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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.

After India liberalised its economy, this group of overseas Indians part of the larger over 20 million Indian diasporabecame a boon to a resurgent India. They became ambassadors of brand India in foreign countries and they became investors in Indias growth. The billions of dollars that came from them in annual remittances consecrated the perceived lack of loyalty that had initially marred their voluntary exit from the country. Many even began to return to India to lead companies or to work in leading companies and live in the comfort of gated communities or with their extended families. According to an estimate by the Returned Non-Residents Association, over 30,000 IT professionals returned to Bangalore in 2005.The numbers of total returnees would be much higher now.

There was this transformation in the image of the overseas Indians. As Indian diplomat and writer Shashi Tharoor has noted, from the non-resident Indians (NRI), they became now-required Indians (NRI).

While the number of returnees has increased, migration out of India also dropped. In the 1990s, Indians were the third largest group of migrants, sending out 7.4 million Indians. By 2005, Indias ranking dropped to 8th from 3rd, and the country sent out just 5.7 million people.

Why are they returning?

The Indians are returning for many reasons. As many have pointed out earlier, these include attractive remuneration packages, a comfortable lifestyle comparable with life overseas, advancement opportunities and proximity to family and friends.

But there might be some push factors as well.  For instance, as Mint columnist R N Bhaskar has noted, all countries in the European Union (EU) must first consider the job applications of unemployed EU citizens before looking at those of non-EU migrants.

It is not just the IT professionals. Even construction workers are returning to India. Notes Bhaskar: A couple of years ago, construction workers and others from lesser paid professions began a return trek to India. Most of them often found West Asia a very attractive place to work. But the construction boom here made many of these Indians look towards India once again. For the past two years, most countries in West Asia have witnessed a reverse migration of Indian workers. Construction companies in India had increased the salary bar for skilled workers. Not surprisingly, costs of employing drivers, electricians and other such workers have spiralled in West Asia, particularly in Dubai and Riyadh.

Now, as the global credit crisis is taking its toll on the finance and banking sector, many Indian finance sector employees are expected to return to India too. Most of these people are likely to head back to India, where hopefully a growing banking sector will be able to absorb them, says Bhaskar. These prodigals may not be able to draw better salaries and may be returning primarily because they will have few options left.


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