Continuing my science policy blogging streak (we'll get back to real science here soon, I promise!), it's worth noting Washington Post columnist George Will's recent piece about our "perverse national policy of expelling talented people."

If you've spent any time recently around America's science PhD programs, you'll have heard about the problem: we bring talented people in from all over the world, train them to do great science, and then make it impossible for them to get a job here, even when US companies and universities want to hire them. As George Will writes, this creates yet one more incentive for US companies to send their operations outside of the US:

But one reason Microsoft opened a software development center in Vancouver [Canada] is that Canadian immigration laws allow Microsoft to recruit skilled people it could not retain under U.S. immigration restrictions.

It's not just a problem for Microsoft. A Chinese colleague of mine recently lamented that her husband, a skilled, PhD computational biologist, could not get a job with a local technology company, even though they wanted to hire him. It is just too difficult to get a work visa.

Not too long ago, I had a conversation with a young Professor of Medieval Studies, who is German. Although she has a job, she's having a terrible time getting permanent resident status. While she's in limbo, she can't go back home to visit family in Germany, or she'll lose any chance of reentering the US. Her troubles also include some insulting questioning by a half-educated INS bureaucrat who questioned whether Medieval Studies was a legitimate subject of academic study.

Is this policy right? Are these foreign nationals competing for US jobs, justifying our immigration stance? George Will's answer (and I agree) is this:

U.S. policy should be: A nation cannot have too many such people, so send us your PhDs yearning to be free.

We need these people. They contribute a vital part of our academic and industrial research programs; universities and companies should be able to any hired talented people they want, because we really don't have enough of these people - US citizens or not. There are simply not enough US citizens around to perform these jobs. While we've been sending these people away, European nations have been snapping them up.

US science became great during the 20th century in part because we welcomed top scientists (and educated workers in other fields) from other countries to come work in our university and corporate labs. That strategy worked, and there is no reason for us not to keep following it.

As George Will puts it:

"Solutions to some problems are complex; removing barriers to educated immigrants is not."