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This article in the New York Times has stirred up some conversation on the internet. Stereotypes of life and work in India and in the US abound in the article and are even stoked by supposedly objective findings such as this:
"... a study by Mr. Wadhwa and other academics found that 34 percent of repats found it difficult to return to India compared to just 13 percent of Indian immigrants who found it difficult to settle in the United States. The repats complained about traffic, lack of infrastructure, bureaucracy and pollution. "
Over the last few years I have known many people who have returned to India after working several years in the US. For some the move worked and for others - admittedly a minority in my experience, which may or may not be representative - it hasn't. I know at least one couple that returned to the US after trying to make things work in India.
What are some reasons people choose to return ? There are several. One is the prospect of moving up the corporate ladder. As more and more high tech companies open up operations in India, there is an incentive for their Indian personnel in helping things along by making the move. If done at the right time, it can boost career prospects.
Over the last decade another job related reason has been the movement of jobs from the US to India - the resulting layoffs and new recruitment in US and India respectively.
People also move for family reasons - the need to take care of aging parents, desire to raise children in India etc.
In the coming years I suspect there will be another impetus for returning. Since the cost of living is lower in India, retiring there will be an attractive option. Especially now that parts of India have begun to resemble the US. Last year's economic downturn and the resultant depletion of many retirement funds will only accelerate this process.
So what is one to make of the above survey finding ? Is it objectively easier to move to the US than the other way around ?
I would question the survey's methodology - which is apparently to ask people their opinion based on real life experience. Unless the surveyors somehow controlled all extraneous factors, the result could be revealing biases in the sample. For instance, the average age of moving to India is likely to be higher than the average age of moving in the other direction. This alone could skew how people perceive the difficulty. In general the older you are, the harder it is to adjust to significant change.
Another factor that affects reactions to the move is one's motivation for making it. When, as is mostly the case, you make a move for material reasons you are more likely to take the rough with the smooth. On the other hand, if one's reasons are supposedly philanthropic (giving back to the mother country) people may be quicker to give up. I would hazard the guess that people who move for practical reasons (parents, children, retirement) will be more likely to try and make the change work.
We are living in interesting times. In the past when people moved to another country - whether it was Chinese labour for American railroads, Indian plantation labour in the Caribbean islands or Europeans immigration to the US - the move was usually final. But today, more and more immigrants, whether they be Indians or Chinese or Europeans, show agreater interest in returning. Within a few decades it is possible that the ocean currents of global immigration may be flowing in quite different directions.