Michio Kaku on Why Immigrants Are America’s Secret Weapon: They Compensate for Our Mediocre STEM Education & Keep Prosperity Going

Amer­i­cans have often found them­selves caught up in pan­ics about immi­gra­tion, like that now dri­ving the cam­paign to build a wall between us and our third largest trad­ing partner—when more Mex­i­cans are leav­ing the U.S. than arriv­ing. Then we have the talk of ban­ning an entire world reli­gion, though, of course, we’ve seen this before, lest we for­get that the Klan resurged in large part as an anti-Catholic group. All of this mis­in­for­ma­tion, mis­trust, and out­right con­tempt comes at a high cost, includ­ing that of any real under­stand­ing of how immi­gra­tion works, and why it works, no mat­ter how vehe­ment­ly cer­tain orga­ni­za­tions fight against it.

The fact is that the U.S. might be a dynamo for cap­i­tal but not when it comes to what econ­o­mists crude­ly call “human cap­i­tal.” The point applies not only to immi­grant work­ers who do jobs Amer­i­cans won’t, but also those who do jobs Amer­i­cans can’t, because, as physi­cist Michio Kaku argues above, “the Unit­ed States has the worst edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem known to sci­ence.” Were it sole­ly up to U.S. grad­u­ates, the sci­en­tif­ic estab­lish­ment and tech econ­o­my would col­lapse, he says, “for­get about Google, for­get about Sil­i­con Val­ley. There would be no Sil­i­con Val­ley.” Instead, U.S. sci­ence and tech thrive because of immi­grants who come on H‑1B visas, “America’s secret weapon… the genius visa.”

Kaku goes on to press his case with daunt­ing sta­tis­tics about the num­ber of for­eign-born Ph.D. grad­u­ates, though he doesn’t say that all of those grads have H‑1Bs. In fact, his posi­tion is a high­ly con­tro­ver­sial one. Reli­able stud­ies show that many com­pa­nies abuse the spe­cial­ized work visa to out­source jobs Amer­i­cans are ful­ly qual­i­fied to do, and to cre­ate a class of immi­grant work­ers who earn less than their U.S. coun­ter­parts and work under a mod­i­fied form of inden­tured servi­tude. The visa is, after all, “a non-immi­grant visa,” points out one crit­ic, “and so has noth­ing at all to do with stay­ing in the USA, becom­ing a cit­i­zen, or start­ing a busi­ness.” It is, more or less, a guest work­er pro­gram.

Kaku’s tone can also seem grat­ing, a smarmy reminder of what David H. Freed­man calls in The Atlantic “open sea­son on the non­s­mart.” Call­ing Amer­i­can grads “stu­pid” will not like­ly endear many of them to his posi­tion. Nonethe­less, when it comes to sci­ence edu­ca­tion, it’s hard to argue with his assess­ments, and with his case for allow­ing the best minds in the world to come work for Amer­i­can com­pa­nies (under more equi­table con­di­tions). In the Big Think video above, Kaku again press­es his argu­ment for the H‑1B as instru­men­tal to a “brain drain” into the Unit­ed States, feed­ing its sci­ence and tech indus­tries with fresh minds and fresh ideas con­stant­ly. His ideas about mer­i­toc­ra­cy may seem blithe, espe­cial­ly giv­en the mate­r­i­al advan­tages so many guest work­ers already have before arriv­ing in the States. But in pure­ly descrip­tive terms, the best U.S. grad­u­ates just sim­ply can­not com­pete with many of their for­eign-born col­leagues.

Here Kaku’s argu­ment takes a turn in both these videos and shows how the “secret weapon” is one we’ve point­ed at our­selves. We can’t con­tin­ue to depend on “genius­es” from oth­er coun­tries, he says, to prop up our sci­ence and tech­nol­o­gy sec­tors, espe­cial­ly since the brain drains back out, with H1‑B visa hold­ers fre­quent­ly leav­ing, giv­en their tem­po­rary sta­tus, and estab­lish­ing com­pa­nies in their home coun­tries. “In real­i­ty,” wrote Moth­er Jones in 2013, “most of today’s H‑1B work­ers don’t stick around to become the next Albert Ein­stein or Sergey Brin.” That year, “the top 10 users of H‑1B visas… were all off­shore out­sourc­ing firms… that hired near­ly half near­ly half of H1‑B work­ers.” As one expert explained, “The H‑1B work­er learns the job and then rotates back to the home coun­try and takes the work with him.”

