Best and brightest shun becoming U.S. citizens

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The global marketplace has created yet another commodity: people.
According to a study in Social Science Quarterly, immigrants with high earning capacity and high levels of education are less likely to become U.S. citizens — and are less likely to be satisfied with life in the United States.
“The picture that emerges from this analysis is of a fluid and dynamic global market for human capital, in which the bearers of skills, education and abilities seek to maximize earnings in the short term while retaining little commitment to any particular society or national labor market over the longer term,” said Princeton University’s Douglas Massey, the key author of the study.
While experts agree that the United States depends on its immigrants who create new businesses to retain the country’s footing in the global marketplace, increasingly those highly educated foreigners are not choosing citizenship.
“I’ve seen it during the past four years,” said Matjaz Bren, professor in Regis University’s MBA program. “It used to be that foreign students who could get a job here after graduation — stayed here. There was no question. But recently, that’s changed. They want to go back to their home countries.”
Immigrants with high levels of education were found to be less satisfied in general with life in the United States, according to the study. And immigrants who owned property — and were at the top economic levels — were less likely to seek citizenship than others.
The amount of money sent back to home countries also was noted in the study. Those who sought citizenship, but chose not to settle permanently in the United States, were most likely to send large amounts of money home. That trend is something that has grown in recent years, Bren said.
“Ex-patriots send about $20 million a year home,” he said. “In some countries, it’s one-third of their gross domestic product. India’s ex-patriots send back a total of 10 percent of all the country’s investments.”
The study showed two surprising elements: first, that satisfaction with the country is unrelated to income; and secondly, there is a notable lack of satisfaction among those who are “presumably in the best position to benefit from participation in U.S. society — those with high levels of education.”
“… U.S. satisfaction declines significantly and monotonically with rising education,” according to the study. “Those with some college or a college degree are more likely to be dissatisfied than those without college experience … and those with advanced education are clearly the least satisfied of all immigrants.”
The key component to the education is the fact that well-educated immigrants are in a “privileged position.”
“Increasingly those with skills, training and education compete in a global market for human capital,” according to the study. “Like other forms of capital, it is in relatively scarce supply relative to global demand and its price has steadily risen on world markets. Well-educated migrants are in a privileged position compared with other immigrants, but their expectations are likely also much higher and they are thus more likely to feel they have other options besides the United States … thus, when they encounter setbacks and barriers in the host country, they are more prone to dissatisfaction.”
Immigrants — particularly those from India or China — want to come here and gain the education and experience, Bren said. But frequently, they don’t want to stay.
“They come here and are very, very successful,” he said. “But in two or three years, they go back to invest in their countries. Increasingly, they say they can get jobs that pay just as well in their own country. They can make money easier, there are more opportunities.”
Amy.Gillentine@csbj.com