In 1969, my dad came to the United States to get a Ph.D., on the recommendation of a mentor of his in Taiwan. The idea was to get the Ph.D., then return to Taiwan and get a high paying job in government, considered the easy way to get prestige and money in Taiwan. About a year after he arrived in the U.S., the U.S. government sent a letter to my mom, inviting her and the kids (myself and my sister) to move to the U.S. with a complimentary green card. This was part of a program the U.S. was running trying to convince foreign graduate students to stay in the U.S. after their studies were over. It was also known as the brain drain program, the U.S. government had in effect at the time, a.k.a. the brain gain for the U.S.
Even with our entire nuclear family in the U.S., my parents still planned on moving back to Taiwan after my dad’s studies were completed. But months turned into years, and at some point it became easier to stay than to go back, so my parents became U.S. citizens and made America their home. For most coming to the U.S. in the past few decades, the idea of returning home was a less common one, instead most immigrants came to the U.S. to find a better a life here for their families. With the recent downturn in the economy in last few years, there’s been a dramatic change in this attitude according to the Tech Crunch which is reporting a reverse brain drain to India and China.
Tech Crunch found in a recent survey of recent arrivals from India, over three-fourths indicated they were planning on returning to India. In a separate study of foreign students, a majority stated they did not think the U.S. was the best place for professional development and they planned on returning to their homes. Some of you reading this may think there’s little wrong with immigrants returning to their homes. The reality is, there is a price to pay if highly skilled workers go back to their home countries. As Tech Crunch states:
… A growing body of evidence indicates that skilled foreign immigrants create jobs for Americans and boost our national competitiveness. More than 52% of Silicon Valley’s startups during the recent tech boom were started by foreign-born entrepreneurs. Foreign-national researchers have contributed to more than 25% of our global patents, developed some of our break-through technologies, and they helped make Silicon Valley the world’s leading tech center. Foreign-born workers comprise almost a quarter of all the U.S. science and engineering workforce and 47% of science and engineering workers who have PhDs. It is very possible that some of the smart Indians who sat in the room with me holding their hand up on Columbus Day will start the next Google or Apple. Many of them will build companies which employ thousands. But the jobs will be in Hyderbad or Pune, not Silicon Valley.
Perhaps many of those planning on returning home will end up staying like my parents, but in this economy there’s definitely a higher chance of these immigrants going home. In my particular case, I’m happy my parents stayed, as I’ve definitely had more opportunities than my cousins who grew up in Taiwan. The question for these new arrivals is whether they and their children will do better in the U.S. or back in their home countries.