Sunday, December 31, 2023

The Great Indian Brain Drain Accelerates

India is losing its best and brightest to the West, particularly to the United States, at an increasingly rapid pace. A 2023 study of the 1,000 top scorers in the 2010 entrance exams to the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) — a network of prestigious institutions of higher learning based in 23 Indian cities — revealed the scale of the problem. Around 36% migrated abroad, and of the top 100 scorers, 62% left the country, according to a report in the science journal Nature.  Nearly two-thirds of those leaving India are highly educated, having received academic or vocational training. This is the highest for any country, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Example of The Great Indian Brain Drain. Source: Boston Political Review

Brain drain is defined as the loss of precious human capital of a nation. It is a “consequence of an education system designed for ‘selecting’ the best and brightest in an economy that is still too controlled and cannot create opportunities for its best and brightest”, according to Indian economist Shruti Rajagopalan. High-profile examples of India's human capital loss include Satya Nadella (Microsoft), Sundar Pichai (Google), Shantanu Narayen (Adobe), Arvind Krishna (IBM) and Ajay Banga (World Bank). 

Foreign-Born STEM Workers in America. Source: American Immigration Council

Growing number of Indian students are going abroad for higher education each year and 90% of them never return home after completing their studies.  In 2022, the number of Indian students leaving the country for higher education reached a six-year high of 770,000. And a 2021 report estimated that around two million Indian students would be studying abroad by 2024. 

Many developing countries are experiencing brain drain. But India is losing its best brightest at a much faster rate than others. Some call it "The Great Indian Brain Drain". This is the reason why Indians in the United States are the best educated and the highest earning group.  In a recently published book titled "The Other One Percent", authors Sanjoy Chakravorty, Devesh Kapur and Nirvikar Singh explain this phenomenon. 

They write that the vast majority of Indians who migrate to the United States are from privileged backgrounds in terms of caste, class and education. They have gone through “a triple selection” process that gave Indian-Americans a boost over typically poor and uneducated immigrants who come to the United States from other countries. The first two selections took place in India. As explained in the book: “The social system created a small pool of persons to receive higher education, who were urban, educated, and from high/dominant castes.” India’s examination system then selected individuals for specialized training in technical fields that also happened to be in demand in the United States. Kapur estimated that the India-American population is nine times more educated than individuals in the home country. Here's an excerpt of it:

"A major focus of this book is on demonstrating and understanding the multiple selections that shaped the Indian-American population. These selections applied not only to education (that, in terms of attaining college degrees, made the India-born population three times more educated than that in the host country and nine times more educated than the home country’s population) but also to class and caste (favoring, by large margins, the “upper” and dominant classes and castes of India), profession (engineering, IT, and health care), and both the region of origin (Gujarati and Punjabi were overrepresented in the first two phases, and Telugu and Tamil in the third phase) and region of settlement (in specific metropolitan clusters in and around New York City, the San Francisco Bay Area, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Houston and Dallas). In addition to direct selection is what we call the “selection+” advantage: we suggest that group characteristics or norms, such as the fact that Indians had the highest propensity to live in married-couple households of any major immigrant group, added to the advantages of being an already selected group. We show, in particular, how family norms were useful in keeping the Indian-American poverty level low (under 5 percent) and family income high (the highest in the United States). It is also likely that the selection process enabled, without explicitly intending to, the generation of high levels of social capital (through linguistic/ professional networks such as Gujarati entrepreneurs in the hotel industry, Telugu and Tamil workers in the IT industry, IIT engineers, Malayali nurses, Bengali academics, etc.)"

Doctor Brain Drain. Source: Statista

Asian Americans are the best educated among all Americans of various races and ethnicities, including whites. Within Asian Americans, the Indians (three quarters) have the highest educational attainment with at least a bachelor's degree, followed by Koreans and Pakistanis (about 60% each). 

Asian American Educational Achievement by Countries of Origin. Source: US Census

Asians, including Chinese/Taiwanese, Indians and Pakistanis, tend to be concentrated in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology) fields where incomes are generally much higher than in other occupations. 

As of 2019, there were 35,000 Pakistan-born STEM workers in the United States, according to the American Immigration Council. They included information technologists, software developers, engineers and scientists. These figures do not include medical doctors and healthcare workers. 

