And with the fiscal cliff looming immediately after the election, there's no reason to think that Congress will be focusing on these issues anytime soon. Even if they do, it may already be too late.

Do you think America is in danger of falling behind in innovation because of the loss of skilled immigrants? What should we do about it?

37 comments on “Is America Losing the Battle for Tech Talent?

  1. Perturbed Pundit
    October 29, 2012

    “Immigrant Founders – The REST of the Story”

    Eighty percent, or 40 out of 50, of the country's Top 50 Venture-Funded companies had one or more American born founders. No, I didn't make up the statistic, I found the data and reversed the spin that the pro-immigration faction is trying to promote.

    Curiously, the NFAP document, “Immigrant Founders and Key Personnel in Americas Top Venture Funded Companies”, has a table with the names and birthplace of the foreign-born founders. However, after finding another source for the “Top 50” data, I found that NFAP removed the names of the U.S. born founders and eliminated the companies that did not have a foreign-born founder.

    Considering both tables – the one in the NFAP document and the one provided by the WSJ (in the sources below) – I have found the following:

    23 of the 50 companies selected did have one or more foreign-born (co)founders; however, 13 of those 23 companies also had one or more American born cofounders. Only 10 of the Top 50 companies did not have an American born cofounder.

    Companies “Without a Foreign Born Founder” have employment levels 26% higher than the Top 50 average employment levels.

    Companies “Without a American Born Founder” have employment levels 25% lower than the Top 50 average employment levels.

    The benefit of employment growth in foreign born cofounded companies is muted by a substantially higher application rate for temporary foreign workers and below average employment levels. Companies with foreign born (co)founders (23 of 50) are almost twice as likely to apply for H-1B temporary guestworker visas.

    Most of the Top 50 companies (36) are located in California, which has 34.9% population of foreign-born employed in the labor force, so the 31.9% foreign-born (co)founders basically represents the population — the data shows nothing statistically remarkable about foreign-born founders.

    Source Data:

    National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP)
    “Immigrant Founders and Key Personnel In America's Top Venture-Funded Companies”

    Wall Street Journal
    Top 50 Venture-Funded Companies
    (This source provided founder data omitted from tables presented by NFAP publication)

    Foreign Born Employed in the Labor Force:

    Employed Civilian Foreign-Born Labor Force by State: 2007
    Appendix Table A.

    Foreign Labor Certification – H-1B Program Data:

  2. Tam Harbert
    October 29, 2012

    Good information. Do you think the companies with foreign-born founders would still have been launched without the foreign-born entrepreneurs? The point is that foreigners are interested in founding companies here, and that we lose talent, and jobs, if they take their talents and found companies elsewhere. Even if those startups don't hire as many Americans (which your data seem to suggest), they do create some American jobs. Also, if even one of them grows to become the next Google or anything even close, it's a huge gain in jobs and innovation.

  3. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 29, 2012

    @Tam Harbert,

    With the cost of labour in the U.S. do you think that foreign-born founders are still willing to create their companies in the country when they can make more profit in low labour cost areas such as the countries in the asian region? 

    October 29, 2012

    When I lived in the US about 25 years ago most electronics high tech companies were predominantly fuelled by US born workers.  There was significantly fewer Asian, Indian or Latin American employees in leadership roles.  Nowadays the picture is much more varied.  As such there are many highly trained non-USA workers and it is only to be expected that a higher number of them will want to leave the USA at some point, for instance to return to their homeland.  Also the world is a lot smaller these days and work practices more flexible.

  5. _hm
    October 29, 2012

    Education and knowledge is the key. This is quite known and most think tank and parents are aware of this. But America is doing very little in education, early chilhood to school and university. Amerca has to do lots of work in this direction. Obama has dream for this, but unable do much. Along with education at home, immigrants do help keep America leader in technology.


  6. prabhakar_deosthali
    October 30, 2012

    In today's Internet driven work environment, A skilled professional need not leave his home country to work for a US company. He can contribute to the innovation projects of US companies sitting right at home in his home country.

    So the immigration laws are soon going to loose their sheen as the talented people no more need to beg for Visas or Green cards to be able to work for US companies.

