How one country lost a great talent and another country gained one

Here comes a little anecdote about how one country lost a great talent and another country gained one.

My girl friend had been studying in the U.S.. She graduated with a two-year Associate Degree in Computer Science, which she funded herself. Her dream was to continue Bachelor studies in the same field, in the U.S.. However, for her, as a foreign citizen with a Turkish passport, the plan simply turned out to be too expensive. As is widely known, proper education in the U.S. costs a fortune, especially if you are not U.S. resident (which also makes it almost impossible to take a student loan). Since her student visa did not permit her to apply for a job or do anything other than studying in the U.S., she basically was forced to leave the country. A fake marriage with an American to obtain a Greencard, which many in that situation at least think about, was no option for her.

Fortunately, last year I learned that Sweden, where I live, has a specific visa category that allows foreigners to move to Sweden to their significant other (“sambo visa“). Once this visa has been granted, the person moving to Sweden receives a (initially temporarily) residence permit, including the right to work. Last summer we decided to apply, knowing that this might turn into an important option. The application and approval process took a bit less than a year and included a couple of administrative steps. Rightly so, since the Swedish immigration authorities need to ensure the legitimacy of the relationship.

In May, we received the good news that her visa was approved. In August she moved to Sweden. She immediately started applying for computer engineering jobs. It took about four weeks and until she signed a work contract as junior system developer. Stockholm’s tech industry is booming and programmers are scarce. For the startup that she will join in early October, she will be the first female engineer, who are even more scarce.

The moral of the story: Due to its restrictive immigration laws and expensive educational system, the U.S. missed out on a talent in one of the most critical areas for any society and economy. Sweden on the other hand gained a talent which will help to push the country’s digital economy forward. Entirely made possible by less restrictive immigration policies.

This obviously is just one anecdote. Swedish startups (as one example) frequently express their dissatisfaction with high bureaucratic obstacles that make it hard for them to hire programmers from outside the European Union. So there is lots of room for improvement. Also, not everyone migrating to a new country immediately will be able to contribute to prosperity and economic growth. Nevertheless, in my opinion, a system that makes this possible is superior to a system that tries to get rid of its potential future talents.

3 comments

  1. Your comparison is flawed. You can’t take yourself into the equation.
    I get the point you’re making, but to be fair, you need to look at visas in Sweden without having someone that can piggyback her into the country. What’s the scenario then?
    Sweden might have been quite similar to the U.S. if it wasn’t for you. And vice versa: if you lived as a permanent resident in the U.S. her chances would have increased over there.
    Anyways, your foundational argument is right. The system is flawed and western societies need to draw in way more international talent from across the borders.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      Yes and no. You are right that this specific Visa category generally is not helpful when it comes to systematically getting talents to come to a country. On the other hand, the existence of such a Visa category itself is symbolic for an open stance and liberal immigration policies. In most other countries, you have to be related or married to have a chance to bring someone else into the country. Sweden’s Sambo visa is pretty unusual in that regard (and targets a very specific group of people: young ones who are not ready to get married/don’t want to get married for whatever reason). Furthermore, the way how the U.S. makes it hard for talented people to remain in the country, is something that millions are experiencing.

      However, I emphasized in the last paragraph that this is a single anecdote. But I think from its symbolic value, it says a lot.

  2. I agree, Martin, that your girlfriend’s experience is symbolically important and the anecdote says something larger about the attitude of the two countries.

    As an American citizen, born and raised, it drives me *crazy* that we’re so restrictive. I would love open borders. Yes, the influx of people would be messy and complex but we’d figure out a way to deal with it. Our culture and economy would be so much richer. Current residents and future ones would benefit alike.

    I’m sad that my country lost your girlfriend’s talent, but glad that she’s found a job she enjoys! (Presumably.)

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