Visioning on REI 11/16/04 - "The Value of International Students to Northeast Ohio"

Submitted by Norm Roulet on Thu, 11/18/2004 - 14:15.

The 11/16/04 Tuesday@REI session surfaced one of the most serious problems being confronting by America, our region, and Case today - the fact foreigners are not interested to visit, work, and study in America at levels seen in the past. This is in fact a reason for the most pressing and escalating outsourcing issues surfacing today, that American knowledge-based jobs and important innovations are being realized in foreign regions having greater talent than here - its not just about cheap labor. The issue is best framed in a posting from an ingenious English programmer I know, now living in central Brazil... "the US is loosing out on "creative class" talent because we foreigners don't want to go live there. (I have to say, I've never met a smart, interesting person who wanted to emigrate to the US, though plenty of my friends are talking about going to Canada.)

Experts on these concerns convened at REI to analyze the issue and opportunities for improvement. There is no doubt statistics prove international student enrollments in American universities are down, and it is common knowledge that a huge percentage of the highest level students at America's universities are predominantly foreign-born, especially in the sciences, mathematics and even healthcare. We must have a strong inflow of the best and brightest foreign talent for America to remain innovative and economically competitive. For example, consider a large percentage of patents awarded in the US are filed by foreign born inventors and researchers - without the inflow of these people, our nation is at a catastrophic global disadvantage.

Americans often seem to forget that America as we know it is entirely the product of immigration, considering that everyone here came from elsewhere, starting around 50,000 years ago, with the predominant inflow of our current population having just started around 500 years ago - we are all foreigners and for the most part recent immigrants. It is now absurd to take a protectionist and isolationist position that is in denial of our foundation as a nation - never forget that the inventiveness of the American nation has been achieved entirely through internationalization.

What has changed recently, to make America less attractive to foreign students and professionals, is that American national foreign policies have become hostile - "we" are in global conflicts and we are anti-internationalization. Thus, the world has a negative impression of our global policies and to a great extent our culture, and the reality is coming to America is dangerous for foreigners - it is difficult for students, their families and workers to obtain travel and work visas, and here they have no civil rights or access to due process - they can literally be detained and deported without notice, cause or recourse. It is understandable that under such circumstances foreigners will avoid our country - especially those who are positioned to be accepted in the best universities and job openings in the world. Considering America represents a small fraction of the global population, and inventiveness is evenly distributed around the world, to close our doors to "outsiders" is to lose out on access to most of the world's innovativeness, not to mention the best of world art, music, culture, love and goodness.

Do "we" care? In many cases, in many places in America, the popular culture is now decidedly against internationalization and foreign students and workers. REI Director Ed Morrison pointed the attendees of this session to a slide about recent city of Detroit efforts to create an African-American-exclusive economic development policy that was justified by the position foreigners take away local jobs, and it seems nation-wide there is a perception globalization is evil - whether by justification it allows terrorists to harm Americans or disrupt our happy economic home. Such thinking is ignorant, but pervasive, just as other forms of racism have scarred all our people over the generations. Can we combat such ignorance?... We absolutely must, for the survival of our country.

The conclusion of the REI session on this subject determined leaders of this region have a need to address this issue, and an opportunity to make a difference in this aspect of our economy... I suggest this national crisis actually offers us the opportunity to develop unique competitive advantages right now, for NEO. If we may make foreigners feel more comfortable and welcome here than in the rest of the country, and our world-class organizations do an effective job marketing their enthusiasm for global outreach, we stand to gain a larger share of the inflow of excellent immigrants, students and workers who continue to come in from abroad, and we will be even more so fortunate as policies eventually shift to improve the global outlook toward our nation - NEO stands to be a big winner in this global playing field, positioning us to have a more exceptional workforce than other regions, in the long run. Thus, we will improve our economy and the overall quality of life for everyone living in NEO for generations to follow.

To seize these advantages, our first responsibility is to make all recent immigrants and visiting foreigners feel as welcome, comfortable and supported here as is possible - protect them from racism and expose them to every opportunity afforded them and others in our community... encourage as many of them as possible to make NEO their home. To do that, we must educate the masses, including all community leaders.

We need an aggressive public relations campaign against racism at home - all forms of racism. And we must better leverage our international relations leaders to better communicate the role of foreigners in our economy, and proactively market our region across the globe. Our World Trade Center, foreign consuls, and international social and trade organizations and all international families must be encouraged to celebrate all aspects of their cultures and our diversity here, and share the celebration in the distant lands to which they are connected. Thus, 100,000s of people of NEO must become our dignitaries for improved foreign relations world-wide.

We must also become inventive in how we approach international relations, establishing global scholarship programs, many sister city relations, co-development projects, and even trade and tourism missions. All this offers exciting opportunities for people here to participate in other cultures, see other lands, and share business opportunities around the globe. And the leaders of these effort should be recognized and celebrated as the exceptional dignitaries they are or shall become. Determining how to do that is another great opportunity for our community to excel and prosper together. Realizing we are all foreign, consider how to connect with the people of your native land(s). How to share insight there and encourage cultural, educational and business outreach. Once you figure out ways to do that - just do it.

And people here are starting to really attack this challenge and have success.

Consider, at the Community of Minds get together on 11/17/04, the CIO of the Cleveland Museum of Art demonstrated dozens of programs they have developed there to use information technology to connect with remote people around the world. While most local arts enthusiasts may only see such effort as a way to share the treasures of our museum with people of distant lands, the museum sees this as a program to connect Cleveland with those people and to sell them on some aspects that make NEO the best place in the world to be. Through the efforts of the CMA, it is certain the global opinion of NEO improves, making this a more desirable place for global citizens interested in the arts to come visit, study, and live - it puts us on the map with "Creative Class" leaders, which is exactly the objective of 10,000s of people here in our community.

Another community leader attending the Community of Minds meeting had recently spent 5 months in Zimbabwe setting up a knowledge network to help that nation's best and brightest high school students find advanced study opportunities in America. We discussed focusing that program on attracting those exceptional minds here. Achieving that goal should be quite easy, and the model can be expanded to embrace other foreign nations.

There are many easy steps to take to improve our situation with this issue, and there are other long term objectives to set. At the highest level, we have the opportunity to become a voice in the development of US national policies that help solve these problems for all of America and the world - for now, let's do the smart things we may for our people, here now and those that we may attract and retain - let's be proactively international.

Post your ideas and thoughts here - add comments below, or add pages to this book. If you don't know how - email me... Norm Roulet at norm [at] icearth [dot] com