My team of researchers at Duke, Harvard and Berkeley polled 1203 returnees to India and China during the second half of 2008 to find answers to exactly this question. What we found should concern even the most boisterous Silicon Valley boosters.
1. We learnt that most returned in their prime: the average age of the Indian returnees was 30 . They were really well educated: 66% held a masters and 12% had PhDs. These degrees were mostly in management, technology, and science. Clearly these returnees are in the U.S. population’s educational top tier—precisely the kind of people who can make the greatest contribution to an economy’s innovation and growth. And it isn’t just new immigrants who are returning home, we learned.
2.Some 27% had permanent resident status or were U.S. citizens. That’s right-its not about green cards!
What propelled them to return home? 69% of the Indians cited professional opportunities. And while they make less money in absolute terms at home, most said their salaries brought a “better quality of life” than what they had in the U.S. (There was also some reverse culture shock—complaints about congestion in India.) When it came to social factors, 80% of the Indians cited better “family values” at home. Ability to care for aging parents was also cited, and this may be a hidden visa factor: it’s much harder to bring parents and other family members over to the U.S. than in the past. For the vast majority of returnees, a longing for family and friends was also a crucial element.
A return ticket home also put their career on steroids. About 10% of the Indians polled had held senior management jobs in the U.S. That number rose to 44% after they returned home.
When we asked what was better about the U.S. than home, 54% of Indian said that total financial compensation for their previous U.S. positions was better than at home. As regards Health-care benefits Indian respondents were split more evenly on this.
We surveyed 1,224 foreign students from dozens of nations who are currently studying at U.S. universities or who graduated in 2008.The majority told us that they didn’t think that the U.S. was the best place for their professional careers and they planned to return home. Only 6 percent of Indian students planned to settle in the U.S.
Many students wanted to stay for a few years after graduation if given a choice—58% of Indians, 54% of Chinese, and 40% of Europeans. But they see the future being brighter back home. Only 7% of Chinese students, 9% of European students, and 25% of Indian students believe that the best days of the U.S. economy lie ahead. Conversely, 74% of Chinese students and 86% of Indian students believe that the best days for their home country’s economy lie ahead. National Science Foundation studies have shown that the “5 year stay rates” for Chinese and Indians science and engineering PhD’s have historically been around 92 % and 85% respectively (NSF tracks these 5 years at a time, and the vast majority stay permanently).