US 'reverse brain drain' to India now in full swing

By Zubair Ahmed,
BBC News, Washington

Image caption,
The Agarwals want their daughter to grow up in India

Nidhi Agarwal and her husband Dipak Singhal were both information technology professionals in California until the end of June.

They had been yearning to go back to their India - their home country - for over a year after having worked in the state's Silicon Valley for four years.

Unlike other Indian professionals, Nidhi would not have minded going back without a job in hand.

But she got lucky. She attended a job fair in Santa Clara in California in June and landed a good job in Bangalore, the city she and her husband left to come here four years ago

Nidhi and Dipak - both in their early 30s - are part of a trend which can be best described by a cliche: reverse brain drain.

According to an industry estimate, more than 60,000 Indian professionals went back to their country last year alone, a majority of them IT professionals.

Shining lights

Years ago, the Silicon Valley beckoned the best IT minds from India.

But the exchange of ideas and innovations after nearly two decades has reversed the trend.

The charm of the US is wearing off. India's own Silicon Valleys are now at the forefront of innovation and they are attracting its shining lights back home from the US.

There was a time when nearly 90% of graduates passing out of the prestigious Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) headed to the West. But not any more.

Vinay Bapna, one of the early returnees, works and lives in Bangalore but carries mobile phones for both India and the US.

Image caption,
Some Indian IT companies now have better opportunities than the US

He called me back from his US phone to tell me firmly that it was the right decision to go back.

"It's exciting to be part of the technological revolution taking place in India," he said.

Harvi Sachar runs a trade magazine, called SiliconIndia, in Santa Clara and organises a job fair every year.

He says those who want to go back to India come to the fair from all over the US.

"This year around 400 IT professionals came and more than a dozen companies attended to fish for the best talents." And Nidhi was one of them.

The demand for talented and US-experienced personnel is so high that Mr Sachar has had requests pouring in from Indian companies.

"There is a shortage of experienced people in the growing Indian IT industry. So it's easier for the candidates to go back with an offer in hand. I think they get better jobs there and the companies get experienced people. So, it's a win-win situation for both parties," Mr Sachar said.

'Jobs aplenty'

The companies attending the job fair included Amazon, Yahoo and Intel.

One of the hiring companies was MetricStream, whose chief technical officer, Vidyadhar Phalke recruited Nidhi Agarwal at the fair this year and Vinay Bopana earlier.

"Some of our key people were recruited at this event. Our hit rate has been very good," he says.

The IT industry says there are both personal and professional reasons for the reverse exodus.

For Nidhi and her husband it was because of the family.

"We have a two-year-old daughter, Nishtha," she said "And from the time she was one we had been planning to go back. We were clear we wanted her to grow up in India in our large, joint family."

For Vinay it was more a professional call. He says India now throws up exciting opportunities.

"Earlier the US was the land of opportunities, but now India is," he says, somewhat romantically.

But he admits to being attracted back to his roots because "Indian culture is great".

Most of the returnees say the gap in salaries in the two countries has been steadily decreasing.

Money is indeed an important factor but it's not the main reason for the reverse traffic.

Saurabh Sharma, who works for with the German IT company, SAP, is one of the recent immigrants to the US.

He is in no hurry to go back, but he has a good idea why the reverse migration is happening: "Jobs are aplenty in India and now venture capitalists are also available, so capital for start-up ventures for new entrepreneurs is easily available in India."


Interestingly the large majority of the returnees is in the middle to senior management categories in the 30-40 age group. Many of them would like their children to grow up in their own culture.

But Radhesh Balakrishnan, a senior marketing executive in a Seattle-based software company, does not believe there is much of a difference in the cultures of the two countries.

"As to growing up here versus India, we were surprised to see that there is not much difference between kids of well-settled parents in Delhi and Mumbai and their counterparts in the US - along several dimensions," he said.

"On balance, we'd rather have the kids grow up independent and self-reliant here than arguably spoilt by cooks, maids and a driver in India."

Vinay Bapna, whose older son holds an American passport while the younger one has an Indian one, jokes about what they might say when they are grown up.

"Generally we would think the one with the Indian passport might say why he doesn't have an American passport like his older brother. But who knows by then it's the older son who might be complaining!"

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