Knowledge Immigrants to the US Going Home

In this Washington Post article (They’re Taking Their Brains and Going Home), it mentions how many potential immigrants to the US are leaving and restarting their careers in their countries of origin (or in Canada!).

[quote=“WaPo”]The United States has always been the country to which the world’s best and brightest – people like Sandeep – have flocked in pursuit of education and to seek their fortunes. Over the past four decades, India and China suffered a major “brain drain” as tens of thousands of talented people made their way here, dreaming the American dream.

But burgeoning new economies abroad and flagging prospects in the United States have changed everything. And as opportunities pull immigrants home, the lumbering U.S. immigration bureaucracy helps push them away.

When I started teaching at Duke University in 2005, almost all the international students graduating from our Master of Engineering Management program said that they planned to stay in the United States for at least a few years. In the class of 2009, most of our 80 international students are buying one-way tickets home.

An analysis of the 2000 Census showed that although immigrants accounted for only 12 percent of the U.S. workforce, they made up 47 percent of all scientists and engineers with doctorates. What’s more, 67 percent of all those who entered the fields of science and engineering between 1995 and 2006 were immigrants. What will happen to America’s competitive edge when these people go home? [/quote]

The Chinese speaking folks call it huíliú (回流) and I’ve seen it on a consistent basis ever since the tech bubble popped in 2000. Most of those that I know that have returned – to greater China, India, Korea, France, Germany – have advanced in their careers. While they do make a smaller salary in terms of absolute dollars, their lifestyles are actually better because they have higher local purchasing power than they would in North America. Even I have seriously attempted to seek greener pastures in China/Taiwan, albeit with no luck thus far.

This is worrisome (for those that work in North America) not only because of the work situation in India and China are offering ever increasing prospects for returning talent, but the protectionist attitudes of IEEE-USA and other anti-H1B organizations only further exacerbate the situation. If a company finds it difficult to expand their R&D staff due to H1B restrictions, they will just drop the idea and start overseas offices instead. When my employer laid off people this past Jan, almost all of the affected staff was in the US while the CEO declared that he intends on expanding R&D capabilities in China and India. In my company, one engineer’s salary can buy you 6 engineers in China. More in India.

Offshoring of knowledge-based jobs appears to stronger than ever.