Foreign-born workers make up a growing share of America's STEM workforce. As of 2019, foreign-born workers made up almost a quarter of all STEM workers in the country. This is a significant increase from 2000, when just 16.4% of the country’s STEM workforce was foreign-born. Between 2000 and 2019, the overall number of STEM workers in the United States increased by 44.5 percent, from 7.5 million to more than 10.8 million, according to American Immigration Council

India and Pakistan Among Top 10 Countries Receiving US Immigrant Visas. Source: Visual Capitalist

India topped the top 10 list of foreign-born STEM workers with 721,000, followed by China (273,000), Mexico (119,000), Vietnam (100,000), Philippines (87,000), South Korea (64,000), Canada (56,000), Taiwan (53,000), Russia (45,000) and Pakistan (35,000).  Enormous number of Indian STEM workers in the United States can at least partly be attributed to the fact that India's "body shops" have mastered the art of gaming the US temporary work visa system. Last year, Indian nationals sponsored by "body shops" like Cognizant, Infosys and TCS received 166,384 H1B visas for work in the United States. By comparison, only 1,107 Pakistanis were granted H1B visas in Fiscal Year 2022.  In addition to H1B work visas, 9,300 Indian nationals and 7,200 Pakistani nationals received immigrant visas to settle in the United States as permanent residents in 2021. 

In addition to 35,000 Pakistan-born STEM workers, there were 12,454 Pakistan-born and Pakistan-trained medical doctors practicing in the United States, making the South Asian nation the second largest source of medical doctors in America.  Pakistan produced 157,102 STEM graduates last year, putting it among the world's top dozen or so countries. About 43,000 of these graduates are in information technology (IT).

Related Links:


Ismail Mahomed said...

This is looking at the glass, half-empty.

Remittances to India from the US was $110 billion in 2022-23.

These guys came here for their Masters education and progressed from there. India does not have the same ecosystem as we do here in the US for them to thrive. Furthermore, they've set up massive offshore campuses in Bangalore, Hyderabad and Chennai amongst others, resulting in all those local economies going gangbusters. The Indian government can take credit for setting up the IITs and other university systems which greatly benefited them. Infrastructure-wise, the government ha failed dismally.

So net-net, India has benefited massively from the brain drain.

Riaz Haq said...

Ismail: "This is looking at the glass, half-empty. Remittances to India from the US was $110 billion in 2022-23"

Remittances to India from the US do NOT add up $110 billion.

A quarter of the total $125 billion remittances to India came from the US in 2023. About a fifth came from UAE, the 2nd largest source after US.

Remittances are not a good measure of a nation’s success. If they were, Pakistan with its $30 billion in remittances would be considered proportionally more successful than India with its $125 billion in remittances.

On India, the World Bank said the main contributing factors are declining inflation and strong labour markets in high-income source countries, which boosted remittances from highly skilled Indians in the US, the UK, and Singapore, which collectively account for 36 per cent of the total remittance flows to New Delhi. “Remittance flows to India were also boosted by higher flows from the GCC, especially the UAE, which accounts for 18 per cent of India’s total remittances and is the second-largest source of them after the US,” the report said.

Ismail Mahomed said...

I stand corrected on the remittances total.

What about the mega-success stories of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon? Tech has transformed these places. Not that India is a Nirvana state, but you've got to call a spade, a spade, and a success, a success.

Half-full or half-empty? That's always been the question 😀

Riaz Haq said...

Ismail: "What about the mega-success stories of Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon? Tech has transformed these places. Not that India is a Nirvana state, but you've got to call a spade, a spade, and a success, a success"

The workforce employed in Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai and Gurgaon is too small for a country the size of India. Please note the following:

Nearly two-thirds of those leaving India are highly educated, having received academic or vocational training. This is the highest for any country, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

No wonder India has a serious unemployment problem at all levels of education.

Vineeth said...

I repeat this question again. Why this disproportionate and senseless obsession for India in your articles, sir? Is Pakistan doing wonderfully as regards to retaining its educated populace? Are highly educated Pakistanis choosing to stay back in Pakistan to use their skills to build their homeland? (Being a Pakistani-American, weren't you part of the "brain drain" from your home country too?)

Perhaps educated Indians are in greater demand than their Pakistani counterparts in more affluent nations, or that educated Indians have greater opportunities to emigrate to the West. I have no idea, really. But what I do know is that with all this recurring political turmoil and never-ending economic crisies, Pakistan is going to face greater trouble than India in the long-term in developing its human resources.

Perhaps you should give "India" some rest and pay some attention to all the dismal news coming from Pakistan these days (in Pakistani media outlets itself). But if "India-bashing" is indeed giving you some relief and comfort from all the bad news that come from your own homeland, go ahead by all means.

Vineeth said...

