That Giant Sucking Sound? Talent Drain from the Northwest (and Rest of the Nation)

4/23/09Follow @gthuang

If you want to understand the important local and national trends in talent flow, you need to know Davis Bae. The founder and managing attorney of the Bae Law Group in Seattle, which specializes in immigration law, works with many local startups and employers in the tech community on their immigration and recruiting plans.

I’ve been hearing rumblings lately that high-tech talent is leaving the Seattle scene at an ever-faster pace, in part because of layoffs of foreign workers. Foreign nationals on H-1B visas are having a particularly hard time in this recession. That’s because if they get laid off, they (and their families) usually have to leave the country immediately. What’s more, getting the visas in the first place has become such a pain that companies are increasingly opening offices in places like Vancouver, BC—where Microsoft and Big Fish Games have recently set up shop, to name a couple of cases I’ve previously reported on.

Bae emphasized that the situation is indeed dire, but the issue is much bigger than Seattle—in fact, the Northwest actually has it pretty good compared to other parts of the country. “We have been creating a brain drain in the U.S. for innovation,” Bae says. “A key way to stimulate the economy again is by embracing talent from other countries.” As for the Seattle area, he says, “my clients and the region are reasonably stable. But the real problem we have is that the entrepreneurial community is the most locked out. They can’t wait six months for a visa.”

He is referring to the process by which companies can apply for H-1B visas for their employees as early as April 1, but have to wait until October 1 to get the results. Which brings us to the big trend Bae is seeing now. In 2009, the demand for new H-1B visas has dropped around the U.S, he says. There is an annual quota of 65,000 new visas available for the whole country, and in recent years there have been around 150,000 applications for those slots. “For the first time in many years, usage was so low they didn’t run out on Day 1,” Bae says. “It’s a huge drop.”

Nationwide, the number of H-1B visa applications is down to around 30 percent of what it has been in recent years, but Bae says he has still filed 60 to 70 percent of his usual business, mostly for companies based in the Northwest. Although that may be an encouraging sign for the Seattle area, … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com or call him at 617-252-7323. Follow @gthuang

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  • Karma

    “We don’t have the organic talent here,”
    This is a big lie!!!!