PART II: : WINNING THE TECHNOLOGY COMPETITION
Chapter 10: The Talent Competition
Following is a summary of Part II, Chapter 10 of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence's final report. Use the below links to access a PDF version of the Chapter, Blueprint for Action, and the Commission's Full Report.
The United States is in a global competition for scarce artificial intelligence (AI) talent.1 The Commission is very concerned with current talent trends. The number of domestic-born students participating in AI doctorate programs has not increased since 1990, and competition for international students has accelerated, endangering the United States’ ability to retain international students.2
Cultivating more potential talent at home and recruiting and retaining more existing talent from foreign countries are the only two options to sustain the U.S. lead.
For the first time in our lifetime, the United States risks losing the competition for talent on the scientific frontiers.
“The United States needs to invest in all AI talent pipelines in order to remain at the forefront of AI now and into the future. A passive strategy will not work in the face of the AI talent competition.”
The Promise and Limits of Expanding STEM
Investments in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education are a necessary part of increasing American national power and improving national security. The United States ranks well overall on international measures of talent because of our ability to attract international talent, in spite of our uneven kindergarten to 12th grade (K-12) education system.3 It is critical that the United States invest significantly in STEM education as an engine to drive the growth of AI talent in America.
Investments in STEM education alone, however, will not be enough for the United States to win the international competition for AI and STEM talent. China is producing large numbers of computer scientists, engineers, and other STEM graduates.4 For the foreseeable future, the United States’ STEM education system does not have the capacity nor the quality to produce sufficient STEM or AI talent to supply the United States’ markets or national security enterprise.5 To compete, the United States must reform its education system to produce both a higher quality and quantity of graduates.
The Government Should
Pass a National Defense Education Act II.
The National Defense Education Act II (NDEA II) would focus on funding students acquiring digital skills, like mathematics, computer science, information science, data science, and statistics. NDEA II should include K-12 education and reskilling programs that address deficiencies across the spectrum of the American educational system, purposefully targeting under-resourced school districts.
Strengthen AI talent through immigration.
Compared with other U.S. advantages in the AI competition—such as financial resources or hardware capacity—this immigration advantage is harder for other countries to replicate.
Broaden the scope of “extraordinary” talent to make the O-1 visa more accessible and emphasize AI talent.
The O-1 temporary worker visa is for people with extraordinary ability or achievement. Currently adjudicators determine an applicant’s eligibility through a subjective assessment. For the sciences and technology, this aligns largely with academic criteria such as publications in major outlets and is not well suited for people who excel in industry.
Implement and advertise the international entrepreneur rule.
The International Entrepreneur Rule (IER) allows U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to grant a period of authorized stay to international entrepreneurs who demonstrate that “their stay in the United States would provide a significant public benefit through their business venture.”6 An executive action could announce the administration’s intention to use the IER to boost immigrant entrepreneurship, job creation for Americans, and economic growth.
USCIS could also be directed to announce that it will give priority to entrepreneurs active in high-priority STEM fields such as AI, or in fields that use AI for other applications, such as agriculture. Entrepreneurs’ ability to attract investors should be used as a screening criterion for entrepreneurs.
Expand and clarify job portability for highly skilled workers.
The criteria for workers with H-1B, O-1, and other temporary work visas to obtain open market work permits for a one-year renewable period are too limited and ambiguous. Changes should clarify when highly skilled, nonimmigrant workers are permitted to change jobs or employers, increase job flexibility when an employer either withdraws their petition or goes out of business, and increase flexibility for H-1B workers seeking other H-1B employment.
Recapture green cards lost to bureaucratic error.
Federal agencies generally issue fewer green cards than they are allowed. As of 2009, the federal government had failed to issue more than 326,000 green cards based on cumulative bureaucratic error.7 The Departments of State and Homeland Security (DHS) should publish an up-to-date report on the number of green cards lost due to bureaucratic error. Using available authorities, both should grant lost green cards to applicants waiting in line. Congress should support the Departments of State and Homeland Security by passing legislation to recapture lost green cards.8
Grant green cards to students graduating with STEM PhDs from accredited American universities.
Congress should amend the Immigration and Nationality Act9 to grant lawful permanent residence to any vetted (not posing a national security risk) foreign national who graduates from an accredited United States institution of higher education with a doctoral degree in a STEM-related field in a residential or mixed residential and distance program and has a job offer in a field related to science, technology, engineering, or mathematics. They should not be counted toward permanent residency caps.
Double the number of employment-based green cards.
Under the current system, employment-based green cards are unduly scarce: 140,000 per year, fewer than half of which go to the principal worker.10 This leaves many highly skilled workers unable to gain permanent residency and unable to transfer jobs or negotiate with employers as effectively as domestic workers. This decreases the appeal of joining the American workforce. To reduce the backlog of highly skilled workers, the United States should double the number of employment-based green cards, with an emphasis on permanent residency for STEM and AI-related fields.
Create an entrepreneur visa.
International doctoral students are more likely than their native peers to want to found a company or become an employee at a startup, but they are less likely to pursue those paths.11 One reason is the constraints of the H-1B visa system.12 Similarly, immigrant entrepreneurs without the capital to use the EB-5 route to permanent residency are forced to use other visas that are designed for academics and workers in existing companies, not entrepreneurs.13
All of these issues make the United States less attractive for international talent, and, perhaps as important, reduce the ability of startups and other small companies—the main source of new jobs for Americans—to hire highly skilled immigrants, who have been shown to improve the odds that the business will succeed.
