a recent meeting of young technologists in Silicon Valley, I
polled a room full of Indian techies about their future plans.
It was an ad hoc exercise but when I asked how many of them
planned to return home to India to work in the near future,
I was amazed that over 50 percent of the people raised their
hands. That dynamic is also playing out on a world stage as
the great nations of the world battle for the brains that will
spur their economies. During his recent trip to the US Indian
Prime Minister Manhoman Singh said he welcomed Indians to return
home. India also unveiled a policy that would allow Indians
to hold multiple citizenships to allow them to access the incentive
benefits of Indian nationals without giving up their US citizenship.
China, too, has mounted campaigns and offered incentives to
bring back business people, technologists and entrepreneurs
who were living overseas. Ironically, this trend has been growing
at a time when the crisis-hit United States is facing pressure
to discourage immigration by foreigners with skills.
India and China have long decried the brain drain, they have
not been able to entice many of their ex-pats to return home.
That appears to be changing, and fast. The reason is the strong
economic growth rates in those countries coupled with enhanced
entrepreneurial opportunities and rapidly rising standards of
living and wages. Conversely, the US and most of the West continue
to suffer from slower economic growth rates and living standards
and wages that are, by some measures, declining in real terms.
The number of H-1B visas (the primary vehicle for entry and
employment for immigrant technologists and scientists) has actually
dropped during the Great Recession.
net result of this turnabout could be a drop in US innovation
as more talent decides to return to their birthplace or that
of their parents. Such a shift is good for China and India but
bad for the US. That foreigners residing in the US contribute
enormously to innovation is beyond dispute. My research teams
at Duke University calculated that foreign nationals residing
in the United States were named as inventors or co-inventors
in one quarter of WIPO patent applications filed from the United
States in 2006. Additionally, 16.8 percent of international
patent applications had an inventor or co-inventor of Chinese
heritage and 13.7 percent had an inventor or co-inventor of
Indian heritage. By way of comparison, ethnic Chinese and Indians
collectively represent less than 3 percent of the total US population.
2006, immigrants contributed to 72 percent of the total patent
filings at Qualcomm, 65 percent at Merck, and 60 percent at
Cisco Systems. And contrary to claims that immigrant patent-filers
crowd out US-born researchers, emerging research is increasingly
showing that immigrants actually tend to boost patent output
by their US born colleagues. These immigrant patent-filers emerged
from the US university system, where foreigners now dominate
the advance degree seeking ranks in science, technology, engineering
and mathematical disciplines. For example, during the 2004–2005
academic year, roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students
and 40 percent of Master’s students were foreign nationals.
(We don't know for certain that those who have been leaving
are patent-filers but anecdotal evidence suggests this to be
intellectual contributions, Chinese and Indian immigrants have
been key entrepreneurial drivers in the US. According to another
survey we conducted, one-quarter of all technology companies
in the US have at least one founder who is a Chinese or Indian
immigrant. The concentration is even heavier in certain key
industries such as semiconductors and enterprise software. Based
on this data, we calculated that in 2005, immigrant-founded
tech companies generated $52 billion in revenue nationwide and
employed 450,000 workers. This revenue total bridges multiple
multi-billion dollar sectors including semiconductors, Internet,
software and networking.
how many present-day entrepreneurs and knowledge workers have
already departed remains difficult to quantify. No government
tallies return immigrants or departing immigrants, let alone
the types of work skills they have to offer. But stories of
these departures are common in the popular press and circulating
in immigrant-oriented electronic communities. We feel fairly
certain that the numbers are most likely in the tens of thousands.
As part of research on immigration funded by the Kauffman Foundation,
we located more than 1,200 such foreign-born Chinese and Indian
returnees with knowledge worker backgrounds on the social networking
site LinkedIn alone. When we surveyed them as to reasons for
their departure, they emphasized that they left to seek better
economic opportunities and better chances for career advancement.
departures seem set to increase, as well. In a similar study
of over 1,200 foreign national students matriculating in the
US, we found that only 6 percent of Indian, 10 percent of Chinese,
and 15 percent of European students said they want to stay permanently.
Not surprisingly, many cited worries over obtaining visas, a
logical concern, as restrictive immigration policies have left
roughly 1 million immigrants and their dependents in a limbo
that could go on for over a decade with no promises that they
will ever obtain citizenship.
more, those that have departed did so at a particularly critical
time in their careers -- just before they would be likely to
start their own companies. On average, these company founders
had lived in the US for 14 years. The average returnee in our
survey was in their mid-30s. The implication is clear. Those
who had left will start companies in their home countries, where
most of the benefits of this entrepreneurship will accrue. The
students who plan to depart will have a similar impact as they
would likely be the same researchers who would be filing patents
in the future for Qualcomm and Cisco.
of mitigating factors could, however, easily slow this tide.
Political unrest in China or increased terrorism in India are
two of the bigger potential hurdles. Likewise, as these economies
mature and their currencies gain in value against the dollar
starting a new business in the home country with US dollars
will become more expensive. The US Federal Government for the
first time in decades appears intent on spending big money on
big science and R&D, a wild card that could influence scientists
and technologists to stay. And it’s very important to
note that nearly one-third of the returnee respondents in our
survey indicated that they had difficulty transitioning to their
home cultures. Bureaucracy, corruption, pollution, congestion
and a different work culture were all reasons they listed.
clearly all is not lost and if the US relaxed immigration policies
by, say, allowing founders of companies to remain in the US
indefinitely, this could prove a strong magnet to retain talent.
But for the near term, with US unemployment over 10 percent,
venture capital and corporate spending depressed, and US universities
rapidly cutting back their budgets, the Rising East will continue
to pull in its fair share of future science and technology rock
stars who may build the next Google or Microsoft in Gujarat
is clear is that a big shift is underway. China and India will
no longer be farm teams for the scientific Big Leagues in America.
with permission from YaleGlobal Online
(c) 2009 Yale Center for the Study of Globalization.
At Play in the Garbage Fields of the Lord
Shape of Rape in Pakistan
Games in India
Women: an Infinite Down
Unveiling the Terrorist Mind