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Caroline Fan on October 5, 2009 - 4:32pm
By Emily Bazar, USA TODAY
More skilled immigrants are giving up their American dreams to pursue careers back home, raising concerns that the U.S. may lose its competitive edge in science, technology and other fields.
ECONOMY: Driving emigration
"What was a trickle has become a flood," says Duke University's Vivek Wadhwa, who studies reverse immigration.
Wadhwa projects that in the next five years, 100,000 immigrants will go back to India and 100,000 to China, countries that have had rapid economic growth.
"For the first time in American history, we are experiencing the brain drain that other countries experienced," he says.
Suren Dutia, CEO of TiE Global, a worldwide network of professionals who promote entrepreneurship, says the U.S. economy will suffer without these skilled workers. "If the country is going to maintain the kind of economic well-being that we've enjoyed for many years, that requires having these incredibly gifted individuals who have been educated and trained by us," he says.
Wadhwa surveyed 1,203 Indian and Chinese immigrants who had worked or been educated here before returning to their homelands and found the exodus has less to do with the faltering U.S. economy than with other factors:
”¢Career opportunities. At NIIT, an information technology company based in New Delhi, about 10% of managers in India are returnees, mostly from the U.S., says CEO Vijay Thadani.
Most go into mid- to senior management and make "excellent employees," he says. "They're Indian, so they understand India, and they have lived outside the country."
China's government entices some skilled workers to return with incentives such as financial assistance and housing, says Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington. "China needs a lot of well-trained personnel" in fields such as finance and information technology, he says.
”¢Quality of life and family ties. People return to India to reconnect with their families and culture, Dutia says. "They have a support system there, family and friends."
Purchasing power is greater, he says, which allows returnees to afford more luxuries than they did in the U.S. Dutia describes a complex of "magnificent homes" in Bangalore. In the club room, there were "all these Americans and Europeans and expats on the treadmills with iPhones, watching CNN and BBC," he says. "Things have changed."
”¢Immigration delays. Multinational companies that belong to the American Council on International Personnel tell Executive Director Lynn Shotwell that skilled immigrants are discouraged by the immigration process, she says. Some can wait up to a decade for permanent residency, she says. "They're frustrated with having an uncertain immigration status," she says. "They're giving up."