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The return of the native: Indias reverse brain drain

Zafar Anjum | Oct. 13, 2008
Unfortunately, like all exits cannot be clean and all exiles cannot be painless, all returns too cannot be rosy.

Last month, Muthu returned to India. For good. A software developer with many years of experience, he did so after having spent about five years in Singapore. But perhaps this was not what he had intended in the first place.

Two years ago, he wanted to buy a house here, bring his family to Singapore and like many Indian expats lead a comfortable life. Just soon after, the lion citys property boom started.  The prices spiraled up so high that buying a HDB resale flat went out of his budget.

While he kept working patiently, leading a single mans life, shoving down his throat little morsels of mirthless dosa and sambhar, he missed his family and children who lived in a Southern Indian town. His loneliness, interrupted by 8 hours of office work, stirred in him the longing to return to India.

The pull for him was not just emotional. It was also economically sensible. In a booming India, finding a job in the software industry, with salaries as good as in Singapore or even better, was not impossible.

Muthu is not alone in what he is doing-- many people he knew were already returning to India with good packages. A large number of Indian expats, even from countries in Europe and US, are returning to India. This is consistent with the trend of todays Indians with dulled tempatation to work overseas.

From brain drain to brain gain

Before the 1990s, Indian economy was not liberalised. The countrys rate of growth was tediously slow and employment opportunities were limited. Talented or resourceful young men and women sought to get out of the country to seek better fortune wherever the grass looked greener: from North America (USA and Canada) to Europe (primarily UK) and Australia to the Middle East.

The government bemoaned the loss of this human resource, calling the phenomenon Indias brain drain. Apparently, those who could not get out of the country, for whatever reason, dubbed these Indians living or working overseas (called NRIs or non-resident Indians) as unpatrioticthey seemed to be disloyal to India, having studied in schools and universities funded with public money and then running out of the country to benefit other nations with their knowledge and skills.  But in their hearts, most looked at them with awe and envy, jealous of the salaries that they earned in dollars and pounds and the lifestyle that was full of a first world creature comforts. In the India of those days, cars and even electrical appliances such as microwaves and air conditioners were out of the reach of the salaried class people.


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