Is India Inc. ready for a reverse brain drain triggered by stricter visa norms in developed nations?

Published: 10/10/2017

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Long-simmering frustrations among natives of developed economies over qualified non-natives usurping their jobs, has eventually snowballed into a strong wave of nationalism. As a result, their governments are tightening the screws on immigrants by framing stricter visa laws.

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This sure is bad news for the highly skilled Indian professionals, who have for decades made their way to the US, the UK, Singapore, Australia, and elsewhere in the west, in search of guaranteed greener pastures – high paying jobs, many avenues to grow professionally and a smooth life replete with state-of-the-art amenities in a first world.

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So much so, three-fourth of the doctors in the UK are of Indian origin and about half the engineers in Silicon Valley are Indians. As per a report by National Science Foundation, the highest scientific body in the US, in the past 10 years, the number of engineers and scientists migrating to the US has risen by almost 85 percent.

But thanks to Trump planning on doubling the minimum salary for H1B visa and similar moves by governments elsewhere in the developed countries, so as to better protect native job seekers who often lose out to Indians and other nationals hired at comparatively lower salaries, that trend is about to reverse.

Consulting firm Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu uncovered that since Trump’s election, there has been a tenfold increase in the number of Indians based in the US looking for jobs back home. Colleges also say that they are seeing a considerable decrease in the number of applicants from India and China – the top sources for international students.

This possibility of a reverse brain drain, however, is a reason for cheer for India, which since independence has been grappling with the problem of outflow of highly educated citizens, who could be a tremendous asset for the nation with their wealth of knowledge and acumen – they could build new technologies, companies, better healthcare system and even superior infrastructure.

The question now is – is India Inc. ready for them? Will it be able to offer them salaries that are on a par with what they draw overseas? Will it be able to provide them room enough to prosper professionally and subsequently contribute to the nation’s economic growth?

The answer is “no.” And reasons are many.

Insufficient high paying jobs and avenues for growth

In an economy that is struggling to add jobs, let alone well-paying ones, to bring down the unemployment level that seems to be climbing every month, it may not be easy for homeward-bound techies, scientists, finance professionals, doctors and professors.

An Indian management professional in the US, for example, who is an H1B visa holder will earn three times less in India. Similarly, an IT professional will draw half the salary he is drawing in the US and an academic will make almost six times less.

According to the Payscale website, again, an Indian fresher with zero to five years’ of experience in IT in the UK, makes an impressive Rs.27 lakh per annum and those with an experience between five to 10 years make Rs.32.5 lakh per annum. While this is definitely lower than what natives make (in fact, lower cost of hiring equally competent and qualified Indian professionals has resulted in their demand), it is much higher than their counterparts in India.

Besides, automation is already threatening jobs everywhere with programming machines supplanting entry-level programmers and cloud computing reducing the need for manpower. Hence entry-level programmers, who form the bulk of H1B holders, may find it difficult to even retain a job both in the US and in India, thanks to artificial intelligence and other sophisticated technologies.

Dearth of quality higher education facilities and research centres

Quality of higher education, another cause of brain drain, also needs improvement to enable the best minds to innovate and disrupt on the home soil. From superior research facilities, decent scholarship amounts and even competent and dedicated teaching staff, universities need to work on, well, almost everything. Our IITs and IIMs, which we are so proud of, do not even feature in the top 200 universities of the world!

The centre’s recent decision to up the monthly fellowship amount to Rs.70, 000 from the current Rs.25000 for those doing their PhDs in IITs or IISc is just a blip on the radar. To facilitate quality research leading to breakthrough innovation, more funds need to be released and world-class facilities have to be built.

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