It’s like­ly large num­bers of those work­ers feel less and less wel­come in the U.S. But it’s also true, as Kaku says, that Amer­i­cans con­tin­ue to fall far behind in math and sci­ence. There may indeed be few Amer­i­cans who can fill many of those jobs or con­tin­ue to push tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion for­ward in the U.S.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Free Online Math Cours­es

Michio Kaku Explains the Physics Behind Absolute­ly Every­thing

Col­or­ful Ani­ma­tion Visu­al­izes 200 Years of Immi­gra­tion to the U.S. (1820-Present)

Por­traits of Ellis Island Immi­grants Arriv­ing on America’s Wel­com­ing Shores Cir­ca 1907

Noam Chom­sky Defines What It Means to Be a Tru­ly Edu­cat­ed Per­son

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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Comments (23)
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  • Alan Drabke says:

    There are 17 mil­lion Amer­i­can Col­lege Grad­u­ates liv­ing in mom’s base­ment, unable to pay tuition debts, as a result of the H 1 B Visa. I wish every­one of these vic­tims could lis­ten to this piece of geno­ci­dal pro­pa­gan­da.

  • Randy says:

    Those aren’t signs of a “secret weapon”. Those are signs of rot.

    “do jobs Amer­i­cans won’t” — this is ridicu­lous. US peo­ple will do the jobs, but they demand a real wage and real ben­e­fits for doing it. Out­sourc­ing and immi­gra­tion have reduced US cit­i­zens’ abil­i­ty to apply pres­sure to get these things, so you say they “won’t” do the jobs. It’s an insult, and a lie.

    “U.S. sci­ence and tech thrive because of immi­grants” is also an illu­sion. It’s clear­ly not US sci­ence and tech that is thriv­ing, but cor­po­rate sci­ence and tech. Cor­po­ra­tions know no coun­tries. There is no there there. The US would be bet­ter off with­out them, forced to see the true real­i­ty of their sci­en­tif­ic abil­i­ty instead of wal­low­ing in a dream­land.

    I guess I’ll stop there. I was nev­er impressed by Kaku.

  • nms980 says:

    True. What would the pol­i­tics off the world make you think thatt medi­oc­rity in the world is impor­tant. They are the major­i­ty o the vot­ers. It’s not true. Amer­i­ca tied all their assets in trade agree­ments if the for­eign world would aban­don dol­lar there would be a cat­a­stro­phe in the us. Arro­gance goes so far it is not called a bluff. If the Michio Kaku was inter­est­ed to make amer­i­ca strong he would be even harsh­er.
    The com­ment above is in attempt dem­a­gogy. Poor man with a poor mind.

  • Law Vance says:

    Actu­al­ly, the Lati­nos do the jobs the Whites and Blacks WON’T do. The Asians and oth­ers do the jobs the Whites and Blacks CAN’T do. STEM comes under the CAN’T area. The Lati­nos are com­ing up to match the Whites and Blacks going down.

    Don’t wor­ry, Randy, the filthy Bean­ers and Slopes and Wogs will nev­er beat the USA at sink­ing three-point­ers, spit­ting rhymes or danc­ing hip-hop. Your future is secure!

  • nms980 says:

    Now that’s harsh to Randy. But… I agree.

  • Tim says:

    Why does so many use immi­grant and ille­gal immi­grant as being the same. They are not. Immi­gra­tion is like a cook­ie it is sweet, taste good but to much can make you fat. Ille­gal immi­gra­tion is like a poi­son cook­ie, it will kill a nation quick­ly.

  • S.S. says:

    My con­tri­bu­tion to the dis­cus­sion:


    Give it a chance. It real­ly does tie in to what’s being dis­cussed here.

  • Ruud says:

    Michio Kaku, why you just get bend.
    Take a pill or some­thing and go back to spa­ce­out, that’s what you good at.
    In mul­ti uni­ver­sums where we nev­er can end up.
    Your dream world will burst like a bub­ble and if not this world will nev­er work with all those crazy dream world ideas what you hav­ing as some sci­en­tist hav­ing now.
    Peace out dum­b­ass.

  • jamie says:

    i agree with him amer­i­ca likes to keep the pop­u­la­tion of amer­i­ca like sheep BHAAAA BHAAAA!! sheep just fol­low and so as they are told. intel­li­gent peo­ple will not stand for the lies and cor­rup­tion of the amer­i­ca gov­ern­ment.


