Migrants of the Information Age: Indian and Mexican Engineers and Regional Development in Silicon Valley (Working Paper #16)

Rafael Alarcón, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte

Introduction: Skilled migrants are less restricted than unskilled migrants to participate in U.S. labor markets. Immigration policy, corporate power and their own class resources allow them to cross borders with greater ease than low skilled migrants. This privileged position stems from the fact that these professionals seem to be vital to corporations that are involved in global production processes and markets. Many of the foreign-born engineers and scientists working in the United States are employed in the information technology industry.

There are four main avenues through which highly skilled migrants coming from developing countries find employment in high technology companies. Some of them entered the United States as children of immigrant families. Others were former employees of subsidiaries of U.S. high tech companies located abroad. Another group is composed of former foreign students at U.S universities, and, finally the “Cerebreros” or “high tech Braceros” work in the United States with temporary visas. (Alarcón, 2000). Research consistently show that educational attainment among immigrants is much higher than among native-born engineers and scientists employed in the information technology industry (Alarcón, 1999: Bouvier and Martin, 1995).

In this article, I examine the role that U.S. immigration policy has played in fostering the development of the high technology industry by facilitating the temporary and permanent movement of foreign-born engineers and scientists into the United States. To this end, in the first part of the article, I examine the impact of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1990. In the second and third sections, I compare the experiences of migrants from India and Mexico with respect to the formation of “niches“ in the high tech industry. I analyze the combination of US immigration policy and the domestic industrial policies implemented in both countries in regards to the development of the information technology industry.

Working Paper #16»