India’s faltering growth may be disappointing, but it’s still much more rapid than the continued stagnation of the U.S. economy. In certain fields, at least there are still opportunities to be seized in India by those with a taste for adventure.
Labor economists call this kind of migration the “reverse brain drain.” Ironically, the migrants are often the kids or sometimes grandkids of the original “brain drain,” skilled workers and professionals who left India and other developing countries in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s to seek opportunities in the booming U.S. economy. In fact, a more accurate term for the highly mobile skilled workers of today, favored by labor economists, is “brain circulation.” These people are agile and will seek out opportunities wherever they exist. So if things don’t work out in India, they might return to the U.S. or try their luck somewhere else.
This development is surely good, and a far cry from the days of the brain drain. In those days, it was common to bemoan the loss of talent from India and other developing countries, which further retarded their effort to catch up with the West. Some scholars even called for governments in the developing world to levy a tax on emigrants. And these weren’t just left wing scholars, but respected and mainstream economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University, who today is better known for his advocacy of globalization than for his earlier support for a tax on the brain drain.
But looking too closely at those privileged enough to be part of the brain circulation obscures the more fundamental fact that the vast majority of migrants are trying to leave poorer countries such as India to seek better lives in the U.S. and other rich countries. From India alone, the U.S. has received close to three million immigrants, almost 1% of the total population. Even more telling, India is also a major source of illegal immigration into the U.S. According to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, there are almost a quarter of a million Indians living illegally in the U.S., a number which has doubled between 2000 and 2011. This is a sobering reality check for anyone tempted to romanticize the trend toward reverse migration…
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