“High-skilled immigration has long been controversial, but its benefits are clear”


“December 7 is a date that has lived in infamy since 1941…

“…There’s another event that’s also worth recalling on a date like December 7. While it’s not an event that is known by nearly as many people, it’s connected in an interesting way to the events that were unleashed on December 7, 1941. And it continues to speak to important issues in our own day.

“It’s an event that was documented in the newspapers that Americans opened nine years earlier, on December 7, 1932…it involved one of the most notable figures of the 20th century, Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics who would later play a role in bringing the Second World War to its end.

“Although he was celebrated internationally for transforming modern science, Einstein…had become a high-profile target for the anti-Semitism festering in his homeland in the early 1930s. With his scientific works branded ‘un-German’ and his name banned from lectures and academic papers by the rising Nazi party, 52-year-old Einstein joined the exodus of world-renowned scientists, scholars and artists from Germany…

“…Countries across the West were eager to welcome the gifted physicist. But, after years of considering his options across Europe, Einstein and his wife Elsa decided to seek more permanent refuge in the United States, lured by numerous offers from American universities. Some Americans, however, felt the Nobel Prize winner was a danger to the country…

“…Once in the U.S., Einstein used his position to engage in and advance the causes he cared about…His many varied associations caught the interest of J. Edgar Hoover, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who saw Einstein as a ‘dangerous subversive.’ The FBI wiretapped his phone, intercepted his mail and looked into deporting him.[6] The FBI amassed a 1,427-page dossier on him over the next 23 years.

“…He set out to help his fellow German Jews. He and Elsa applied for visas and personally vouched for refugees fleeing Nazi rule. There were no programs or agencies to assist refugees then. So in July 1933, Einstein formed the International Relief Association with 51 prominent Americans, including philosopher John Dewey, writer John Dos Passos and theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. Later, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt joined the effort…When Paris fell to Adolph Hitler, the Emergency Rescue Committee was formed. Eventually, the two groups merged into today’s International Rescue Committee, the first civilian group to aid European refugees at the end of World War II.[10]

“The conflict in Europe and in the Pacific challenged Einstein’s antiwar views, and ironically, his breakthrough equation E = mc2, connecting the mass of an object with its energy, would serve as the foundation of a devastating new weapon: the atomic bomb.[11]

“…While we’ll never know what our world would look like without Einstein’s letter to the President about E = mc2, these events provide a powerful reminder of two overarching themes of American history. The nation’s leadership in science and technology consistently has been advanced by key contributions made by immigrants. And despite these contributions, immigration policy, even for highly-valued talent, has always been fraught with controversy.

“Viewed from the vantage point of 2017, it takes more than a moment to digest the fact that a visa for Albert Einstein was a point of controversy. Across the country and around the world, it’s hard to make it through high school without learning his name and the importance of his contributions. What nation would not want him as a citizen, either in peacetime or even more when confronted by increasing tensions in a dangerous world?

“In our own day there have been numerous immigrants that have followed in Einstein’s footsteps in the United States. Only a few win a Nobel Prize. But many have founded or led companies and contributed to important scientific discoveries. Perhaps nowhere is this more prevalent than in the technology sector in which we work. Just as the United States led the world in harnessing the power of the atom by building on the breakthroughs of talented immigrants, so the country leads the global technology sector today in important part because of the work of people who have come from other countries.

“None of this means that every person who wants to enter the country should be permitted to do so. Immigration remains complicated, in the United States and every other country. But Einstein’s story reminds us of the enormous upside of attracting the best talent in the world – and the fact that the fullness of this talent and its potential contributions only emerge over time. At a time when Congress (hopefully) will soon be turning its attention to DACA and a new generation of Dreamers, and at a time when high-skilled talent from some countries confront a bureaucratic green card backlog, immigration remains an opportunity not just for immigrants, but for all of us who were born in the United States that can benefit from their presence.”

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