Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Brain Circulation Geography

The more globally wayward of the Irish are expecting another round of out-migration from the mother country. The geographically mobile are in a better position to deal with the current economic crisis. For an individual or even a family, the benefits of leaving are considerable:

Leaving the inevitable brain drain aside, which cannot always be avoided once an economy begins its downward slide, emigration is not something that should be feared. It is the best way of finding out what it's like in the big bad world and can provide work experience you could only otherwise dream of. For the last big wave of emigrants in the early 1990s, before Ireland evolved into a multicultural society, it was also a chance to see how other folk live.

The only upside for the community left behind is the hope that the prodigal daughter will return with her new found cosmopolitan awareness. Ireland is one of the lucky countries. Substantial numbers did return and helped to fuel the rise of the Celtic Tiger. However, boomerang migration is not welcome everywhere:

K. Sudarshan, managing partner at EMA-Partners India, concurred: "If someone has been abroad for the last eight to 10 years, it becomes very difficult to take them on [because] India has changed so much in the last five years."

[Vivek] Wadhwa added: "Even in executive management, returnees are not favored anymore."

Companies are, however, happy to hire returnees if a global role is involved.

Sudarshan said in a phone interview: "If they want to come to India, companies ask two important questions: whether their work experiences will be of any value here, and whether they require a global perspective here."

Today, skills and ability of locally-developed talent seem to be in greater demand than the skills of returnees. "All of the companies we spoke to for our study said they were receiving an increasing number of resumes from abroad. But, they are not as interested in these NRIs as they used to be," Wadhwa said.

The above is significant because the current economic crisis is having an ironic effect: More Indians are expected to return from the United States. Over the past year, we've witnessed Poles and Australians leaving Western Europe in search of opportunity in the homeland. But brain circulation during a global downturn might fuel a backlash from those who stayed behind. Indian expatriate talent could be rescued from an enterprising nation such as Canada or a well-positioned region such as the Rust Belt.

Large scale boomerang migration would appear to be a bad thing. Only a small number is needed to drive innovation and job creation. Those motivated to return when life was better abroad are the crucial catalysts for economic development, as opposed to those who must come home in search of a port in the storm. The unexplored frontier is facilitating out-migration, recognizing the inevitability of brain drain and the concerns about too much brain circulation.

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