    US companies are opening their R & D centers in developing countries where abundant talent and skilled workforce is available and many of these companies have work from culture

  7. bolaji ojo
    October 30, 2012

    Dear Pertubed, I think you just made an excellent case for how data can be used to make two opposing arguments!

  8. bolaji ojo
    October 30, 2012

    Prabhakar, What can I add? You made the case simply and succintly. Several decades from now many would review current events and wonder why our generation made so much hoopla about a lot of things. One of these is likely to be all of the gatekeeping we are doing in immigration, employment and work patterns.

  9. bolaji ojo
    October 30, 2012

    Tam, What do you make of Vivek Wadhwa's decision to return (and stay) in the United States despite the points he asserts in his book?

  10. Tam Harbert
    October 30, 2012

    @ Hospice

    I don't think that labor is necessarily the issue here. At the startup phase, we're looking at a group of talented people finding funding and starting a business. Sure, they might outsource some of the design and – if they are making a hardware product – all of the manufacturing. But if they company grows, they will still expand the number of U.S. employees for finance, marketing, etc.

  11. Tam Harbert
    October 30, 2012

    @ Bolaji

    Vivek made that decision and founded those companies many years ago, in the 1990s I think. One of the points he makes in the book is that it was easier back then, and that companies were able to sponsor more immigrants and reward them for their good work. Post 9/11 and with the bad economy, much of the U.S. public is against this kind of immigration these days.

  12. Houngbo_Hospice
    October 30, 2012


    But if the company grows, they will still expand the number of U.S. employees for finance, marketing,

    I see! It seems that most congress members don't really understand that the country is falling behind in innovation because of their adversarial policies towards immigrant entrepeneurs. 

    October 30, 2012

    Tam?  You don't know anything about Vivek Wadhwa's fake entrepreneurship?  Don't worry, neither does anyone else.

    Wadhwa is not an entrepreneur!  He is not an academic either.  He only became a professor at Duke after NASSCOM, the cartel of Indian H1B body shops, made a significant “donation” to Duke University to conduct some shill science for the benefit of the outsourcers in India.

  14. Tam Harbert
    October 30, 2012

    Do you have any evidence of this? Can you back up this statement? If so, send me the source of the information. I believe it can be verified that Wadhwa has launched a couple of software companies, at least one of which was VC-backed That makes him a former entrepreneur. And he has appointments at multiple universities.


  15. hash.era
    October 31, 2012

    I feel they are loosing it since everyday you see the skilled migrants for Technology is rising. Every company in the US you see expats working in the technological section. That clearly is a proof to show US is loosing the battle sadly.

    October 31, 2012

    The “Offshoring Research Network,” at Duke University is being sponsored by the planet's most notorious offshoring organizations, led by NASSCOM, the organization of Indian H1B body shops.  Also included is Wipro, the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals, and other organizations that strip US jobs and send them to India.  Soon after the “Offshoring Research Network” was created at Duke University, Vivek Wadhwa was annointed to the position of “professor” in which Wadhwa does not have to show up for work, and without any justification other than his being an entrepreneur of some mysterious unidentified companies.

    Again, you wrote this story without the knowledge of where Wadhwa was an “entrepreneur?”  Don't feel bad.  Other members of the corporate media have done the same, some calling Wadhwa, “entrepreneur turned scholar.”

    Wadwha is a flim-flam man, with absolutely NO credentials.  He is a snake oil salesman, and the corporate media is just using his fake science to feed the corporate narrative being used to replace highly skilled, well educated US STEM workers with cheap, entry level, submissive third world workers, primarily from India and Communist China.

  17. Mr. Roques
    October 31, 2012

    I believe BO has been “trying” to have a immigration reform. The US should have a more flexible process. The problem now is that right after graduation, students need to get a job, and maybe lose their entrepeneurship – simply because a job might mean a H1B and afterwards, it might mean a Residency and Green Card. 

    Canada has a system in which immigrant students, after finishing, can opt for residency – independently of having a job. This gives people more flexibility to create, design, innovate.

  18. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 31, 2012

    Readers: We appreciate your continued readership and commentary on EBN. We hope to enlighten our readers through informed opinion and respectful discussion. We'd also like to avoid personal attacks on our contributors, editors and sources. The information presented regarding Wadwah's book is part research and part opinion, and his credentials are a matter of record. Let's have a discussion on the companies he founded and the objections that readers raise. It's an important part of putting the book in context, and let's examine the facts.

