What is ‘Reverse Brain Drain’?

Reverse brain drain which refers to the migration issue, whereby human capital moves in reverse from a more developed country to a less developed country that is developing rapidly, which is commonly defined as ‘brain drain’. It is also termed as a logical outcome of a calculated strategy, where migrants accumulate savings, also known as remittances, and develop skills overseas that can be used in their home country.

Reverse brain drain can occur when scientists, engineers or other intellectual elites migrate to a less developed country to learn in its universities, perform research or gain working experience in areas where education and employment opportunities are limited in their home country. These professionals then return to their home country after several years of experience to start a related business, teach in a university or work for a multinational in their home country.


Highly educated children of immigrants in the US are moving back to their native countries in growing numbers. The homeland their parents once fled from has now become economic power and a source for opportunities. Some arrive to the US as children and become citizens later, while others are born in the US to immigrant parents.

For generations, the world’s less-developed countries have suffered the so-called brain drain – the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. While that has not stopped, a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India, and to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia. The trend is encouraged by the efforts of some overseas governments to attract more foreign talent by offering employment, investment, and tax and visa incentives.

Indian Immigrants in US Returning Home

India is currently experiencing cases of reverse brain drain as there is a huge increase in the number of Indian immigrants’ children returning to their motherland, say experts. They have started to realize the potential of India and are ready to accept their home town and culture which their parents ignored once.

The depressing hiring process prevailing in the US or the opportunities available abroad can be the reasons for this migration which is bothering the immigrant parents. Moreover, India is not the only nation experiencing reverse brain drain; countries like China, Brazil and Russia are also there in the list.

The occurrence of reverse brain drain mostly depends on the state of the country’s development, and also strategies and planning over a long period of time to reverse the migration. Countries that are attractive to returning intelligentsia will naturally develop migration policies to attract foreign academics and professionals. This would also require these countries to develop an environment which will provide rewarding opportunities for those who have attained the knowledge and skills from overseas.

Reverse Brain Drain Threatens US Economy

Until recently, if Americans heard the words “brain drain”, they knew clearly what that meant: Bright, talented scientists, engineers and other techies from all over the world were migrating to the United States. They were drawn here by the world’s best universities, the most dynamic companies, the freest economic and social environment and the highest standard of living.

Today, while many of these conditions still apply, Americans are starting to hear a new term: “reverse brain drain”. What it suggests is the United States is pursuing government and private-sector policies that, over the long run, could lead to a significant shift in the world’s balance of brain power.

In the past, many of the immigrants from developing countries previously made many personal sacrifices in order to work and live in developed countries. However, the recent economic growth that is occurring back in their home countries – and the difficulty of attaining long-term work visas – causes many of the immigrants to return home.

Stoppage of Brain Drain from India

We have been crying hoarse about the brain drain from India over the last five decades or more, without going in for a well set blueprint to check the counter-productive phenomenon. Hundreds of thousands of our qualified youngsters take off for higher studies or highly lucrative jobs in the US, the UK, Germany, France, Australia, etc. and prefer to settle down there attracted by the facilities and quality of life provided by these countries. When these developed countries provide higher facilities, pay packages and perks, how can we dissuade them from going abroad?

The decades long debate on the brain drain comes to the conclusion that our youngsters leave India just because excellence is neither recognized nor rewarded in India. But this could have been partly true because things have changed beyond recognition today and talented people can reach the highest position possible if only they are prepared to work hard. Innovations and managerial skills are getting recognition when one can view with others in excellence from any part of the world. Dr. Varghese Kurien, the father of White Revolution has catapulted India to the number one position in the world in milk production. Er. E. Sreedharan has completed the Konkan railway in record time and built up the world class Delhi metro. Take the story of the Ambani brothers, the Tatas, the Birlas and others who are having their footprints in different continents. We have had so many Indians who rose to the summit of Beauty pageants as Miss Universe and Miss World. Stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Amir Khan and Shah Rukh are no more the figures of only India; rather they have made them living legends of global proportions. Sachin Tendulkar, Sania Mirza, Narain Karthikeyan, Anju Bobby George, etc. in the field of sports are household names across the world today.

In the wake of globalization, India has produced a galaxy of eminent entrepreneurs in IT, biotechnology, civil aviation, steel production and the like. Just mention a field and we are already in the vanguard or moving ahead at a frenetic pace. A time may come when India would be capable of reversing the so-called brain drain to India’s supreme advantage. And happily enough, this has already started happening now. Countries like India and China, through the restructuring of their economies, were dramatically increasing the skill sets of their work force, thereby posing a challenge to the US leadership in the technology domain.

It has been reported that about 35 to 40 per cent of graduates from IITs in Mumbai and Chennai proceed abroad for higher studies and about a quarter of them return to work In India. This is indeed happy news and indicates that our youth are absorbed in top jobs in India itself. Bangalore, Hyderabad and suburbs of Delhi are becoming magnets for an influx of Indians who are the top-earning ethnic group in the US. These cities, with their Western style work environment, generous pay cheques and quick career jumps; offer returns what, until now, they could get only in places such as Palo Alto and Boston.

Even IITs have to change with the times to accommodate the growing fields and opportunities for our youngsters, thereby making them realize that openings at home are more attractive for them than opportunities abroad. If a highly qualified alumnus of IIT can become a successful entrepreneur, he can wield greater money power and social status within his own country, while at the same time keeping intact his family moorings. Like our IITs, our HMs too has earned a pride of place in our specialized learning system. Top companies are making campus selection of the bright students from these institutes and many enter such fields as operations, finance, HR, marketing and systems.

With the state of the art specialty hospitals emerging in different parts of India, patients from abroad find that complicated surgeries could be had in India at a relatively lower cost. If doctors and specialists find the going good in their own country, why go abroad? Where India can stand good in comparison with other developed countries in a variety of fields, the youth in India would find that working in their own country is more rewarding than working elsewhere in the world. And even if they go abroad to better their specialization, they would still prefer to return home and pursue a life of their own choice in India. After all, a home is a home and family ties bind the Indians.