A recent study by recruitment consultancy firm Kelly Services offers some interesting data: Over the next five years, around 300,000 Indian professionals working overseas are likely to return to India. What’s more, the study predicts, most of these workers will find a higher level of job satisfaction in India than in their earlier jobs.
How does this number compare with earlier periods? Kamal Karanth, managing director of Kelly Services India, says that it is difficult to judge because the movements in earlier periods are not well documented. “But in the recent three decades, this could be a significant period of reverse migration,” he notes.
Karanth lists the key reasons the study cites for this reverse migration:
- India’s sustained growth, even during uncertain times, and the country’s better career prospects compared to developed economies.
- Indian companies have started paying better than they used to, and they offer opportunities for global exposure from India.
- A strong higher education system. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs) are now getting recognized globally. These offer a sound educational environment for the children of those looking to return to India.
- A higher sense of belonging, which makes Indian workers emotionally bound to their careers and society.
Alok Aggarwal, cofounder and chairman of research and analytics firm Evalueserve, believes that “the numbers will only increase in the coming years.” Aggarwal, who did a study in 2008 on India emerging as a preferred destination for IIT graduates, says: “The lure of going to the U.S. or to other countries and remaining there will be less and less for both Indians and Chinese.”
Aggarwal adds that the current wave of reverse migration is fuelled more by the constraints in the developed economies rather than the opportunities in India. “The uncertain job scenario and the long wait for the Green Card in the U.S., for instance, are making people question the relevance of staying there. And the India growth story makes it easier for them to return.”
Karanth agrees that the increase in reverse migration will depend on the pace of recovery of the developed economies. “If the uncertainty keeps coming back in Europe and America, these numbers could stay or relatively increase. [But the migration is] also closely attached to India’s reform policies and sustained GDP growth.”
In 2009, India had witnessed a reverse exodus when Indians in the Gulf returned in large numbers due to the crisis in the Gulf economy.
Earlier this year, a report by Frost and Sullivan listed reverse brain drain as one of the top global mega trends. According to the report, the vacancies for executives in countries like India will be filled not only by returning Indians, but also by Americans and Europeans seeking better prospects. Karanth adds that as compared to other countries, India is likely to see a larger number of knowledge workers returning. “This may not be the case in other countries, where lower-skilled workers may be returning,” he says.
The reverse migration to India is expected to have a significant impact on the work culture in the country. It could accelerate learning in some fields like biotech, automobiles, construction and oil & gas since professionals overseas have better exposure to the latest technologies in these fields. A more global workforce is also expected to result in more discipline at the workplace. Says Aggarwal: “We are already moving towards a global work culture in India. This wave of reverse migration will only reinforce that.” But he warns that if there is no significant improvement in the infrastructure in the country, it could cause restlessness amongst those returning.
B. Venkatesh Kumar, a professor at the School of Management and Labor Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), sees this as a “defining moment” in reverse brain drain. Pointing out that China and South East Asian countries are seeing similar trends, he says: “People are returning to their countries because they want to contribute and be part of the growth stories in their own economies.” Kumar, who earlier this year co-authored a study on the willingness of faculty members to return to India titled, “Will they Return,” sees a reverse brain drain emerging as one of the mega global trends of the future. But he also predicts that over time, it will become a two-way process. “Borders will not really matter, and increasingly we will see more global citizens.”