The reverse brain drain is real


When Mohan Bhargava, a NASA scientist in the US, returns back to his village in India he is not really sure what to expect. He hires a caravan and hoards it with mineral water. From his high-end life in the US where everything is just a click away, the life in the village is quite gloomy – literally. While he deals with many issues popular in India, he tried to solve the perennial electricity problem. He uses his intellect to generate electricity for the entire village. Mohan is a fictional character played by Shah Rukh in the movie Swades.

That movie was not a commercial success except for Rahman’s music. But, it gave a glimpse of two things :

  1. The reverse brain drain is actually possible. Not at the pace India would like or need but at its own pace. America and UK might actually be helping India’s cause.
  2. Whenever it happens, there will be phenomenal changes that can take place in India at both urban and rural level. Swades movie also tells us what can really happen when the young and educated actually return back to India.

When Nehru initiated the IIT’s in India, his plan was to develop the best talent in India for India. His dream was half realized. The talent was developed in India but the talent has left to the US, for better salaries and life. Pre-90’s life was a filled with little entrepreneurship and a lot of socialism. This is not what the young and educated wanted. India just could not provide the kind of life Indian educated need. In fact, the IIT graduates were the biggest export to the US until India’s software exports came along.

If better quality of Life and better prospects were the reasons for the brain drain, ironically they are the same reasons for the reverse brain drain. In addition to it there are two more reasons – proximity to family and culture.

Researchers at Duke and Harvard Universities tracked down 1203 people on LinkedIn who has returned back to their home countries – India and China. These people had masters or doctoral degrees and went back to their home countries to pursue their dreams. The main reasons given by them are – family and better prospects.

“Having worked in the U.S., they have skills that make them more valuable back home,” said the study’s principal author, Vivek Wadwha, a researcher on immigration and labor issues at Duke and Harvard. “They go back home and live like kings.” Mercury News

Nothing can beat that feeling. How can the people coming back from the US help India? There can be multiple answers for that, let us see what they did in the US.

Despite the fact that they constitute only 12% of the U.S. population, immigrants have started 52% of Silicon Valley’s technology companies and contributed to more than 25% of our global patents. They make up 24% of the U.S. science and engineering workforce holding bachelor’s degrees and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google (GOOG), Intel (INTC), eBay (EBAY), and Yahoo! (BusinessWeek)

Immigrants has helped immensely for the American economy. So strong and visible is their contribution, Microsoft has lobbied the Obama administration for an increase in the number of H1-B’s and also providing green cards or permanent residence to the foreign students there. It is ironic that the land of immigrants is turning against them in the latest bid of protectionism

I can see this already happening around me. There are few folks who came back to India to take managerial positions. There are also silicon valley based Indian-born investors who are actively looking for funding many of the Indian startups. Few people have re-located to India to start their own company.

If they come back even in fewer numbers it would do wonders for India. The estimate is around 1 lakh people will come back to India in the next 3-5 years. NRI which used to stand for Non Returning Indians now actually stands for Now Returning Indians.

PS : It would be unfair for me if I don’t acknowledge a very important event that actually helped the reverse brain drain. The golden summer of 1991 engineered by our Dr.Manmohan Singh and purported by Late PV Narasimha Rao

  1. krushnaraj says

    also india will overtake china and be the fastest growing economy in the world.i will still be young then lol.i dont have to wait for 75 yrs old and hold a stick in my hand to finally see india progress..

  2. krushnaraj says

    excellent job had to happen someday.immigration to the west will only take place till the immigrants home country has a developing 2022 many experts believe that ..india will be third largest economy in the world overtaking the eu.only a stupid wod leave the 3rd largest economy saying that us is the strongest economy.i know a batch of iitians who left india late 90 return cousin who holds ms in cs.worked for lehman brothers.he got sacked out of nowhere.finally he has to return to india.many leave the us they think its a wise decision.but forget that the adventure is back home.

  3. Sagar says

    Folks, The above post by Sameera is a commercial advertisement for a phone company (Idea) seeking to further its business through a simple mention of discrimination against girl child. This form of arm-chair involvement is an insult to the problem at hand. Millions of female fetuses are aborted in India every year; more than 60% of girls face domestic sexual abuse before they reach an age of 16 – and all we can do is ‘agree to it’ on a petition while collecting email addresses of potential clients for our business. I personally am abhorred by this tactic used by this company.

    If you really want to do something, participate in a real awareness campaign such as the Beti Bachao campaign:
    Unless one is immersed hands-on, one can not even fathom the problem or lend to a solution.

    I must add that all this talk of NRIs being the brain of India and saving India through business and wealth accumulation is misguided. I know enough Indians in small towns or rural India who are selflessly leading India through major social and (appropriate) technological progress. The technical work on the micro-hydel electricity project highlighted in Swades movie was accomplished by two local engineers:

    “We collaborated with a group called the People’s School of Energy [PSE] which kind of provided the technical help to the project and the Narmada Bachao Andolan, which is the people’s movement which was raising the struggle in our group.”

  4. Sameera says

    While this talk of reverse brain-drain in a positive development, the rate of female infanticide is very high in India. The prime cause of it is a traditional mentality coupled with lack of education. Please vote for this online petition against discrimination of the girl child.

  5. Akhil says

    Nice post, there has been a decline in brain drain in last 4-5 years and now its reverse, this clearly shows that India is changing whether we believe it or not. Soon we would see millionaire stories more meaningful than slumdog millionaire.

  6. debashish brahma says

    Good Post,I think it’s not reverse brain drain, but it was the Indian brain reservoir that was there in U.S.It was is reserves and surplus in the balance sheet of India.
    They were and are the ambassador for India. Warm Regards,
    Debashish Brahma.

  7. Sriram Vadlamani says

    @Everybody : Thanks everyone. I have been in the US for 4 years and got back to India for whatever reasons.

    I am glad I stayed back in India and its been 4 years now. In the past 4 years my external focus has increased tremendously which otherwise wouldn’t have happened.

  8. Ram says

    Excellent Article Sriram. Am an NRI currently in the US, but have been having this nagging thought that something big is going to happen in India and I should not miss the boat…I mean the exciting changes that are driving India and the Indian economy to global stage. And today, Indians are being taken seriously (i mean seriously) everywhere and if they are doing wonders all over the world ..why not India…

    And on your footnote, am one of those blessed souls who managed to ride the IT wave of the
    90’s (in fact passed out exactly June 1991) and I cant thank MMS and NR enough!!

  9. Ankit says

    Great Post Sriram.It seriously highlights the changing time.But consider this, People leave India cos they think that their worth is always underestimated.The West has been extremely oppurtunistic in tapping this talent, and India has never been able to entice the genious brains to stay.
    As a result, it is at the mercy of the individuals like ‘Mohan Bhargava’ who wanna come to India to give back.But, with a country who gave the world the number ‘0’ i am sure we could do better.
    Infact, come to think of it, a recent case Where Mr.Amit Jain was hinted as the successor to Warren Buffet.Couldn we avoid this Brain Drain and utilized the services of Amit Jain.
    I hope that the trend changes soon and fast:-)

  10. Arun Prabhudesai says

    Excellent post Sriram…and it is the reality. I think one of the most important reasons is also that India in last 4-5 years has generated tremendous amount of opportunities in literally every field. Indians living in developed countries have got first hand experience of how opportunities were cashed upon in late 80s and 90s that are really flourishing today and now they can see similar opportunities created here in India.

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