Overrating Return of US-educated Indians

Some recent reports have stated that foreign students educated in the US and Indian professionals are returing to their India in a large number. Anecdotal evidence supports this slow trend of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) moving to India however, it has a major flaw–confounding intentions with action and compulsion with choice.

Many Indians intend to go back, given the connections with the country and family and hopes of leveraging the dollar savings, social prestige and professional advancement. However, very few are actually able to act on that intentions, due to the comfort of existing life style, children and hope of Green-card.

A recent research entitled “Will They Return?” highlighted the issue of lack of faculty in Indian higher education and recommended recruiting Indian students abroad for faculty roles. The article based on the research notes that “Indians living in the U.S. are willing to come back to their home country….[and] found that only 8% strongly preferred to remain in the U.S.” However, according to the detailed research paper cited in the Wharton article, nearly 70% of the respondents are indicated as undecided/U.S. first. This means that many more intend to work in the U.S. for some time and within this undecided group most do not go back. The evidence that intention does not mean action is validated from another research on stay rates of doctorates by Michael Finn. It states that U.S. doctorates of Indian origin had a stay rate of 81% after five years of graduation. Clearly, the majority of Indian doctorates do not return.

Of the few students and professionals who are able to return back, majority had to return due to compulsion and not choice. Many were forced to go back due to recessionary effect and hence unavailability of work visa at one level and tightening of visa rules at another level. For example, according to an earlier report, “A good proportion of H1-B visa holders–about 50,000–had their visas issued in 2002 and 2003. Come 2009, most of these visas (which are work permits issued for a fixed period), with a validity of six years, expired. The number of H1-B visa holders who have applied for jobs in India is now said to be between 15,000 and 20,000.” (Related story on unemployment.)

Yes, there is a slow and steady trend towards more Indians willing to go back to India as the quality of life and professional growth opportunities improve, however, some of the recent reports have overrated the trend, provided an incomplete picture and have confounded intentions with action and compulsion with choice.

What are your thoughts?

Dr. Rahul Choudaha

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