I can't answer for the other STEM fields, but several of my relatives who work in the IT sector are long settled in US. At least during the time period I worked in the IT sector (2005 - 2016) in various companies, the opportunities in Indian IT companies (including Indian units of MNCs) to work "on-site" in Western nations were plenty and many took advantage of them. While some returned after a few years and settled here, others chose to stay for the long term. And I am pretty sure this would have been the case of Pakistanis as well if they had as many opportunities as Indian IT professionals did. I mean, there would be very few in the subcontinent (and the wider developing world) who would say "no" to prospects of better pay and a better life in the West. So, I would argue that if Indian immigrants constitute a disproprotionately greater percentage in the IT and other STEM sectors of US and other Western states than Pakistanis do (even accounting for the difference in population), it is likely a case of Indians having greater opportunities to do so than Pakistanis due to the former's large IT industry and the reputation of some premier Indian technical and management institutes (like IITs, IIMs, IISc, BITS, VIT etc).

Anonymous said...

"I repeat this question again. Why this disproportionate and senseless obsession for India"

Wrong question. You should be asking why is he the only person telling the truth? Why are others not mentioning facts about India. Why is no one is asking why India is such a hell hole, why did it slip to 111 on hunger index?. Why is India 122nd on women's empowerment? etc.

Btw, you probably didn't get the memo that no one gives a rat's behind about your opinion or cares about your suggestions.

G. Ali

Vineeth said...

@G Ali, It IS the right question to ask. The article pertains to an issue that is essentially an internal matter of India and would have made sense had it been written by an Indian. However, the author of this piece is a Pakistani-American, and I am at a loss to understand what interest or he could have in India's "brain drain". I can understand it when Pakistani authors write articles about Kashmir, the religious persecution of Muslims in India, or India's aggressive regional posturing and arms purchases, because as Pakistanis and Muslims they may have a stake in them. But poverty? "Brain drain"? Tell me one good reason why it should matter to either Pakistan or US that India is having "brain drain"? India's "brain drain" is India's problem, and contrary to your impression, it is a problem that Indian columnists themselves have highlighted many times in Indian media itself.

Secondly, such "brain drain" isn't peculiar to India at all, but affects most of the developing world as Western states offers better pay and better living standards. Think about it. How many people living in a developing nation would pass over an opportunity to a better life in the West? I know I wouldn't. If there are less number of Pakistanis doing it, that's likely because Pakistanis are getting less opportunity to do so. Take the IT sector for instance. In India, the IT industry is HUGE. I myself worked in the sector for 11 years. Most of our clients were based in US or Europe, and we had plenty of opportunities to go "on-site" and work at the client locations for years. Many of those who went to US chose to stay there for extended duration. If Pakistan had an IT industry that was proportionately large, you would have seen a similar phenomenon happening there as well.

Besides, consider the situation Pakistan is going through with its never-ending cycle of political instability and economic crisis. Is Pakistan better off in this respect? Are more Pakistanis "choosing" to stay back and live in Pakistan because their home country provides better living conditions and employment opportunities than India, or is it that they don't have as much skills or opportunities as their Indian counterparts do to legally work in the West or emigrate? I think it is the latter.

As for the statistics that you quote regarding Hunger Index or Women's empowerment, let me remind you that Pakistan is not in a much better position in these either even if it happens to be a few ranks above. The subcontinent as whole (with the possible exception of Sri Lanka) fares badly in all of these social indicators. But what makes the situation of Pakistan far worse in comparison to India is that its economic fundamentals are precarious as well. India's problems might appear large and complex enough on account of its huge population, but then India isn't the country here begging for aid or IMF bailouts year after year. Indian economy, though substantially smaller than China's, is still stable, strong and growing by subcontinental standards. It has a large industrial base with growing exports. It has over 600 billion USD in Forex reserves.

The author should really worry more about where Pakistan and its economy is heading.

Majumdar said...

Vineet Bro, Let me explain. Brofessor sb writes mainly on two topics. 1 Good news on Pakiland. 2. Bad news on India. Since it is unlikely that there will be #1 anytime soon, we can only expect to read up on #2. Regards

Anonymous said...

Vineeth, first of all I neither have time nor inclination to read long propaganda lectures. Second, if you can't explain your ideas in a few sentences then there is something wrong with your thought process.

Third, you should check how much time your media spends on discussing Pakistan. You have no moral or ethical right to criticize or give suggestions to others when your own house is not in order.

G. Ali

Anonymous said...

Majumdar"1 Good news on Pakiland. 2. Bad news on India."

Doesn't that restore your faith on humanity? At least there is one person who is telling the truth. That Pakistan is not as bad as domestic and international media portrays it and the fascist Republic of India is not really shinning.

He always provides facts and figures, when you guys can't argue with them you start personal attacks or mind your own business "suggestions".

G. Ali