Reverse Brain Drain: Temporary or Lasting Trend?
Expressions - Interviews

Photo Vivek WadhwaX-Expats interviewed Vivek Wadhwa, Entrepreneur, Advisor, Senior Research Associate at Harvard Law School and Adjunct Professor at Duke University in the United States. His expertise has been sought by businesses, political leaders, academics, public and private organizations alike. Mr. Wadhwa has been praised for his research on entrepreneurship, immigration, and globalization. Last year, he co-authored “America’s Loss is the World’s Gain", a study published in March 2009, available here that  profiled Chinese and Indian returnees,  provided information about their motivations for leaving the US, and described their situation abroad.

X-Expats : In your opinion, what were the most/least surprising findings in this survey?

Vivek Wadhwa: What was most surprising was how well returnees were doing at home…how optimistic they were about their jobs and careers. Another big surprise was how many of the returnees were permanent residents/green card holders. It was not surprising that family ties were one of the strongest factors drawing them home. What was surprising was how most Indians felt that their children would get better education back home (this was not the case for Chinese).

X-E : Is America losing its edge in attracting and keeping foreign talents? Is there a power shift in global dynamics?

VW : Yes, definitely. The sad thing is that many political leaders in the U.S. don’t realize this. They are working on legislation to add more restrictions for foreign workers and the debates are about temporary work visas – not fixing the biggest problem of all: the million who are already in the U.S. on such visas and are stuck in “immigration limbo”.

X-E : Do you believe that reverse migration is a temporary or growing trend?

VW: Without doubt, this is growing trend. In the future, the U.S. will be competing with countries all over the world for top skilled talent. There will be major tech centers outside the U.S.

X-E : What can the US do to retain immigrants (Chinese, Indian, European) and keep attracting foreign talents?

VW: The easy short-term fix is to greatly expand the numbers of green-cards available for those who are already here. Then the immigration system needs to be overhauled to more easily bring in the talent that the country needs. In the future, we may have to start offering incentives like those which Canada offers.

X-E : How are American companies dealing with their increasingly mobile talents? Are they offering managerial positions at their affiliate offices overseas?

VW : They are expanding their overseas offices and moving R&D to these countries.

X-E: Are foreign governments such as China or India developing plans to capitalize on this “brain gain”?

VW: China is working hard on this. The Indian Prime Minister, for the first time made overtures to Indians to let them know that they are welcome back home. Both countries are benefiting in a big way.

X-E : How are returnees perceived by the local workforce and hiring companies in China and India?

VW: There is often resentment when returnees make higher salaries than locals in China. In India, returnees don’t get a premium any more, so this is less of an issue.

X-E: IIT in India or Shanghai Jiao Tong University in China are already considered among the best educational institutions worldwide, do you believe that more universities will follow the path of Tata, or Infosys, become truly global to compete with their western counterparts?

VW: Universities in India and China are definitely improving. Both countries need to open up their education systems to foreign universities and invest more, however. India, in particular could become a global education hub as it is becoming an R&D hub if it opened up its universities to foreign collaboration and competition.

X-E : In your study, a number of respondents reported returning to the US because they could not reassimilate into their country of origin (cultural practices, pollution, infrastructure, reverse culture shock, etc.).  Do ties or connections individuals maintained with their home country while abroad  or the frequency of visits to India or China while living in the US impact the duration of their stay in China or India?

VW : One would expect that these do, but there was no data to validate this.

X-E: Thank you Vivek for taking the time to respond to our questions.  To learn more about Mr. Wadhwa’s scope of research and findings, please check the following links:


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