Bay Area losing foreign-born workers to other markets

Foreign-born whiz kids turned off by restrictive immigration policies and soaring housing costs are passing up high-tech Bay Area jobs for opportunities overseas, economists say.

Such factors are threatening the Bay Area’s stronghold on the technology and innovation markets, where local high-tech companies and universities are staffed, for the most part, with foreign-born workers, according to a new report by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

Most professionals are opting for jobs in emerging foreign markets such as China and India, where they can afford to purchase a home and where citizenship doesn’t require long, exhaustive lines, the report says. And wherever the talent goes, the businesses will follow, said Sean Randolph, president of the institute.

“As you look around the world today, a very important determinant of where businesses locate their activities is talent,” Randolph said. “It’s the new international currency of competitiveness. Businesses seek the largest pools of the best global talent.”

The nation’s supply of H-1B visas are not meeting the demand, according to the report. U.S. companies suffered losses of over $30 billion between 2002 and 2004 due to denials and delays in the processing of business visas, the report says.

“That’s not helpful to companies trying to be globally competitive,” Randolph said. “If you’re graduating from Stanford with a PhD and want to work for a company here, it’s a big disincentive if you can’t get a visa. And for those wanting to become long-term, there’s a waiting list of five years for a green card.”

Another problem is that the Bay Area’s education system is ill equipped to fill positions vacated by workers enticed to foreign markets, according to the report. Bay Area students are more likely to complete high school but less likely to attend college, the report says.

“The quality of our education system needs to be at a level where we can produce the kind of workforce that can meet market demand (in the Bay Area),” said Lenny Mendonca, director of McKinsey and Co., a management consulting firm advising leading companies on issues of strategy.

The report calls for drastic changes to the K-12 system, where “students are coming out of the high school system not prepared for college, not even for junior college, much less for being employed,” Randolph said.

maldax@examiner.com

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