If you want to get a U.S. student visa, you’re supposed to demonstrate “nonimmigrant intent.” As one immigration lawyer puts it: “the student must have ‘nonimmigrant intent’ – that is, an intention to return to their home county and not remain in the U.S.” In other words, our laws try to make people go away after they finish their studies.

The old Soviet Union had a very different perspective. I still remember watching Gorbachev share it on U.S. television. Why can’t people leave the U.S.S.R.? If they could, Gorbachev explained, there would be a “brain drain.” People would gobble up free Soviet education, then run off to the West to get rich.

How do the two policies compare?

The Soviet policy was brutal, but not stupid. It’s what any shrewd slave-driver would do. If you’re going to invest in people, make sure they stick around to pay you back with lots of interest.

U.S. policy, in contrast, is moderately less brutal, but stupid beyond belief. It says, in effect: “We’ll invest in you – as long as you agree to contribute as little as possible to our economy once you’re done.”

Admittedly, U.S. policy is a lot better in practice than it is in theory. Every professor knows that foreign students often figure out a way to stay despite their initial affirmation of “nonimmigrant intent.” Loopholes abound – which is why I’ve had the privilege of interacting with so much foreign talent. As the saying goes, “It’s a good thing we don’t get as much government as we pay for.” Or if you prefer a more eloquent version, try Ludwig von Mises:

Let us be grateful for the fact that there are still such things as those the honorable gentleman calls loopholes. Thanks to these loopholes this country is still a free country and its workers are not yet reduced to the status and the distress of their Russian colleagues.

Which makes me wonder: Now that Russian policy has become so much less brutal, is there any chance that American policy could become a little less stupid?