India looks to 'brain gain' as new affluence draws migrants back in their thousands

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An entire generation of Indians saw the West as the land of opportunity. They left their homeland in their thousands and transformed themselves from poor economic migrants to successful businessmen and professionals.

An entire generation of Indians saw the West as the land of opportunity. They left their homeland in their thousands and transformed themselves from poor economic migrants to successful businessmen and professionals.

But India's booming economy and promises of an affluent lifestyle are drawing increasing numbers of Indians living in America and Britain back to their roots.

The reverse migration that began as a trickle in the late 1990s is now large enough to suggest a "brain gain" for India as emigrants return home to pursue business ventures and highly paid jobs in IT.

There are an estimated 35,000 "returned non-resident Indians" living in the city of Bangalore alone. Attracted by a booming economy, Indians who have amassed professional experience and savings from their years in the West can afford a luxuriously lifestyle when they return to their cultural roots. The Indian economy grew by 8.2 per cent last year, making it the second fastest growing economy after China.

In a country which saw many of its educated depart for Western countries, leaving the intellectual and professional sectors drained of talent, this "brain gain" is a welcome trend. Manpreet Vohra, an economic counsellor at the Indian High Commission in London, said the trend was occurring among first generation Indians who maintained bonds with their homeland.

"The trend seems to affect the more non-Westernised first generation Indians in this country, the ones who come here at a point in their life for higher education or as executives, they settle down for a while and then they return. It is not as relevant to the second and third generation of 'truly' westernised Indians. This group has far too many links here in Britain to find it attractive enough to move. Even from America, it would probably be the ones who have moved later in their lives," he said.

Many from the Asian community recognise the opportunities presented by the booming economy and are investing in businesses there without moving countries, according to Mr Vohra. "I am aware of some people who have gone back. It has either been for better career opportunities or for the pursuit of an entrepreneurial venture after making some money here. Some have ventured on to business opportunities in India but have not necessarily moved lock, stock and barrel."

"There are also people from here who have gone and invested in outsourcing industries in India."

"There are certainly more and more people including British-based Indians who are venturing into business there.Just because some are choosing to make the most of opportunities in India does not mean there are any less here. Lots of Indians can hold decent jobs here. It's a lifestyle and business issue. As a top notch executive, the salary level available in India now promises a better lifestyle than here in Britain," he said.

Relocating manufacturing industries to India greatly reduces costs according to Jaffer Kapasi, general secretary of the Leicester Business Association, an Asian consortium.

"The returns here are not that big now. India, on the other hand, has production and labour costs that are far lower. Businesses have traditionally moved their production to places such as Morocco and Eastern Europe but now they are moving to India where they share so many things in common such as language and religion."

"I know a friend who left a few years ago. He used to manufacture samosas in Britain but he is doing the same thing in Bombay because it is so much cheaper there. There are other advantages to business there such as accountants who can do your accounts at a fraction of the price," he said.

He thinks nostalgia plays a role in the return journey, especially for Indians who feel emotionally connected to the subcontinent because of family and friends. But Professor John Harriss, director of development studies at the London School of Economics, said the wave of migration was far more prevalent in America. "Asians who come to this country are a very different generation and class of people to those who went to North America, who tended to be well educated and from a higher caste. I know of people who have lived and worked in America for a long time who have gone back to India to start their own software company."

"But those who came to Britain emigrated earlier and were predominantly poorer working people. A lot of their children were very bright, performed well at school and many moved into jobs in IT and the finance sector. It may be that some of these may be interested in opportunities back in India," he said.

The Asian business sector feels a growing market in India had opened up new possibilities for British-based Indians.

One example of this trend is Suraj Khandelwal, 68, who has run a textiles business in Britain for 42 years. He returns to India for three months a year and has recently upgraded his home in Bombay. He can now afford to have servants and a chauffeur there. "If a person is enterprising, there is very big scope in India, much, much more scope than there is for a young entrepreneur in this country," he said.

Chandu Mattani, 70, who runs a textile and music business, said he began trading with the Indian community in Leicester when he arrived from Gujarat in 1977, but had tapped into a new market in India recently."I started exporting classical Indian music CDs to India because I felt there was a lucrative market there. Selling the titles over there was more a matter of how quickly we could make them here," he said.

He believes the repatriation of talent and money to India is positive step that will have many benefits.

"India is always crying over the lost talent of all those youngsters who leave to go to British universities or take up professional posts in America so it is good that it is the other way round now. India's doctors and scientists were always going to the West to work so it is nice to think they may be going back home," he said.