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Once nurturer, America is a hoarder of talent now

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Soru Kumar
Product and Technology Leader based out San Francisco

The allure of the American Dream is now a net negative for H1B workers and the Global community.

America, a cradle of opportunity where ambitious folks came to realize their dreams, is no longer net positive for highly skilled immigrants. Yet, throughout history, skilled immigrants moving to America was a positive-sum.

Enterprising and hard-working immigrants won as America provided them a conducive environment to achieve their potential. America won as without those talented resources, maintaining the number 1 status would’ve been a struggle. Lastly, the whole world won because eventually, new innovation seeped through the porous borders to make life better for everyone across the globe.

Breathtaking highways, thermally regulated suburban houses, and the allure of the American dream perpetuated by Tech mythologies helped America attract and steal talent from all over the world. While the allure of the American dream is still there, the ground realities have changed.

After talking to a lot of folks and living the life of an immigrant, I believe that the relationship is no longer a symbiotic one. Somewhere in the last decade, the balance of the ecosystem got broken, and America is no more net positive for immigrants — particularly skilled H1B workers.

America is still able to attract and keep talent but acts like a hoarder now, not a nurturer.

What is hoarding?

Immigration is hoarding when all three steps hold true:

  1. Migration of Talent: A significant number of tech talent comes to the USA for the American dream.
  2. Headwind, not Tailwind: The American system works as a headwind rather than a tailwind. The system is not conducive for them to achieve their potential.
  3. Second best option: Outside of America, the hoarded talent would have faced challenges, but, on balance, would have had a higher probability to achieve their potential. Also, as a group, they would have innovated more to contribute to the progress of the world.

The Transition from Net positive to Net negative

In the paper, ‘The Silicon Valley’s New Immigrant Entrepreneur’, in the year 1999, Annalee Saxenian wrote

When local technologists claim that “Silicon Valley is built on ICs” they refer not to the integrated circuit but to Indian and Chinese engineers.

She found that immigrants account for one-third of the scientific and engineering workforce in Silicon Valley and that Indian or Chinese Chief Executive Officers are running one-fourth of all of the high-technology firms in the region. Not to mention the faceless imported immigrants that oil and pump the engine of all the organization. That was 1999.

Now, in the year, 2020, immigrants still seem to be making contributions on all fronts: producing builders, innovators, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and nameless and invisible yet critical organs of the organization.

However, the well of talent is going to dry out soon even though the yearly talent supply seems to unchanged. The environment and process that turns potential into performance are broken now. A talented import doesn’t become a builder overnight. A cohort of people building today did not move here yesterday. On average, there is a lag of a decade. Moving to a new country, getting acclimatized to the culture, and get on top of tech scenes to make a sizable contribution by founding a company or inventing something new does take years.

Now, let’s get back to our three conditions of hoarding to see how America has become a hoarder from a nurturer in the past decade. And, why it doesn’t make sense for a dreamy-eyed to move to America.

Migration of Talent

A healthy number of H1B applicants clearly show that the allure of the American dream is still intact. The Vinod Khoslas, the memory of Steve Job, and glittering veneer Hollywood paints American life with still works like a black hole to attract talent. When you pick a couple of thousand people out of a pool of 1.3 billion dreamy-eyed, you are bound to get bright folks.

Headwind not Tailwind

America of the eighties and nineties was more conducive for Indians than it is now. Take, for example, the green card queue. In the nineties people counted their wait time in months, in 2000, they started counting it in years, now they are counting it in decades.

It is a critical metric because it stops immigrants from becoming builders and entrepreneurs. A sprint on corporate treadmill and uncertainty hanging on their heads rob away time for deep thinking and deep work, a precursor for building. It works as a headwind.

One may also wonder, at least these people are helping build the big tech. They can grow within a company; and they can help a company grow. Correct, but the big tech works on incremental innovations, and is itself a hoarder of talent. It works on incremental innovation to strengthen it’s market power and thereby deprives us of step-function growth. In the current environment, only a few Americans believe that Big Tech has the right incentive; or they are best positioned to manage and guide the talent that America imports.

No wonder there is an anecdote or two of folks overcoming the barrier. But those are the exception rather than the norm. Ever heard of a parent who doesn’t let their teenager sleep before a school soccer match just to test out how tough she is. America ought to focus on getting the best results from the imports, not stress test it. The time for stress testing was, well, before the import.

No one buys an iPhone and uses it only for making calls. Unfortunately America is doing it with H1B workers.

2nd best option

The world is flatter now than it was 30 years ago. The rise and adoption of the internet have democratized knowledge. Innovation spreads with the speed of bytes, and physical proximity is no longer a differentiating competitive advantage as it was 30 years ago.

With the east rising and roaring, the second-best option available to potential immigrants is becoming loftier. The opportunity east presents are multilayered: one can build and democratize the technologies that are already working on the west; one can build in house technology to serve the fastest-growing market. There is a reason western companies are eyeing on the east to grow their business beyond the saturated market in the west. Now, if one wants to build something new — new innovation, a new category, one can build it anywhere thanks to the Internet and two-way brain power migration over the past decades. Thanks to America of the eighties.

Closing thoughts: One for America and One for Potential Immigrants

Unfortunately, outdated visa policies have in fact turned America from a nurturer to a hoarder of talent.

For America: New generation of immigrants know the past, and they prefer to ask Kennedy’s chiasmus in reverse order “Ask not only what you can do for America, but also ask what America is willing to do for you.”

The old generation is willing to explain that they are net-positive to America because the reverse was implicit. The new generation knows that it is no longer true.

At last, let’s end it with the metaphor of a professional sports team. To build a world-class team, you recruit talent from all over the world. You give them the best facilities and coaches, and then draft them in an American team.

America, by not valuing the trained professional, is trying to send them over to the rival team. It will make the rival teams stronger and bring them closer to winning.

Smart ambitious folks looking to immigrate to America: Come here when you don’t have any restrictions. Even though the pasture looks greener in the west, no point coming here if you are tethered to a pole and are not allowed to graze. Remember your home country is a fertile ground, and you have the tool and technologies to make most of it in the next decade.


  1. H1B fraud. Quality of H1b workers. True, there are companies that are abusing the system and bringing people with embellished experiences. At any rate, this is related to visa reform on who America brings, not how America treats someone once they are here.
  2. India focused not China: More than 70% of H1B workers are Indians now. The essay is focused on Indian workers, not Chinese workers.
  3. Outstanding visas (O and EB1): It helps only a microscopic percentage, and sometimes deep work is needed to get picked for O and EB1 that H1B job in a big tech steals away.

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Soru Kumar
Product and Technology Leader based out San Francisco

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