    For example, India is not  the the only source of H1B visa applicants; can we talk about other regions, corporations and some of the issues? How can some of the loopholes be avoided, and are there active bills in Congress that address these issues?


    October 31, 2012

    If you would like to have a more enlightened coversation, the first step would be for the authors of your articles to be more familiar with the facts.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a shill, a shill for the Indian H1B body shops that are offshoring jobs to India.  His credentials are so superficial that any competent journalist could expose his fraud with just the slightest amount of research.

    Wadhwa claims to be an entrepreneur.  My first question is “Where was Vivek Wadhwa an entrpreneur?” For what company was Vivek Wadhwa an entrepreneur?  Those two questions are fair questions.  The author of this story and the other corporate propaganda should have already asked those questions and provided the readers with the answers.

    Now lets address the editorial claim that India is not the only source of workers using H-1B visas. India is the source of somewhere between one half and two thirds of the total number of H-1B visas.  India is the only sourse of Indian H1B body shops, like Tata, like Infosys, like Cognizant, like Satyam, like HCL, like IBM India, etc.  The list goes on and on.

    Again recipients of H1B visas are not “highly skilled” workers. They are REPLACEMENT workers. In fact 94% of the H1B visa recipients are not even “Fully Competent” according to the GAO. In 2011, the GAO concluded that a mere 6% of the recipients of the H-1B visas are “Fully Competent.” The GAO also found that a staggering 54% of the recipients of the H-1B visas are “Entry Level” workers. And disenfranchised US STEM workers were required to train their replacements in order to receive their severence package.

    This corporate propaganda completely ignored these facts, because the author is totally unqualified to author a report on this issue.  She is merely reciting corporate propaganda.

  20. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 1, 2012

    @twinsfan: I can't speak for Wadwha's credentials, but I can speak for the author's. Tam Harbert is one of the most experienced journalists I know in the high-tech business and has been acknowledged as such from organizations such as the Jesse H. Neal Awards. See

    As for your points about Whadwa, I will personally do some more digging so I can intelligently respond.

    EBN has done its diligence on H1B: please see We acknowledge its flaws. But can we really blame the people that apply for these jobs when US corporations take advantage of H1-B and tax loopholes that keep revenue offshore?

  21. Perturbed Pundit
    November 1, 2012

    “let's examine the facts”

    The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region.

    Wadhwa is a chapter founder of a TiE group in his locality, he has a background in offshoring to India, and he clearly is interested in growth and entrepreneurship between India and the US.  The leaders of TiE are “who's who” of India's executive class.

    I'm not criticizing his participation in this business group.  I am however criticizing his ability to produce quality research free from outside influence.

    Regarding the companies he founded, an infamous Vivek Wadhwa quote will give the reader a glimpse into Wadhwa's motivations.  In a CIO article by Stephanie Overby entitled, “The Next Wave of Globalization: Offshoring R&D to India and China” dated Wednesday, October 31st, 2007, Wadhwa is quoted as saying, “I was one of the first [CEOs] to outsource software development to Russia in the early '90s. I was one of the first [CEOs] to use H-1B visas to bring workers to the U.S.A.,” Wadhwa says. “Why did I do that? Because it was cheaper.”  Wadhwa knows what occurs, he complains about flawed immigration policy, yet he is a champion of a visa program that is a key part of the problem and that REQUIRES most of them go go home. Whadwa represents corporate interests, and more precisely the interests of Indian corporations and the offshoring model.

    The fact that he is (said to be) the Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at Duke University is an affront to anyone who really cares about the sanctity of research.  A director of research in academia should be a true researcher, not someone with a corporate agenda.

  22. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 1, 2012

    Thanks, Pundit. Now we are getting somewhere. Facts are often inconvenient, but should not be ignored.

    November 1, 2012

    Tam may be a very nice person.  But the corporate media, including Tam, has become shills to the fraud similar to that being spread by Vivek Wadhwa.

    Vivek Wadhwa is a shill, conducting studies with predetermined conclusions to the benefit of his sponsors, who are the executives of the largest Indian H-1B body shops in the world, companies that are stealing our jobs and taking those jobs back to India.

