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Skilled Foreign Workers in US May Have to Leave

Skilled foreign workers aspiring to work in the United States may now find that goal more difficult due to new government restrictions on hiring foreign workers. The restrictions are part of the government bailout packages to troubled investment banks.

Many of the foreign students enrolled in business schools across the United States have made big investments in their American education, hoping their tuition dollars will one day pay off with a generous job offer from a U.S. firm.

Nazli Oguzsimsaroglu, a native of Turkey, was one of those students. She recently graduated from a prestigious business schools and accepted a job offer at investment banking giant Merrill Lynch.

"One of things that drew me to a place like Merrill Lynch is definitely the great training program that they have," she said. "Even the small banks are trying to recruit off of people who have already had experience at places like this, because they know how prestigious it is."

But her offer did not last long. Like some other giant investment banks, Merrill Lynch saw its stock plummet as the U.S. financial crisis spread. Bank of America took it over.

Bank of America then borrowed money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), a government program to bailout banks affected by the financial crisis. In doing so, Bank of America subjected itself to rules that limit H1B visas, the essential document for hiring foreign workers.

Vivek Wadhwa is a fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School. He says these restrictions are not only xenophobic, they are causing a "brain drain" just when the U.S. economy needs talent and innovation the most.

"The problem with this legislation is that we're telling the world that when things get tough, we close our doors. The best and the brightest see great opportunities elsewhere. They'd rather go to Australia where they can work for a few years and pay off their student loans, or start a tech company in Canada. This is a big loss for the United States," he explained.

Wadhwa's research shows that about one-fourth of all American technology companies were founded by immigrants. He says this finding supports the theory that foreign workers often create jobs for Americans, instead of taking them. As for Oguzsimsaroglu, seeing her dream job evaporate taught her a valuable lesson.

"You can never make sure that you're going to be all right," she added. "Basically, you have to take the necessary precautions not to be left out there."

For her, that means both signing up for another semester of school and continuing her job search.