In the basement of a Massachusetts Institute of Technology building, a 12-foot plastic tower filled with steam and dripping water connects to a system of pumps and hoses. It looks, in the words of one observer, "like a high school science project."
But it could revolutionize the rapidly growing industry of hydraulic fracturing.
Certainly the oil and gas industry thinks so. The wastewater treatment device has attracted potential customers and commitments of millions of dollars in financing.
But it may just as well serve as a monument to the self-defeating absurdities of the American immigration system. Our education system attracts the world's best and brightest, teaches them (often at considerable taxpayer expense) and then, just as that schooling could begin to pay off in innovation and job creation, orders them to go home.
According to The Washington Post, the device is the work of two MIT postdoctoral mechanical engineers: Anurag Bajpayee, 27, and Prakash Narayan Govindan, 28, both Indians. They love it here, Bajpayee told The Post, and want to stay to build their business. But U.S. immigration laws may require them to return to India this year. If they go, they'll take their device with them and build it somewhere else. Plenty of other countries are interested, including their homeland.
American campuses have become a hunting ground for other countries -- China, Chile, Australia, Singapore, Germany -- looking for U.S.-educated foreign students with advanced degrees who are being forced to leave by our visa laws. Switzerland has even set up a recruiting office halfway between Harvard University and MIT.
If we're going to get our economy moving again, these are the people who can do it. The high-tech industry says its biggest obstacle to growth is a shortage of highly skilled workers. Why not tap the obvious talent pool of foreign-born, U.S.-educated scientists and engineers?
Washington is aware of the problem, but Congress can't extract itself from the politics of border security and undocumented low-wage workers long enough to solve it. Our immigration politics are exactly backward: We concentrate too much on the immigrants we don't want and not enough on those we do.
Dale McFeatters is a nationally syndicated columnist.