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Immigration Law

Immigration Policy and the Global Competition for AI Talent

Tina Huang, Zachary Arnold, CSET, July 2020

"The United States has historically led the world in technological innovation through its internationally renowned education institutions, innovative industries, top-tier research laboratories and, critically, its unique ability to attract talent worldwide. 

Immigrants play a key role in sharpening America’s technological edge. In recent years, the demand for artificial intelligence talent has greatly exceeded domestic supply, leading to a large share of foreign-born AI students, workers and entrepreneurs in the United States. Although important, efforts to increase the domestic AI workforce are insufficient to fill the immediate demand for AI talent. At the same time, other countries are developing their own capabilities and institutions in AI and aggressively recruiting AI talent through new immigration policies. In this competitive environment, current U.S. immigration policies, many of which date back decades, may work against the country’s historic strength in attracting and retaining international talent. 

Although various factors shape any country’s AI competitiveness, this paper will focus solely on immigration policies relevant to AI talent in the United States and four sample economic competitor nations: the United Kingdom, Canada, France, and Australia. These countries were selected for their unique policies on attracting international talent in AI and other tech fields. The United States may be able to evaluate lessons learned from these countries to inform domestic policy. On the other hand, if the United States fails to adapt to an increasingly competitive global technology talent landscape, other countries may begin to draw AI talent away from American schools and employers."