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US politics

America’s self-harming immigration system

German-born Albert Einstein becoming a US citizen in 1940. American Stock/Getty

America faces an “existential struggle” to stay ahead of China in “the industries of the future”, says Edward Alden in Foreign Policy – from artificial intelligence to green energy. To win, it needs the world’s best engineering and science talent. But while the US doesn’t struggle to attract whizz kids – international students dominate in many tech-related university courses – it makes them go through all kinds of “Kafkaesque horrors” to stay in the country afterwards.

More than a million immigrants are on the years-long waiting list to receive a green card, which gives them permanent residency in America; the backlog is so bad that “more than 200,000 eligible people could die” without ever getting it. One Indian friend of mine has been waiting nearly 10 years and was recently informed that the government had “lost” his $1,225 processing payment. Immigration quotas haven’t been updated since 1965, and the rules for “highly educated immigrants” were last altered in 1990, before the tech boom. With the Republicans now an “openly anti-immigrant party”, prospects for reform don’t look good. In the meantime, more Indian students are going to Canada than to America, as the former offers easier routes to permanent residence. Not only is the US’s dysfunctional immigration system “immensely cruel”, but missing out on all this talent is fast becoming an “economic and national security risk”.