Silicon Valley Chinese Immigrants Returning Home

Former Palo Alto resident Yong Li is apparently similar to many Chinese-born immigrants leaving Silicon Valley to return to China. This weekend's San Jose Mercury News highlighted his situation in an article titled "Silicon Valley Brain Drain: Immigrant Chinese Return to Homeland to Pursue Entrepreneurial Dreams". Mr. Li left his family in Palo Alto to start up a pharmaceutical company in Tianjin, China, with the financial backing of the Chinese government. He is representative of a wave of highly skilled immigrants returning to China to start companies.

According to the article, Chinese recruiters regularly come through Silicon Valley targeting highly skilled and educated Chinese immigrants who have lost jobs, and who just graduated from college and cannot find jobs. The timing is good for recruiters, as the U.S. economy continues downward and venture capital funding evaporates. Chinese recruiters are selling the Chinese immigrants on prospects of China's large and growing market, and on the Chinese government's deep pockets to fund and assist new companies. The growing anti-immigrant sentiment accompanying record-high unemployment in the U.S., makes these offers even more attractive.

Surely there are many people who will cheer this news, and see it as cutting out some of the competition for already scarce jobs. This view is short-sighted, and misses the significance of a "Brain Drain". I have previously posted on the potential effects of talented immigrants leaving the U.S., and on the importance of reforming U.S. immigration laws to encourage the "best and brightest" to stay.

Although China turns out thousands of engineers and scientists from its universities each year, we have to ask ourselves why Chinese recruiters are coming to the U.S., and specifically to Silicon Valley to recruit. The Mercury News article states that "it does not have deep ranks of seasoned scientists and technologists." One Chinese national who returned is quoted as stating that finding qualified talent has not been easy. Lack of experienced talent is surely not the only reason, and we should recognize that part of the reason that Chinese recruiters come here is to seek out those who have learned and gained experience in a creative, open, and innovative culture unique to Silicon Valley.

Employment-Based Green Cards, Immigration Reform, Work Visas / by Michelle Gee