As many as 100,000 Indians and an equal number of Chinese will return to their native countries in the next three to five years, a move that will greatly boost their economies and undermine technological innovation in America, a new US study warns.
The study on immigration by a team at Duke, Harvard and Berkeley universities led by Vivek Wadhwa, an Indian-American technology entrepreneur turned academic, says "America's loss is the world's gain".
There are no hard numbers available on how many have returned, but anecdotal evidence shows that this is in the tens of thousands, says Wadhwa, executive-in-residence for the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University and fellow at the Labour and Worklife Programme at Harvard Law School.
"With the economic downturn, my guess is that we'll have over 100,000 Indians and as many Chinese return home over the next three-five years," says Wadhwa. "This flood of western educated and skilled talent will greatly boost the economies of India and China and strengthen their competitiveness.
"India is already becoming a global hub for R&D. This will allow it to branch into many new areas and will accelerate the trend," he says.
"The US has always had the luxury of being arrogant about immigration because it has been the strongest magnet for the world's best and brightest," but as the study shows "there are other strong magnets now".
"We are effectively exporting our economic stimulus. Policies like those which the US just enacted which prevents some banks from hiring foreign workers will have the opposite effect from what they intended - they will send jobs abroad and scare away top talent," Wadhwa said.
The study released on Monday Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, based in Kansas City, Montana, indicates placing limits on foreign workers in the US is not the answer to America's rising unemployment rate and may undermine efforts to spur technological innovation.
"A substantial number of highly skilled immigrants have started returning to their home countries in recent years, draining a key source of brain power and innovation," said Robert E Litan, vice president of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation.
"We wanted to know what is encouraging this much-needed economic growth engine to leave our country, thereby sending entrepreneurship and economic stimulus to places like Bangalore and Beijing."
The report builds on an earlier Kauffman Foundation report by Wadhwa documenting a queue of one million H-1B holders and their families anxiously awaiting longer-term work visas and growing frustrated with the immigration process.
Until recently, America has been the prime destination for the world's best and brightest immigrants.
"Immigrants have made tremendous personal sacrifices," said Wadhwa. "They would leave behind relatives and friends and accept second-tier status in American society.
"Now countries like India and China are providing equal career opportunities and a better quality of life. So the most highly educated and skilled are often returning home."
The two-year study covered 1,203 Indian and Chinese subjects who had studied or worked in the US for a year or more before returning home.