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The Key To America’s AI Supremacy: Harnessing Global Talent

Illustration of a travel visa

By Sasha Ramani

The past year marked a significant turning point in the development of artificial intelligence. But beneath the headlines is the fact that this pioneering industry is spearheaded primarily by immigrants.

Immigrants have long driven the American tech industry. The majority of the founders and leadership of American tech giants such as Alphabet, Microsoft and Tesla are immigrants.

Sasha Ramani, head of corporate strategy for MPower Financing
Sasha Ramani of MPower Financing

According to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy, 80% of unicorn companies, or privately held billion-dollar firms, were founded by an immigrant or have an immigrant in a key policy role.

The American AI industry is similarly represented by immigrants, including Chinese-born American Fei-Fei Li, co-director of Stanford University’s Human-Centered AI Institute; British-Hong Kong-American Andrew Ng of Google Brain; and Russian-Israeli-Canadian-American Ilya Sutskever of OpenAI.

Indeed, to keep up with innovations in AI and related fields, the U.S. must encourage the brightest minds from around the world to bring their talents here.

This is vital not only for American tech dynamism but for national security. Michèle Flournoy, chair of the Center for a New American Security and former U.S. undersecretary of defense, emphasizes the impact of AI on security. In an essay for “Foreign Affairs,” she notes that the U.S. military is leveraging AI to refine a wide array of operations, from equipment maintenance to budgetary allocations.

Yet Flournoy also points out a critical vulnerability: The scarcity of government professionals equipped with the necessary technical expertise to effectively implement, manage and oversee AI technologies.

It’s crucial for the United States to address this gap. As a start, American universities must remain a pipeline for the next generation of AI engineers and researchers.

Breaking down barriers

In 2023, my organization MPower Financing — a financier of student loans for international students — saw a stunning fourfold year-over-year rise in applications from Indian students to study artificial intelligence and machine learning. We attribute this rise to bullish sentiment around the industry and the desire of India’s vast pool of talented minds to contribute to the American tech ecosystem. This staggering surge underscores not only the appeal of an American education but also the critical role international students are playing in the technological advancements shaping our future.

The U.S. needs to reform its immigration laws to harness the potential of global talents. Creating pathways that ease the transition from academia to industry for international STEM talent is not just about filling immediate labor shortages; it’s about investing in the U.S.’ long-term technological sovereignty and national security.

Congress should extend the duration of Optional Practical Training and Curricular Practical Training, programs that allow students to remain temporarily in the U.S. upon graduation. Additionally, students with in-demand skills should be exempt from the H-1B lottery, which lets them stay in the U.S. and work for an additional six years, and from green card caps, which would let them stay in the country permanently. It’s worthwhile creating additional immigration pathways for AI or STEM experts to ensure the U.S. remains the epicenter of tech innovation and military primacy.

The U.S. stands at a crossroads, with the potential to further cement its leadership in AI or to cede ground to competitors due to restrictive immigration policies. By embracing and facilitating the flow of global talent into its world-leading academic institutions and then into its tech workforce, the U.S. can ensure its continued preeminence in the AI revolution.

Sasha Ramani is head of corporate strategy for MPower Financing, a public benefit corporation offering scholarships and no-cosigner loans to international students coming to the United States and Canada. He is a CFA charterholder and seasoned management consultant who completed his master’s degree in public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School. Originally from Canada, Ramani honed his strategy and investment management skills in New York City with Deloitte Consulting and Mars and Co., where he advised investment firms on innovation, business growth strategy and organizational design. Ramani holds a BMath from the University of Waterloo and a BBA from Wilfrid Laurier University.

Illustration: Dom Guzman

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