An Indonesian who attended college in the United States reflects on the impact of U.S. immigration policies on the country's economy.
Despite the boom of recent years, Indonesia is still the sort of place from which young people seek to escape. Nearly all Indonesians who can afford it send their children to study in universities abroad, and my parents were no different. But where many of my former classmates have since become Canadians and Australians, I am again in Jakarta. Like most of the Indonesians I know who studied in the United States, I had trouble staying there after graduating. Many of these would-be Americans are now doing exceptional things elsewhere. One person who was denied a visa to the United States is now back in Indonesia, founding his own tech company. Another went to the Netherlands and is working on a software platform to sell to Indonesian companies. They would have preferred to be making contributions to the United States, but the American immigration system wouldn't permit it.
No one can deny that immigration is a major political issue in the U.S.—it has, in some respects, dominated this year's Republican presidential primary—but it's lamentable how narrowly the issue is usually defined. Much of the American public is obsessed with the specter of poor, illegal immigrants, but there is little attention paid to the byzantine system for skilled migrants. There is a bipartisan skilled immigration plan sponsored by Charles Schumer and Mike Lee currently meandering through the Senate, but its prospects, like all recent immigration reform efforts, are dim.