The United States may suffer a “reverse brain drain” as documented, skilled immigrants return to home countries, discouraged by visa extensions and green card delays, according to a report to be released on Wednesday.
Indian companies, cognisant of the red tape in becoming an American, are trying hard to turn an impending exodus into their “brain gain.”
This weekend, Clickjobs.com plans a job fair in New Jersey for people seeking opportunities in India, terming the event the “first-ever Indo-US job fair.”
• Skilled immigrants are returning home discouraged by visa extensions in the US, the report says.
• Indian companies, starved of talent, see an opportunity.
Informally, such efforts have been on for years, from employers recruiting at social gatherings of NRIs to overseas reunions of Indian colleges. Now, beyond plugging India’s growth, recruiters can appeal to emigres’ sense of frustration with the US immigration laws.
The report Intellectual Property, the Immigration Backlog, and a Reverse Brain-Drain — America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs Part III by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and academics from Harvard, New York and Duke universities, details immigrant contributions to US society and analyses the potential impact of their departure.
<b1>“Because of our flawed immigration policies, we have set the stage for the departure of hundreds of thousands of highly skilled professionals,” said Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Harvard Law School and executive in residence at Duke University. “This is lose-lose for the US. Our corporations lose key talent... and we end up creating potential competitors.”
More than 10 lakh skilled immigrants await green cards, or permanent residency, in the US, while only 1.2 lakh visas leading to a green card are issued every year — with less than 10,000 for India, said the report.
Sanjay Mavinkurve (26) came to the US from Mumbai at the age of 14 on a student visa. He went to boarding school, got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science from Harvard and now resides in San Francisco, California, where he works for Google.
Even after spending nearly half his life in the US, Mavinkurve is on an H-1B visa — it allows a US firm to employ a foreign worker for up to six years. “I feel like I’m stuck in limbo,” he said. “Under my visa it’s against the law to be promoted and it’s extremely difficult to change firms.”
Visas are allocated based on country of birth, and because so many Indians are waiting in line for green cards, Mavinkurve is sceptical he will get one.
The report details the contributions of such immigrants, saying foreign nationals who received US patents increased from 7.3 per cent in 1998 to 24.2 per cent in 2006. During this time, Indians were second behind China with 3,536 patents. China obtained 4,440 patents. Companies as Merck & Co, General Electric and Siemens filed many of these patents mostly in sanitation or medical preparation, pharmaceuticals, semi-conductors and electronics.
According to an earlier study by the same researchers, an immigrant established one in four engineering and tech firms founded between 1995 and 2005. Indians founded more firms than immigrants from the UK, China, Taiwan and Japan combined.
The increased recruitment of foreign talent from India is indicative of this trend. The ClickJobs.com fair hopes to attract 6,000 professionals who want to work in global information, communication and technology. Approximately 500 to 600 jobs will be given out as a direct result of the fair, said Michael M. Bala, business head of ClickJobs.com. Bala said he is targeting people who are having trouble with their visas, in addition to those who just want to return home for the economic boom.
“There are so many people who have left India. We are looking to bring these people back in,” said Bala. “These people have already been trained and have been working in the field. They are perfect candidates.”
According to The Indus Entrepreneurs, a global non-profit organisation, approximately 60,000 IT professionals have moved to India from the US in recent years.
In the last three years, Indians have been returning home for many reasons, including greater leadership opportunities, competitive compensation packages and to return to family, said Madhav Sharan, a senior client partner of executive search firm Korn/Ferry International, who helps recruit Indians living in the US from his New Delhi office.
He said his firm recruited 250-300 Indians from North America and Europe last year and the numbers are increasing. He primarily recruits in the fields of healthcare, biotechnology, aerospace and defence.
While beneficial to India, the impact of skilled immigrants leaving the US, in many cases to China and India, could be disastrous to the US — and the global economy, according to the report. “When foreigners come to the US, collaborate with Americans in developing and patenting new ideas, and employ those ideas in business in ways they could not readily do in their home countries, the world benefits,” it said. “Therefore, foreign national departures from the US also reduce global well-being.”
In San Francisco, Mavinkurve is thinking about returning to India, where his parents still live, or moving to Singapore, where his fiancé lives. “I really think we’re at a tipping point here,” he said. “America is no longer the only place to make it big. Why the US is intent on sending away the best and brightest is beyond me.”