- The Washington Times - Friday, September 5, 2003

CALCUTTA — Rattled by job losses and backlashes against foreign workers and fed up with shrinking opportunities amid the long economic downturn, an increasing number of Indian emigrants are returning to greener pastures at home.

“In the past, the only way people returned to India was when they were pushed out. Now it is voluntary,” said Madhulika Khandelwal, an expert on the South Asian diaspora in New York.

Although the U.S. government has not started tracking the numbers of departing Indians yet, those returning home say the urge to go back is significant, and the exodus is biggest from the United States.

At the end of July, some 1,000 professionals of Indian origin attending a job fair in Santa Clara, Calif., hosted by Silicon India magazine offered their resumes to recruiters from American firms planning to begin operations in India.

A job fair organized by India’s No. 2 software vendor, Wipro, to attract Indian professionals met with equal enthusiasm. “Our fairs in New Jersey and California fetched a response from almost 600 software professionals in the U.S. who want to go back and work,” said Prateek Kumar, Wipro’s human resources chief.

The overriding factor prompting expatriate Indians to return home is clearly shrinking opportunities. For instance, California employment figures show that in Santa Clara — the hub for Indian information-technology professionals — over 190,000 workers lost their jobs in the past two years.

“Geography is no longer a limitation. Also, there is a distinct shrinking of options in the United States. Since these were the major attractions in the first place, it is clear that this may no longer be the place to come to,” said Mr. Khandelwal.

But making the exodus easier are promising economic prospects in India and opportunities that the country now provides for entrepreneurship.

“The quality of life in India is much better, and jobs too have become better, both in terms of material benefits and professional challenges,” said Kiran Karnik, chairman of India’s biggest IT industry lobby, the National Association of Software Services Companies (NASSCOM).

India, with economic growth projected at more than 6 percent in the second half of the year to March 2004, is perceived to be the fastest-growing Asian economy after China’s, while the United States is still struggling to grow by 3 percent.

“Uncertainties in U.S. markets are much higher today, compared to the rapidly growing Indian market,” said Ajay Chopra, chief operations officer of Commerce Velocity, which he founded in the United States 22 years ago. Mr. Chopra is returning to India to set up a business process outsourcing subsidiary for his company.

“The Indian economy is booming, so coming back was one great opportunity for me,” he said. “There always was that feeling that this was home.”

Some have found job satisfaction, too.

“Eight years ago, I would have found it difficult to come back because a competitive environment and monetary support were lacking,” said Suresh Narayanan, director of Cognizant Technology Solutions, who returned to Bangalore from Virginia recently.

“Things are different today. India, and more so Bangalore, is a global hub. People are working on cutting-edge technologies right here,” said Mr. Narayanan.

Sensing an opportunity, multinational companies are increasingly targeting India for work that demands a higher skill set. Already, majors like Intel, Oracle, Microsoft, National Semiconductor Co., and 28 others including names like Cadence, Sequence Design, Cognizant, Covansys, Insilica, FutureSoft, CalSoft, Synopsys and Informatica have started tapping into what some call the “reverse brain drain” to fill their expanded Indian operations.

Some observers say that multinational software developers have even started encouraging the exodus.

“Moving operations offshore has almost become de rigueur for multinationals — particularly the information-technology companies — to remain globally competitive,” said a Texas-based adviser on offshore strategies to U.S.-based companies, requesting anonymity for fear of triggering a controversy over moving American jobs elsewhere.

“Much of the exodus, thus, is fueled by U.S. companies outsourcing work there. Moreover, it often makes sense to recruit Indians in the U.S. and move them home. You can pay much less for moving them to India and save costs, and still keep them happy. It’s a win-win deal.”

It’s no wonder, therefore, that economists in the United States have already begun worrying. They fear the exodus could eventually hurt the country’s economy because America is losing some of the world’s smartest and most entrepreneurial people.

“I think it’s a loss for the long run,” said Rich Wobbekind, an economist with the University of Colorado. “Over the centuries, that’s what made our country great — having a melting pot of different cultures and talents. We’re exporting some smart people who could easily compete with us.”

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