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March 2, 2009 6:27 AM

Study: High-skilled Indian and Chinese immigrants returning home are young, well-educated

Posted by Benjamin J. Romano

New research sheds light on the reasons high-skilled Chinese and Indian workers are returning to their home countries. The researchers cite anecdotal evidence that suggests immigrants are returning home in greater numbers.

Researcher Vivek Wadhwa, of the Labor & Worklife Program at Harvard Law School and an executive in residence at Duke University, wrote about the research today in BusinessWeek. He partnered with AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California at Berkeley and Richard Freeman at Harvard on the effort.

"[H]uman resources directors in India and China told us that what was a trickle of returnees a decade ago had become a flood," he wrote. "Job applications from the U.S. had increased tenfold over the last few years, they said."

The researchers used LinkedIn to track down "1,203 Indian and Chinese immigrants who had worked or received education in the U.S. and had returned to their home countries." From that population, the researchers determined that the high-skilled workers returning to their home countries were generally young and well-educated. The majority had master's degrees or higher.

Their reasons for returning are particularly interesting, given the outsize role immigrants have played in launching new companies in the U.S. They wanted to be closer to family and friends, and had some difficulty with language and cultural assimilation. Trouble getting visas was a factor for a third of the Indians in the survey and and a fifth of the Chinese.

A major factor for many more of those surveyed was a sense of greater opportunity in their home countries. Growing demand for their skills at home drove the decisions of 87 percent of the Chinese and 79 percent of the Indians. In addition to seeing better long-term career prospects and access to more senior positions, "nearly half were considering launching businesses and said entrepreneurial opportunities were better in their home countries than in the U.S."

An abstract of the research paper can be found here.

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