    And the corporate media, including Tam, report the story like it is real news instead of the corporate propaganda that it really is. There is no objectivity coming out of this story.  Objectivity requires work.  This story is not journalism.  This is stenograpy.

  24. Barbara Jorgensen
    November 1, 2012

    It is not a matter of nice or not nice–it is a matter of experience, credentials and facts. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the premise of the book, the article, or the author, we are professionals here. It is clear that you question Wadwha's intent and credibility. Those are valid points and add some perspective to the discussion and the information Wadwha presents. Readers can draw their own conclusions from the information. We just ask that readers treat contributors and commentors with respect, and that works both ways. I don't think name calling advances the discussion.

    November 1, 2012

    I wish that being a victim of name calling would be the extent of suffering caused by the false stories being spread by the likes of Vivek Wadhwa and the media that spreads his fraud and his propaganda.

    Unfortunately, the suffering extends way beyond being the victim of name calling. The suffering extends to where hundreds of thousands of US STEM workers have been forced out of their careers by cheap entry level workers immigrating from third world countries.  US STEM workers who have had to abandon their careers are losing their homes and their families.

    As I reported earlier, the government and the politicians know that these recipients of the H-1B visa are NOT highly skilled.  They know that 94% of the recipients of H-1B visas are not even fully competent.  They know that US STEM workers are forced to train their replacements as a condition of receiving a severance package.

    Clearly corporate America is training the recipients of the H-1B visa, instead of training the 50% of recent college grads who still have not found full time employment. Clearly corporate America is training recipients of H-1B visas instead of updating the skills of experienced workers with twenty years of experience.

    Why is this happening?  It is happening because the media of today is totally consumed with passing along the corporate propaganda instead of doing real journalism.  Thank your lucky stars that your reporters are merely the victim of name calling instead of being the victim of the propaganda that your reporters are spewing.

  26. Bluto
    November 1, 2012

    I had no idea there was a “battle for tech talent”.

    I guess Vivek is doing the patriotic thing and stepping forward to try to help American companies that cannot find technical people to hire.


    Sarcasm aside, the reality is that there are many American engineers willing and able to do the work that American companies need. The problem is that American companies prefer to hire cheap labor from India.

    Presenting the issue as one of scarcity of technical talent is naive at best and dishonest at worst.


  27. garyk
    November 1, 2012

    Someone needs to send all these comments to the President Obama.

    Nation of immigrants, YES. Not fighting the Govenment of CHINA who is trying to take over the worlds manufacturing. My guest is that CHINA's exports are down. Other counties are fighting the manufacturing War and trying to get there fair share of manufacturing back to there country. If CHINA exports are down then the battles are a sucess.

  28. Tam Harbert
    November 2, 2012

    At the risk of whipping up this frenzy all over again, I would just like to point out that Wadhwa won an “Outstanding America by Choice” award earlier this year from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

    From the list of recipients on the USCIS website (

    2012 Outstanding American by Choice Recipients

    Vivek Wadhwa
    Academic, Researcher, Writer, and Entrepreneur
    Menlo Park, California

    Mr. Vivek Wadhwa is Vice President of Academics and Innovation at Singularity University; Fellow, Arthur & Toni Rembe Rock Center for Corporate Governance, Stanford University; Director of Research at the Center for Entrepreneurship and Research Commercialization at the Pratt School of Engineering, Duke University; and distinguished visiting scholar, Halle Institute of Global Learning, Emory University.

    Mr. Wadhwa oversees the academic programs at Singularity University, which educates a select group of leaders about the exponentially growing technologies that are soon going to change our world. In his roles at Stanford, Duke, and Emory universities, Mr. Wadhwa lectures in class on subjects such as entrepreneurship and public policy, helps prepare students for the real world, and leads groundbreaking research projects. He is an advisor to several governments; mentors entrepreneurs; and is a regular columnist for The Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, and the American Society of Engineering Education's Prism magazine. Prior to joining academia in 2005, Wadhwa founded two software companies.

    Mr. Wadhwa holds an MBA from New York University and a B.A. in Computing Studies from the University of Canberra, in Australia. He is founding president of the Carolinas chapter of The IndUS Entrepreneurs (TIE), a non-profit global network intended to foster entrepreneurship.

