In an interesting article from the N.Y. Times, more children of U.S. immigrants are moving back to their ancestral countries to pursue opportunities. In growing numbers, experts say, highly educated children of immigrants to the United States are uprooting themselves and moving to their ancestral countries. They are embracing homelands that their parents once spurned but that are now economic powers.
Enterprising Americans have always sought opportunities abroad. But this new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration, and the challenges to American economic supremacy and competitiveness.
In interviews, many of these Americans said they did not know how long they would live abroad; some said it was possible that they would remain expatriates for many years, if not for the rest of their lives.
Their decisions to leave have, in many cases, troubled their immigrant parents. Yet most said they had been pushed by the dismal hiring climate in the United States or pulled by prospects abroad.
“Markets are opening; people are coming up with ideas every day; there’s so much opportunity to mold and create,” said Mr. Kapadia, now a researcher at Gateway House, a new foreign-policy research organization in Mumbai. “People here are running much faster than the people in Washington.”
For generations, the world’s less-developed countries have suffered so-called brain drain — the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That has not stopped, but now a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia.
Some scholars and business leaders contend that this emigration does not necessarily bode ill for the United States. They say young entrepreneurs and highly educated professionals sow American knowledge and skills abroad. At the same time, these workers acquire experience overseas and build networks that they can carry back to the United States or elsewhere — a pattern known as “brain circulation.”
But the experts caution that in the global race for talent, the return of these expatriates to the United States and American companies is no longer a sure bet. “These are the fleet-footed; they’re the ones who in a sense will follow opportunity,” said Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit group in Washington that studies population movements.
“I know there will be people who will argue all about loyalty, et cetera, et cetera,” he said. “I know when you go to war, loyalty matters. But this is a different kind of war that affects all of us.”
The United States government does not collect data specifically on the emigration of the American-born children of immigrants — or on those who were born abroad but moved to the United States as young children.
But several migration experts said the phenomenon was significant and increasing. “We’ve gone way beyond anecdotal evidence,” said Edward J. W. Park, director of the Asian Pacific American Studies Program at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. Mr. Park said this migration was spurred by the efforts of some overseas governments to attract more foreign talent by offering employment, investment, tax and visa incentives. “So it’s not just the individuals who are making these decisions,” he said. “It’s governments who enact strategic policies to facilitate this.”
Officials in India said they had seen a sharp increase in the arrival of people of Indian descent in recent years — including at least 100,000 in 2010 alone, said Alwyn Didar Singh, a former senior official at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. Such numbers are staggering when considering how it used to be Indians leaving for the United States, not the other way around.
Many of these Americans have been able to leverage family networks, language skills and cultural knowledge gleaned from growing up in immigrant households. Others simply took the opportunity since the economy has not made any significant gains since the major recession in 2009. The opportunity to try something new and to take a chance in a country where more opportunities exist now make it more and more appealing for individuals to emigrate back to the countries of their parents.
In interviews with some emigrants, their stories talk about how the opportunities have opened up for them. Jonathan Assayag, 29, a Brazilian-American born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in South Florida, returned to Brazil last year. A Harvard Business School graduate, he had been working at an Internet company in Silicon Valley and unsuccessfully trying to develop a business. “I spent five months spending my weekends at Starbucks, trying to figure out a start-up in America,” he recalled. All the while, Harvard friends urged him to make a change. “They were saying: ‘Jon, what are you doing? Go to Brazil and start a business there!’ ” he said.
Relocating to São Paulo, he became an “entrepreneur in residence” at a venture capital firm. He is starting an online eyewear business. “I speak the language, I get the culture, I understand how people do business,” he said.
Calvin Chin was born in Michigan and used to live in San Francisco, where he worked at technology start-ups and his wife was an interior decorator. Mr. Chin’s mother was from China, as were his paternal grandparents. His wife’s parents were from Taiwan. They are now in Shanghai, where Mr. Chin has started two companies — an online loan service for students and an incubator for technology start-ups. His wife, Angie Wu, has worked as a columnist and television anchor. The couple have two children, who were born in China. “The energy here is phenomenal,” Mr. Chin said.
While it can be said that such emigration might help bolster a return of talent to the U.S. and further opportunity for growth, there is no guarantee of that. Despite the JOBS Act recently passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama, there is no guarantee that there will be more immigrants coming into the U.S. to develop new business opportunities either. Without creating more opportunities through immigration reform, it seems more likely that many bright Americans will return to their ancestral roots and take those talents elsewhere. The call for immigration reform has never been greater than ever and it is up to us to make it happen.