  • Whilst what Michio Kaku says may be true, delib­er­ate­ly caus­ing ‘brain drains’ in oth­er coun­tries is not the least bit eth­i­cal, in my opin­ion. It would be fair­er all round if the USA were to improve its edu­ca­tion sys­tem and reform its work prac­tices to enable the indige­nous work­force to com­pete inter­na­tion­al­ly. A coun­try being able to stand on its own two feet is much more viable than to rely on poach­ing for­eign work­ers.

  • akil lakhdar says:

    Hel­lo pro­fes­sor Robots Tech­nol­o­gy Nan­otech­nol­o­gy will get a lot of sci­ence and increase in its devel­op­ment dimen­sions is lim­it­ed at this stage we can not con­front them look­ing all that is con­nect­ed to the Inter­net and satel­lite Inter­net .mojat elec­tro Mag­natissh spec­trum Busis­sour Turanz­iz­to phone laser mag­ne­ti­za­tion physi­cist elec­tro-opti­cal Alo­e­va light between the air and the air there are laws this is not relat­ed to the pro­gram­ming con­tent of the uni­fied Alnd­harah astro­bi­o­log­i­cal every­thing to the oth­er two mem­o­ran­da Reserved Thank away

  • John says:

    There is a H1B cap of 65,000 every year. 25,000 of those are only for mas­ters and PhD stu­dents. Get­ting spon­sor­ship from com­pa­nies elim­i­nates many inter­na­tion­al stu­dents from job con­sid­er­a­tion. Con­sid­er­ing how many stu­dents in col­lege major­ing in STEM are low­er than most coun­tries… Yes, I total­ly con­cur the 17 mil­lion Amer­i­can grad­u­ate stu­dents liv­ing in their par­ents base­ment are the result of a small group of qual­i­fied pro­fes­sion­al work­ing in the grow­ing STEM indus­tries. I total­ly agree, jack­ass.

  • William says:

    Ouch! I can see what they say is cor­rect: “The truth hurts”.

  • Adam says:

    It’s 100% true, espe­cial­ly in the Bay Area (CA); and the major­i­ty of Amer­i­can Cit­i­zen-engi­neers and tech­ni­cians are mov­ing out to North Car­oli­na, South Car­oli­na and Mon­tana. Face­book thrives on H1B work­ers, and its data farm (Altoona) in Iowa beams tons of data back to India (the major H1B play­er). In addi­tion most of Cal­i­for­ni­a’s com­mu­ni­ty and low-cost schools and edu­ca­tion facil­i­ties are entire­ly pop­u­lat­ed of Indi­an (H1B work­ers) who have a muf­fled Indi­an lay­er over their Eng­lish, caus­ing many Amer­i­cans to drop out.

    Then many of the Amer­i­can cit­i­zen adult work­ers have no resources to get up-to-date with the lat­est tech­nol­o­gy. It’s fun­ny because you expect all of the near­by com­pa­nies and restau­rants, shops, schools, etc. in Sil­i­con Val­ley to have what Face­book has, what Twit­ter, Zyn­ga, and a whole list of oth­er Tech com­pa­nies in Cal­i­for­nia, but unfor­tu­nate­ly a major­i­ty of the com­pa­nies are going out of busi­ness.

    What’s replac­ing these com­pa­nies are myr­i­ads of Mediter­ranean and Indi­an restau­rants which pri­mar­i­ly cater to their eth­nic­i­ties. In addi­tion, larg­er com­pa­nies are quick­ly turn­ing into Mid-East­ern real estate for apart­ments. While that sounds ben­e­fi­cial, Mid-East­ern run apart­ments cater to their eth­nic­i­ty over Amer­i­can cit­i­zens and often will dis­play low­er ser­vice to Amer­i­can cit­i­zens. More than half of the real estate in the Bay Area is Mid-East­ern / Indi­an owned. The Gov­ern­ment is still giv­ing tons of mon­ey over­seas so that Amer­i­ca can stay up-to-date- Amer­i­can spe­cif­ic busi­ness­es that is- who sup­port as many H1B work­ers as pos­si­ble. Tons of Iran­ian work­ers are com­ing to the Unit­ed States (espe­cial­ly Cal­i­for­nia).

