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Reverse brain drain: Why NRIs are returning to India
November 17, 2013, 12:26 pm

NRIs are returning to India in what is being called the “reverse brain drain”. The initial “brain drain” occurred in the 1990s when many IT students left for the West for possibly better education and employment opportunities. However, as the dot-com bubble burst, many were forced to return to India. At that time, it might have seemed to them that this was a misfortune.

However, in the past decade, something interesting has occurred: India’s economy boomed while the US and other countries have suffered through struggling economies.

In the past 10 years, the Sensex has appreciated 310 percent while the Dow Jones Industrial Average (the equivalent to the Sensex in the US) has appreciated a meager 62 percent. India has the world’s third largest GDP (by purchasing power parity) and with a middle class of nearly 300 million, is a preferred location for FDIs around the world to invest in.

The global meltdown in 2008 definitely contributed towards many NRIs returning to India; however, due to the mass exodus of Indians leaving the West and returning to India, the urge to return is only going to grow since the returnees have started and will continue to start thousands of companies which will provide equal or better opportunities than there are in the West.

NRIs have returned to India for other reasons as well. Leveraging the education and experiences they gained abroad, they are applying their skills and contributing towards India’s economy in numerous ways, across all sectors and walks of life.

Whether it be business start-ups, non-profits, high-level positions at MNCs, or purely to be in a country that they can confidently call “home”, NRIs have been returning in a massive scale ever since the US recession began. Indian scientists and engineers are returning due to better career and growth prospects in India versus the West. There is more job security, as well as the intangible benefits of better family and cultural ties.

An irrational fear among Westerners, mostly due to the recession, that an accelerated growth of Indians in their countries will make it more difficult to obtain jobs has also contributed towards the “reverse brain drain”. Thus, NRIs are being crowded out overseas and are looking at India for better employment and economic opportunities.

Among those NRIs that are returning to India, a special mention needs to be made to scientists, who are finding that better research opportunities and passion towards doing something for their home countries is luring them back to their motherland. Around 500 scientists have come back in the last seven years - and only six have gone back.

While the vast majority of the “reverse brain drain” has happened from the U.S., Germany and Britain, scientists have also started coming from South Korea and Japan. Schemes set up by the Indian government, including the setting up of The Ramanujam Fellowship, Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) Programme and the Ramalingaswamy Fellowship, are just a handful of programs that are being pushed by India to entice NRIs to return to India, The tide has finally passed. Two decades ago, India was worried was about the “brain drain”. Skilled Indian students were leaving the country and caused India concerns that they would not return.

Little did they know that they indeed, would, return. 

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