The role of Bangalore's returnees

Migration of highly skilled Indian: Case studies of IT and health professionals, STI Working Paper 2004/6, Binod Khadria

Currently, there is a sense that foreign investment into R&D in India is closely linked to Indians who were educated and/or worked abroad and are returning home (returnees). Key positions are often filled with returnees or expatriates, and many team leaders and individual investigators are also returnees. Understanding the importance and role of returnees is essential to assessing the growth potential of India as a destination for R&D investment.

Unfortunately, research on this phenomenon is sparse. One of the few sources I have found is Binod Khadria's recent case study IT professionals for the OECD Directorate for Science, Technology and Industry.

The study is based on 45 interviews with IT professionals (only 4 of whom have PhDs) who returned to India after a stint abroad. Unfortunately, that rules out statistical significance in the study. Also, no mention is made of respondents' current occupation. Nevertheless the case study points to some useful ideas.

To me, one of the most interesting aspects of the study was the fact that over a third of respondents had stayed in their host country for less than 2 years. Also, almost half of the respondents said that their employer was the motivating factor for their trip abroad. Although Khadria doesn't provide cross-tables, I expect that these two categories are highly correlated. Khadria does mention that "projects" are an important factor in out-migration.

The question is whether someone who was sent by an India-based employer to the US on a limited project is a returnee in the same sense as someone who emigrated to the US and worked or completed their studies there independently. I would expect that the two experiences were quite different, and that the second group had greater exposure to US culture and networks. Upon their return they might play similar roles in terms of "socializing" their colleagues into global business practices, but their role in providing access to US/global clients, professional networks etc. would probably be much more limited.

On the other hand, these categories may just be an artefact of different generations' experiences. 20 years ago, most emigrants would have left India to settle elsewhere for good. Today, there are more opportunities for people to move in and out of the country, pursuing more fluid careers (a point made by Rupa Chanda).

More results

Difficulties/problems after returning from abroad: culture of professionalism

When asked about the difficulties and problems in adjusting to the present working conditions in Bangalore, as many as 32 respondents explicitly exressed that they did not face any major hurdle in adjusting to their present working organisational climate. The background of respondents and their earlier exposure to India and its culture helped them a lot in adjusting back in Bangalore after their return from abroad. [...] 13 respondents mentioned some problems [...] The major adjustment problems faced by them were caused due to the lethargic administrative procedures, inefficient handling of the day-to-day professional concerns, relatively unhealthy business ethics, poor research facilities (especially in academics) and poor work culture.

Value of overseas experience: socialization, absorptive capacity, prestige

When reacting to the question, 'which of the following do you consider the most important to your current work/business in Bangalore', thirty-seven respondents accepted that the 'knowledge and skills gained overseas through higher education and on-the-job training' is highly useful for their current jobs in Bangalore. Two-thirds of the respondents expressed that the opportunity to work abroad helped equip themselves with the recent and most appropriate technologies. Only nine respondents recognised the 'role of professional networks established overseas' in their current jobs in Bangalore. The asserted that these networks helped them in providing information on several professional issues like technology, management, outsourcing, etc. Only three respondents recognised the importance of '(financial) capital accumulated overseas' in their current occupation in Bangalore.

All the respondents except one acknoledged the 'contribution of skills, experience, knowledge and ideas' which they have gained while working abroad, in their present employment/business in Bangalore. A majority of them have elaborated that their experience helps them a lot while interacting with the clients, technological innovations and coping with the rapid technological changes, improving management practices, and, above all, confidence building. Respondents from the academic world considered that it is the exposure to different work cultures and a sound academic base, which is of paramount importance and very useful in their current positions. [...] it has been expressed by almost all the respondents that their experiences abroad are well recognised and valued by their employers and by their colleagues as well. The receive more attention from their superiors and colleagues, who 'listen to them carefully on important matters'.

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