    A ton of doc­tors are quit­ting because of how many Mid-East­ern doc­tors there are tak­ing up oth­er med­ical jobs and act­ing against Amer­i­can ethics and morals in treat­ing patients.

    Anoth­er key prob­lem is that there are a ton of Indi­an and Mid­dle East­ern Lawyers, not to men­tion, Iran­ian and Armen­ian gov­ern­ment offi­cials, and those are just the tip of the ice­berg.

  • Adam says:

    By “adult” I meant mom-and-pop / par­ent com­pa­nies / small-busi­ness­es

  • Adam says:

    Oh — and there are law­suits abound from every angle.

    Every time a Mid­dle East­ern com­pa­ny or even a Mid­dle East­ern buy­er pur­chas­es a home, prop­er­ty, busi­ness, etc. it is com­mon prac­tice for them to sue the sell­er for the rest of their mon­ey.

    So every­one in the Bay Area is fight­ing to have the best defense lawyers they can. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the best lawyers are drawn to the high­est-bid­ders and guess who those pri­mar­i­ly are? The Asians, the Mid­dle East­ern­ers and the Indi­ans.

    It’s no sur­prise hotels are going down in ser­vice and are get­ting expen­sive- the Hilton hotels are almost entire­ly Mid­dle East­ern. There are also some odd changes too, for exam­ple Embassy Suites is remov­ing the fau­na and flo­ra from many of its prop­er­ties because plant-life isn’t pop­u­lar in the Mideast, and paint­ing every­thing brown and white for its desert flare. One Mid­dle East­ern flaw is the obses­sion with toi­let paper, and many hotels are now gift wrap­ping toi­let paper over hav­ing clean sheets for guests.

    Oh, and don’t get me start­ed on bed bugs. It’s now almost com­mon to find some sort of bug in a hotel in the Bay Area, as for­eign­ers aren’t doing the usu­al show­er twice a day.

  • Adam says:

    One last carp.

    There are a ton of Sau­di Ara­bi­ans liv­ing in the Bay Area. And out of all the schools in the Bay Area, there is a small col­lege with­in a Pri­vate High School cam­pus called Men­lo School which is where Saud­is liv­ing in Cal­i­for­nia send their chil­dren to. It’s not Stan­ford or UC Berke­ley or even Cal Tech. What is extreme­ly odd is that the “dorm” looks like it has 30 bed­rooms max and there are no actu­al col­lege build­ings.

    Many of these Sau­di fam­i­lies of course own a major per­cent­age of near­by real estate in Ather­ton and Men­lo Park. In addi­tion, many of them have a stake in many of the Bay Area Star­tups which are Mid-East­ern found­ed.

    Such “Sau­di” star­tups have includ­ed: Quo­ra, Instacart, SnapChat, What­sApp, TaskRab­bit, Door­Dash, Uber, and a long list of many oth­ers.

  • Adam says:

    H1B work­ers are sur­pris­ing­ly being paid a ton. Here is an exam­ple for Face­book’s salary offered for incom­ing H1B Work­ers:


    - It looks like H1B work­ers are get­ting high­er salaries than any Amer­i­can Cit­i­zens have in gen­er­al.

  • nms980 says:

    omg. Medi­oc­rity does­n’t pay.
    You live cap­i­tal­ism. Future needs a adapt­able order.
    When will you stop the dem­a­gogy. Are you informed in any­thing?
    I thought that there is only one com­ment that is bulsh**.
    Guess this is chil­dren’s play­ground the loud­est gets the atten­tion.
    Grow up.

  • nms980 says:

    @Adam and his like.

  • djamel boukheddami says:

    Bra­vo dear Prof ; “Every­where immi­grants have enriched and strength­ened the fab­ric of Amer­i­can life.”
    John F. Kennedy

  • engie says:

    If you can’t com­pete, it isn’t because you’re from Unit­ed States, it’s because you don’t have any dif­fer­en­tial. They want the best, and if the USA edu­ca­tion­al sys­tem can’t make the best grad­u­ates, the ones from oth­er coun­tries will take those jobs. Plain and sim­ple.

  • John says:

    If we’re going to improve our edu­ca­tion sys­tem, we will first have to decide as a nation that not just rich kids get decent edu­ca­tion­al resources at the K‑12 lev­el. And decide to pay math and sci­ence teach­ers what they are worth. Free col­lege for those who excel aca­d­e­m­i­cal­ly would help too.

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