Congress should create an entrepreneur visa for those who would provide a “significant public benefit” to the United States if allowed to stay in the country for a limited trial period to grow their companies.14 This visa should serve as an alternative to employee-sponsored, investor, or student visas and should instead target promising potential founders.
Create an emerging and disruptive technology visa.
he National Science Foundation (NSF) should identify critical emerging technologies every three years. DHS would then allow students, researchers, entrepreneurs, and technologists in applicable fields to apply for emerging and disruptive technology visas. This would provide much-needed talent R&D and strengthen our economy.15
1 Estimates on the gap of talent necessary to fill AI slots vary greatly, but it is agreed upon that the gap in talent currently is and will continue to be significant as nations compete for scarce resources. See Remco Zwetsloot, et al., Strengthening the U.S. AI Workforce: A Policy and Research Agenda, Center for Security and Emerging Technology at 2 (Sept. 2019), https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/CSET-Strengthening-the-U.S.-AI-Workforce.pdf (“The Research Institute at Tencent, a major Chinese technology company, asserts there are roughly 300,000 AI researchers and practitioners worldwide, with market demand for millions of roles. Element AI, a leading Canadian AI company, estimated in 2018 that there are roughly 22,000 PhD-educated researchers globally who are able to work on AI research, with only about 25 percent of those ‘well-versed enough in the technology to work with teams to take it from research to application.’ AI firm Diffbot estimates that there are over 700,000 people skilled in machine learning worldwide.”). 2 Remco Zwetsloot, et al., Keeping Top AI Talent in the United States, Center for Security and Emerging Technology at iii-vi (Dec. 2019), https://cset.georgetown.edu/wp-content/uploads/Keeping-Top-AI-Talent-in-the-United-States.pdf.
3 The Global AI Talent Tracker, MacroPolo (last accessed Dec. 28, 2020), https://macropolo.org/digital-projects/the-global-ai-talent-tracker/. See also Gordon Hanson & Matthew Slaughter, High-Skilled Immigration and the Rise of STEM Occupations in U.S. Employment, National Bureau of Economic Research at 1 (Sept. 2016), https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w22623/w22623.pdf.
4 The Rise of China in Science and Engineering, NSF National Science Board (2018), https://www.nsf.gov/nsb/sei/one-pagers/China-2018.pdf. 5 As noted in Chapter 6 of this report, there were 433,116 open computer science jobs in the United States in 2019, while only 71,226 new computer scientists graduated from American universities in 2019. Code.org (last accessed Jan. 11, 2021), https://code.org/promote. See also Oren Etzioni, What Trump’s Executive Order on AI Is Missing: America Needs a Special Visa Program Aimed at Attracting More AI Experts and Specialists, Wired (Feb. 13, 2019), https://www.wired.com/story/what-trumps-executive-order-on-ai-is-missing/.
6 International Entrepreneur Parole, USCIS (May 25, 2018), https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/humanitarian-parole/international-entrepreneur-parole. There is currently no visa category well-suited to entrepreneurship in immigration statute. The IER, which relies on parole authority, was initiated after legislative avenues were exhausted. Legislative fixes would be preferable, but have so far they have proven politically infeasible. 7 A 2010 report to Congress indicated that some 242,000 unused family-based green cards were ultimately applied to the employment-based backlog, while Congress recaptured some 180,000 green cards via special legislation, leaving more than 326,000 green card numbers wasted. Citizenship and Immigration Services Ombudsman: Annual Report 2010, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (June 30, 2010), https://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cisomb_2010_annual_report_to_congress.pdf. The number today is likely higher, but DHS has not published updated statistics. 8 Prior examples of Congressional action include provisions in the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act of 2000 and the REAL ID Act of 2005. See Pub. L. 106-313, 114 Stat. 1251, 1254 (2000) and Pub. L. No. 109-013, 119 Stat. 231, 322 (2005). 9 Specifically, 8 U.S.C. § 1151(b)(1). 10 William Kandel, The Employment-Based Immigrant Backlog, Congressional Research Service at 4-5 (March 26, 2020), https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R46291.pdf. 11 Michael Roach, et al., Are Foreign STEM PhDs More Entrepreneurial? Entrepreneurial Characteristics, Preferences and Employment Outcomes of Native and Foreign Science & Engineering PhD Students, National Bureau of Economic Research at 1 (Sept. 2019), https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w26225/w26225.pdf. 12 Id. at 12. 13 EB-5 visas require a minimum $900,000 investment in a business in the United States. William R. Kerr, Global Talent and U.S. Immigration Policy: Working Paper 20-107, Harvard Business School at 14 (2020), https://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Publication%20Files/20-107_0967f1ab-1d23-4d54-b5a1-c884234d9b31.pdf. 14 83 Fed. Reg. 24415, Removal of International Entrepreneur Parole Program, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (May 29, 2018), https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2018/05/29/2018-11348/removal-of-international-entrepreneur-parole-program. 15 Oren Etzioni, What Trump’s Executive Order on AI Is Missing: America Needs a Special Visa Program Aimed at Attracting More AI Experts and Specialists, Wired (Feb. 13, 2019), https://www.wired.com/story/what-trumps-executive-order-on-ai-is-missing/.