Homeward Bound

Homeward Bound

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Reverse Migration

Reverse Migration

The brain drain, the much-touted phenomenon of the 90s seems to be all set for a role reversal. As India turns 67, a reverse brain drain seems to be kicking in. The diaspora’s great minds are flocking back to the resilient economy that has withstood the global meltdown. Taking the flight back is surely an eye-opener to the world’s confidence in India and also a testimony of the across-the-board potential that the country promises. Mritunjay Kumar takes a seat on the plane…

Breathes there the man, with soul so dead,

Who never to himself hath said,

‘This is my own, my native land!’

Whose heart hath ne’er within him burned,

As home his footsteps he hath turned,

From wandering on a foreign strand!


The words are still as haunting and relevant as when Sir Walter Scott wrote them. In the end home is not where the heart is; but it is where your roots are. It is the essence of human nature to yearn to come home.

Using these sentiments as a yardstick, it is clearly visible that the tide has turned. The Indian brain drain – from developing countries to industrialized nations – is doing a U-turn. Human capital is returning home to Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa, while some European professionals squeezed by the recession, turn toward developing countries for advancement. Indeed, the roles have reversed and the colonies of the past are becoming the refuge for colonials of that era.

India’s economy growing faster than America or Britain

With India’s economy growing faster than America or Britain the European wave is turning on itself. This is swelling the numbers of the “reverse migrants” who are seeking numerous opportunities, plus they are re-igniting a cultural connection. About 300,000 Indian professionals employed overseas may return to the country by 2015, said a recent report by US-based Kelly Services, a global major in providing workforce solutions. Even resident Brits and South Africans are joining the steady flow of central Asian aspirants to the burgeoning Indian options. Indian cinema itself offers 10,000 jobs to foreigners for the filmi extravaganzas.

Estimates by the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) suggest that about 1 to 1.5 lakh Indians have already returned to work in the country. The lack of stability and job security abroad is emerging as a key reason for the shift – from aspiring to find a job overseas to working to return to a job in India.

Reverse ‘brain drain’

Global Indians are returning to India in what is being called the “reverse brain drain”. The initial ‘brain drain’ occurred in the 1990s when many IT students left for the West, for possibly better education and employment opportunities. But soon the dot-com bubble burst, and many were forced to return to India. But at that time, this return was perceived as unfortunate.

Over the past decade, we noticed an amazing phenomenon. When the mighty West stumbled India’s economy prospered, and somehow career prospects appeared brighter in India (something that was not even wildly imaginable, in the previous generation). Now NRIs started viewing their homeland with new eyes. They now saw that it offered many of the West’s comforts: comfortable housing societies with swimming pools and gyms, shopping malls, French and Italian restaurants and, even coffee shops and spas. India is no longer a picture of poverty; it is no longer slums and slumdogs, the stench of rotting garbage, the menacing stray dogs, gang-rapes, khap panchayats and what have you .

The term ‘reverse brain drain’ sounds buoyant, but as with many complex patterns of migration, it does not capture the whole story. Many NRIs are all set and determined to return to India, but quite a few go right back. Coming back feels wonderful to most, as the cacophony of India is sheer fun; but, for a few the lure of the relatively sterilized West still seems attractive. Gulf Indians, too, like the idea of a holiday but, since they got used to an environment where the ambience was almost identical to home, they prefer to stay in these foreign shores. So, it is often seen that two weeks into their visit to India, they find that it’s time to leave!

‘Adapt’ and fit into the environment is the way out for those who stay. The bask in the comfort of having their families around them; also, some want to be with their grandparents and friends. Many give importance to lifestyle, children’s education, health and safety. What emerges are stories of some global Indians who came back, which reveal much about both their aspirations and their adopted homes.

India – a country with untapped and unlimited economic potential

As revealed by economists globally, India is a country with untapped and unlimited economic potential. India has the world’s third largest GDP (by purchasing power parity) and with a middle-class of nearly 300 million, it is a preferred location for FDIs around the world.

The global meltdown in 2008 definitely contributed towards NRI retreat to India. However, due to the mass exodus of Indians leaving the West and returning to India, the urge to return is only going to grow since the exodus has started. They will hit home ground and spark off a number of companies, which should provide equal or better opportunities vis-s-vis the West.

