A lack of work visas for skilled immigrants could result in a reverse brain-drain and a subsequent decline in U.S. competitiveness, a new study shows.

As a result of a growing backlog of visas, roughly one in five new legal immigrants and one in three employment-based legal immigrants are planning to leave the United States or are uncertain about the future, according to a joint study by researchers at Duke, Harvard, and New York universities. Every year, about one million scientists, engineers, doctors, researchers, and other skilled immigrant workers compete for 120,000 permanent U.S. resident visas.

This imbalance poses a serious threat to American innovation and competitiveness, researchers said. The study, sponsored by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a Kansas City, Mo.-based entrepreneurship organization, found that foreign nationals were named as inventors or co-inventors in more than 25 percent of all international patents filed last year from the United States. Foreign nationals also contributed to more than half of all international patents filed by big U.S. corporations, including Merck & Co., General Electric, and Siemens, among others.

"Given that the U.S. comparative advantage in the global economy is in creating knowledge and applying it to business, it behooves the country to consider how we might adjust policies to reduce the immigrant backlog," Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation, said in a statement.

Published on: Aug 24, 2007