    Mr. Wadhwa became a naturalized citizen in 1989.

    November 3, 2012

    At the risk of whipping up this frenzy all over again, I would just like to point out that Wadhwa won an “Outstanding America by Choice” award earlier this year from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service.

    Tam, you are not doing anything to dispell the observation of your being a shill.

    Perhaps you did not understand the question the first three times that it was asked.  Where was Vivek Wadhwa an entrepreneur?  I read your lengthy shill piece. Plus I read Wadhwa.s bio.  Between all of that groveling and self-serving BS, you would think that there would be some space to answer the OBVIOUS question.

    Let me try again for the FIFTH time.  Where was Vivek Wadhwa an entrepreneur?  When you answer the question, you can leave out all of the hype and the groveling.

    November 3, 2012

    Relativity Technologies Inc?

    Is that one of the companies?  What was the other?

  31. Perturbed Pundit
    November 3, 2012, all you're doing now is harrassing Tam, which is very unfortunate.  I ask you to stop.  You may disagree with her (as do I); you may disagree and dislike some of her sources (as do I).  But that doesn't give you a reason to harrass.  Make your point and move on.  Otherwise, you only make yourself look bad.

    November 4, 2012

    No hell I'm not harrassing her! I want to know the name of the two companies that enables Vivek Wadhwa to call himself an entrepreneur.  I don't know why it is so tough to answer that simple question.  Between the two, Vivek and Tam, they have over a thousand words of blabber building his promotion, hers being shill, his being self-promotion, but getting the name of these two companies is like pulling teeth.

    As far as you “asking” me to “stop,” you can KMA!  I have other fish to fry which I will do either here or in other places, after I get the names.  But first I want to know the name of the two companies that enable this guy to call himself an entrepreneur.

    He has been conducting his phony self promotion for several years now and it is time to pony up the answer!

    It is like asking Mitt Romney for his tax returns!  Romney's team doesn't want to give up his tax returns and Vivek's team does not want to identify the companies that enable Vivek to call himself an entrepreneur.

    I know why Romney doesn't want to give up his tax returns, and I suspect that I know why Vivek doesn't want to give up the name of his two ventures that he uses to FALSELY identify himself as an entrepreneur!


    November 4, 2012

    BTW, Tam, the word Indus in The Indus Entrepreneurs, is spelled Indus, not IndUS!  The Indus region of the planet is in India and Pakistan.

    As they put it:

    The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE), was founded in 1992 in Silicon Valley by a group of successful entrepreneurs, corporate executives, and senior professionals with roots in the Indus region.

  34. johnnyg
    November 4, 2012

    In his book excerpt, he says Seer Technology and Relativity. You can read here:

    To get to the excerpt, you have to click on the book cover. He tells his story about starting these 2 companies. 

    November 8, 2012

    Thanks johnnyg!  I waited four days for Tam to respond and identify Vivek Wadhwa's two entrepreneurial accomplishments. As you can tell, she never responded.

    Fundamental to all of Wadhwa's self serving announcements are his mysterious entrepreneurial accomplishments.  If they were real, we would not have to dig to find them.

    Relativity, if that is the same Relativity, has a profile of a staffing company, an H-1B body shop. In LinkedIn there was about 15 members who work(ed) for Relativity, one person in the US, the remaining in either India or England. There does not appear to be any products developed by Relativity.  It appears to be a staffing company.  Is that the legacy of Wadhwa's Relativity?  I cannot tell.

    I looked at the Amazon reference and I too found Wadhwa's reference to Seer Technologies. While Wadhwa referenced Seer, he did not explicitly claim that to be one of his entrepreneurial accomplishments.  He claims to have been the CTO there. I did some research on Seer Technology.  There is a Seer Technology, which is a Salt Lake City company that manufactures Chemical Recognition Systems.  Is that Wadhwa's Seer Technology? 

    Unless someone addresses my questions, I will never know.

    Again, the foundation of all of Wadhwa's self serving press pronouncements are his mysterious entrepreneurial accomplishments.  A little sunlight would be helpful into my buying into his high opinion of himself.

  36. hash.era
    January 30, 2013

    Mr.Roques: I dont think the job market is ready to handle a load of graduates. Its the issue here. They always go for lower salaries now.

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