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STRATEGY

Skilled Immigrants Returning Home
 

Many U.S.-educated foreigners are returning home to start businesses.
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Adding to recent debates about limits on H-1B visas for skilled immigrants, a recent study finds many of these foreign workers are returning home after completing degrees in the United States.

The study, funded by the Kansas City-based Kauffman Foundation for entrepreneurship, surveyed 1,203 Chinese and Indian immigrants who studied or worked in the United States for at least a year before returning home, found the majority—86.8 percent of Chinese and 79 percent of Indians—were motivated by opportunities in their home countries. Most also believed that their home countries offer better career prospects.

"A substantial number of highly-skilled immigrants have started returning to their home countries in recent years, draining a key source of brain power and innovation," said Robert E. Litan, Kauffman's vice president of research and policy.

The report contradicts the belief that long waits for H-1B visas was driving immigrants to return home. Vivek Wadhwa, the study's author, explains while in the past foreign workers were forced to wait, immigrants now have the option of returning to a bright future in their home country.

"The vast majority can live like kings back home, with a higher quality of life, more respect, faster promotions, and they can afford maids and drivers," said Wadhwa, a professor at Duke and former technology entrepreneur.

Most cited the desire to be closer to friends and family as a reason for returning home.

Wadhwa pointed to results from one of his previous studies, which showed 52 percent of Silicon Valley start-ups had immigrant founders, as a reason to be concerned about the numbers of skilled workers leaving.

Most respondents in this study said they would likely start a business and the opportunities for doing so were better in their home countries.

He predicts that the United States will have to follow Canada's example in providing incentives like relocation assistance and fast-track citizenship for skilled foreign workers.

"The world is changing fast, and the United States doesn't seem to understand," Wadhwa said. "We assume that immigrants will stay, but they don't come here with that intention."
Last updated: Mar 20, 2009




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