Shri Balachandran, a technology specialist in Plano Texas, knows that America’s strength depends on its ability to recruit and retain international talent. “In technology, roughly two of every three people on the technical side and the senior business side of things are usually immigrants,” he says. “The trend is very pronounced in the high end of technology.” At Nokia, where he works, his colleagues hail primarily from Israel, France, and India, where he emigrated from 25 years ago. That diversity, he says, is necessary to keep the United States at the forefront of science and technology. “These immigrants are highly educated, they have a strong work ethic, and most have an entrepreneurial streak — or at least a streak for the shaking of the status quo.” His own wife, for example, a doctor who is also from India, owns her own pediatrics practice.
Balachandran is now a U.S. citizen, and he wants to keep the country he calls home competitive in a global economy. But to do that will require immigration reform that does a better job of encouraging hardworking, educated people to take — and keep — jobs in the United States, he says. “Like we say justice is blind, immigration should be blind… Status should be given to the most deserving candidates who can help move the country forward, regardless of where they’re from.” He’s frustrated, however: Not by the presence of hardworking, law-abiding undocumented immigrants, but by the undocumented immigrants who get into trouble with the law. He’d like to see the immigrants who are contributing to their communities receive priority to move to the next step of immigration status. “If you’re creating jobs, making lives better, teaching, paying your dues to the community working in nonprofits — that kind of immigrant deserves proper respect,” Balachandran says.
A lot of my friends moved back to their home countries and started their own businesses there. And those are the people the United States can’t afford to lose.
He’d also like to see the immigration system become more efficient. Balachandran originally came to the United States on a student visa, then stayed to work for IBM on a visa for high-skilled workers, which enabled him to secure a green card and, finally, citizenship. While he did everything “by the book,” he found the process painful. “I had a double master’s, and my wife, a doctor, was doing her residency, and it still took us four years to get green cards,” he says. “That uncertainty puts you on the edge. We didn’t know if we could start a family, buy a house.”
Luckily, the couple was able to stay. His wife’s practice, Natural Pediatrics, has two locations with a total of eight employees. And Balachandran, in addition to his success at Nokia, is currently working on community enhancement nonprofit initiatives, and is in the early stages of launching his own business. But while the Balachandrans have been able to stay in America and contribute economically, many of their highly educated, highly skilled friends have been forced to leave. “Those waiting times were the times when a lot of my friends moved back to their home countries and started their own businesses there,” he says. “And those are the people the United States can’t afford to lose.”