Brain Drain – Reversed
For many years commentators have lamented how India has lost its brightest brains to the west – the phenomenon lovingly referred to as the Brain Drain.
It appears that we are seeing another trend these days…the brains that had gotten drained seem to be heading back to India. There’s new phraseology in town: Reverse Brain Drain.
There’s a whole bunch of factors that seem to have contributed to this phenomenon.
India has made tremendous progress, expecially in the field of technology. Indian offices are engaged in cutting edge software development and boast of amenities comparable to anywhere else. Most, if not all major software companies have setup offshore development centers in India. Salaries have risen, and the gap between an Indian salary and a Silicon Valley salary has greatly diminished.
The Indian Elephant has finally started gaining momentum. India is Shining. The economy is doing well, and IT has led the way these past few years.
As the private sector in India now is the main source of wealth production, and it is not as murky and intervened by Indian government as it was before 1991 periods, the highly skilled professionals feel they can get their rewards for their talent and hard work in Indian private sector.[link]
On the other hand, immigration related issues are a constant hassle for Indians in the US.
Most immigrants work on the H1B visa which virtually ties their hands in terms of who they can work for, and what they can do. Besides, their spouses are not allowed to work as dependents, which is another big irritant. The H1B visa is valid for a total of six years, which is about how much time it takes to get the green card. Once you get a green card you are relatively free, and can do pretty much anything you want with your life. But the Green Card process in itself takes a long time, and employers abuse the fact that you need to stay with them for that much time to get as much out of you without providing the correspondent benefits.
Like many Indians, Girija Subramaniam is fed up. After earning a master’s in electrical engineering from the University of Virginia in 1998, she joined Texas Instruments as a test engineer. She wanted to stay in the United States, applied for permanent residency in 2002 and has been trapped in immigration limbo ever since. If she so much as accepts a promotion or, heaven forbid, starts her own company, she will lose her place in line. Frustrated, she has applied for fast-track Canadian permanent residency and expects to move north of the border by the end of the year.[link]
These issues are highlighted even more in the current times, with the government proposing that institutions receiving government bailout money cannot hire H1B workers. This is a big blow to the aspirations of people no more working in the financial industry, and from personal experience i know that a huge chunk of Wall Street employees are immigrants – Indian, Chines, Russian. You name the country.
Not just Wall Street. Across the country, there are loud voices against immigration and the government seems to be going into a protectionist mode. This would seem to be a knee jerk reaction to the economic crisis, given the often touted facts about the large percentage of Silicon valley startups that have been started by immigrants. Even in other professions, immigrant workers continue to innovate and contribute to the society and economy, in a big way.
Another strong motivation for some is the call of the country. There are families back home. There may be corruption. There may be power cuts, but there are no restrictions. There is no fear of going out of status. No fear of the immigration officer at the airport raising questions.
For whatever reason, people are heading back. A recent study tracked more than 1200 Indian and Chinese immigrants, and presented some interesting statistics on the reverse brain drain.
This study was conducted by Vivek Wadhwa and the Kaufman foundation, and concluded that over the past 20 years 50,000 immigrants have returned to India and China, each. Further, and more interestingly, it projected another 100,000 returning over the next 5 years.
Economics, not visa headaches, is the main engine of the shift, according to the two-year research project, which surveyed 1,203 Indian and Chinese workers who had studied or worked in the United States for a year or more before returning home. Growing demand for their skills and shining career opportunities back home were cited by 87 percent of the Chinese and 79 percent of the Indians as the major professional reason for returning. Most also cited the lure of being close to family and friends. [link]
This number is surprisingly high. I am surprised because there is the obvious downside of moving back to India. The standard of living is obviously not the same. The everyday struggles of life in poor, overpopulated, corrupt India are not for everyone.
I personally know people who moved back to India, and now curse themselves for it. I also know people who moved back, and are very happy and satisfied with their lives.
This begets the question.
For the India and Indians of today, what matters more? Is it being home with family? Dare i say, love for the nation? Or is it the money, infrastructure, cleanliness of a developed country?
For Indians working in India, would you still jump at the chance to work and live in the US? I know going onsite was the craze till a few years back.
For Indians working in the US, would you ever consider returning to India? What would it take?