Why are NRIs homeward-bound? Check the reasons

In a recent study published by the Harvard Law School, 50 per cent of NRI returnees are doing so for entrepreneurship and business start-up reasons. Some key findings of the same study:

  • 10 per cent of Indians surveyed held senior management positions in the US, but 44 per cent found jobs at that level in India
  • 61 per cent of Indians found opportunities for professional advancement better at home than in the US
  • Most also found better opportunities to start a business in India
  • 79 per cent were motivated to return home because of growing demand for their skills in India
  • Just 6 per cent of Indian students surveyed would like to stay permanently in the US
  • Most fear the US economy will lag global growth rates in the near future
  • 86 per cent felt the best days for India’s economy lay ahead
  • 53 per cent of respondents hope to start businesses in India

There are other reasons too. Reality checks reveal that NRIs have been flocking back on a massive scale ever since the US recession began. Backed by the education and experiences they gained abroad, they are able to contribute towards India’s economy cutting across all sectors. Indian scientists and engineers return for better career and growth prospects in India, apart from job security and better family and cultural ties.

India’s evolving corporate structure is another reason that encourages Indians to return home. Also, NRIs are able to maintain family ties and live with their spouses, parents and relatives around them. It was seen that they often faced problems in procuring visas for them, and they had to maintain separate lives.

Another valid reason on why NRIs are returning to India is the fact that they are unable to start up their own ventures and businesses abroad. Due to recent immigration rule changes, students with an F1 Visa in the US are unable to venture into entrepreneurship, as laws forbid them from working on “outside jobs”. They can work as an employee (within their domain of studies) or in internships with companies in his/her field of study, but they are not allowed to be self-employed in a business venture.

Mainly due to the recession, there existed an irrational fear among Westerners, that the teeming number of Indians in their countries would make it more difficult to obtain jobs. So, this has also contributed to the “reverse brain drain”. Thus, NRIs are being crowded out overseas. And, they are looking at India for better employment and economic opportunities.

Surely, it’s payback time for NRIs as they get homeward bound.

At home and happy!

Naveen Nimmu was working with Broadcom into software/semiconductor business in the US. He continues working with Broadcom, before and after his move to India. Nimmu, however, chose to return to India and he lists his multiple reasons: India was witnessing phenomenal GDP growth, he wanted his kids to ‘experience’ India and get a more focused education. Though his kids were a bit reluctant to sit on the plane to India, growing malls and adoption of western culture made them feel at home in India. Nimmu is glad that he has not moved all his investments to India, as the Indian currency is dropping and there are chances of making some profits. “There are other aspects that might still keep me in India, but the ‘Rupee devaluation’ and poor political decisions urge one to keep the options open,” says Nimmu.

Manik Sen works with a leading real estate company in New Delhi. He lived in the UAE for seven years, before moving back to India, last year. Manik always had plans of coming back to India and show his kids where their parents come from…. know the values of extended family, which staying there would have been difficult to achieve. When asked if he made a wrong decision, as foreign investment is fleeing and there is this sharp fall in the Indian rupee, he said, “I personally do not feel that it was a wrong decision. In the long run, yes we are always open to provide the best for our kids and may take a decision to move back, but that will be done only after a long deliberation and detailed thought process.”

In January 1997 when Padma Puppala moved from warm south India to cold London, it was a career move from a typical Indian public health sector hospital to that of UK. As a young doctor she was in search of knowledge; she had a set goal in her mind to return home one day with a wealth of experience that can make an impact on patient care. With disarming frankness, she says, “I felt there was a limited social interaction during the seven-year long stay and a deep desire to bring our children up in our own cultural surroundings, brought us back in 2004.” She thanks national and international hospital accreditation agencies; today Healthcare organizations are constantly striving to meet international standards and thus increase their brand value in global markets. Apart from playing an important role in this evolutionary process, she is able to extend her services to the underprivileged in a remote village of Andhra Pradesh, through a non-profitable organization, CHORUS. Today, Padma has no regrets of returning to India, as she has not only managed to move on in to a respectable position, both in the professional sense and on the social front too. And, she sees a great future ahead.

(Source: www.ndtv.com)

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Somanjana Chatterjee

Somanjan Chatterjee is San Francisco based consulting editor