It’s graduation day at Carnegie Mellon, the place where my sister has called home for four years. As a native-born Korean who has always dreamed of studying and working in America, my sister proudly wore her gown with the hopeful smile that she would finally work at an American job, drive an American car, and simply be… American.
Little did she know that this diploma - her golden ticket to an American lifestyle - would be futile against an eventual torrent of rejection letters from just about every company she applied for.
Met only by token resistance by the Democrats, the Protect and and Grow American Jobs Act has finally passed in the House and will most likely soon put a significant damper on the growth of countless businesses. People just like my sister who want nothing more than to become permanent American citizens and contribute to some of the most important sectors of American economy are being kept away merely because of a shortsighted desire to “protect” jobs from going to these “foreigners”.
This is hardly a way to “make America great again”.
The shock we felt when my sister was unable to become the American she always wanted to be was felt throughout the entire family. During our time in the States and having lived in many countries around the world as well, America’s unique sense of cultural freedom and diversity truly stands out. The road lanes are wide, malls are big, and there is always room to be who you want.
But the news of visa reform during the presidential campaign season had left us already almost resigned to our sister’s fate. The eventual rejection letters she received were unfortunately no surprise, leaving us dejected and hopeless.
However, unlike my sister or anyone concerned about the long-term health of America’s economy, governments around the world couldn’t be happier about all this. South Korea does everything it can to keep its talented youth from studying and working abroad, even shunning those who attempt to leave the country for educational and professional purposes.
Our story is by no means an uncommon one. In fact, all around the world, countries are fighting brain drain. 82 percent of all H-1B visas issued in 2016 went to India and China, and while this benefited corporations in the United States, those countries are wanting to claim their national talent. India fights brain drain with a combination of scholarships, fellowships, and joint research programs to their top students. China has also tried their own measures as well through utilizing mass media outlets. One of its prominent newspapers “The Peoples Daily” regularly publishes articles called “Letters from Afar”, which amusingly describe the supposed desires of Chinese students who are studying abroad to come back. The motives behind these mostly ineffective attempts - with many of China’s brightest students still leaving in droves - are clearly transparent and show how desperate the Chinese government has become in swaying young people from leaving.
If America’s biggest competitors are doing so much to keep talent in, why are Americans trying to keep them out?
Ultimately, the long-term effect of all these efforts will be negative for the United States economic future. In fact, H1-B visas actually create jobs for Americans in the long-run since they allow talented people to come in to the US and contribute to the American economy as a whole, which some expect to create as many as 700,000 more jobs for Americans by 2020.
I have always dreamed of studying abroad and working there and possibly starting my own start-up someday. I certainly don’t intend to “steal” any American jobs and actually hope to create even more of them too. But even now, as I consider applying to American universities in my senior year, I face the difficult decision of choosing to either accept the many financial incentives that are given by Korean universities or take the risk of studying in a country where I may not be able to find work.
My sister and I are among the many tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people around the world who want more than just a taste of the American dream. Even though my sister ultimately has no regrets about her current situation and is extremely happy at her new job in Korea, many people around the world in similar situations are still frustrated with the obstacles in our own countries who desire to keep us in and now even more in America to keep us out. As the only country in the world which is defined not by ethnicity but by the political and economic freedoms it provides its citizens, America should be proud that so many around the world want to emigrate there and embrace them.