Homeward bound for India

Homeward bound for India

As the global recession thickens, reports abound of Indians returning home, laid off abroad. First there was West Asia, where thousands of Indians fled Dubai’s construction bust. And then there was President Barack Obama’s stimulus package’s protectionist tendencies, which called into question the viability of Indians living in the US on H-1B visas.

India’s economic growth may be slowing, but it will also have to reckon with an influx of high-skilled labour. With tough times here as well, this will likely drive wages down in the short term, but have longer-term benefits for Indian research and development—and the economy more generally.

A recent Kauffman Foundation report, “America’s loss is the world’s gain", argues that India has much to gain from recessionary forces emanating from the US. Vivek Wadhwa, one of the paper’s co-authors and a researcher at Harvard Law School, told the San Francisco Chronicle that he believes 100,000 Indians will return home in the next five years.

The paper surveys high-skilled Indian and Chinese immigrants who have spent time living or working in the US but have returned home. It provides colour to the complex reasons for returning, which highlight India’s increasing comparative advantage for professionals of Indian descent. Of the Indians surveyed, 76% surprisingly didn’t shift back because of visa issues. Instead, nearly 80% of Indians returned for the growing demand for their expertise in India. In the case of the US, 62.3% of Indians saw better career opportunities in India than the US.

The report indicates the advantages these professionals have when returning to India: For them, professional growth is better in India, and they’ve moved up the organizational chart compared with the positions they held in the US. Nearly half of the Indians surveyed felt financial compensation —taking into account the cost of living—was more favourable in India than in the US.

In many ways, the recession may prove a particularly useful catalyst for Indian companies to recruit and hire top talent that they might have otherwise lost out on. In the short term, this could drive up competition for knowledge workers. But in the long term, India could lock into a trajectory to dominate knowledge-oriented industries.

The return of high-skilled Indians: boon or burden? Tell us at views@livemint.com