IES Research: India's Returning Elite Knowledge Workers

Toward a North-South global interface of India's Returning Elite Knowledge Workers

'Brain-Gain' Return of India's High Skilled Entrepreneurs: Home, Transformation and Power in the Cosmopolitan Global South

India's rising independence in the last decade as an economic actor constitutes new issues in global governance for a large skilled workforce. What once constituted a 'brain-drain' for Indian actors that emigrated to the Global North (EU and US economic powers), is now resulting in a 'brain-gain' for the sending countries. India, as a representative power of the emerging Global South, has been a leader in creating cross-border social networks for entrepreneurship through ties between the Indian expatriate community and local entrepreneurs in industries that are enticing Western agents. 

This dissertation project investigates how the ‘brain gain’ of high-skilled entrepreneurs of Indian origin has transformed the landscape of infrastructure and social relations within emergent Global South cities in India based upon elite trans-migrant imaginaries of home. India’s growth as a global power attributed to cross border diasporic networks of Indian transnationals has given rise to a generation of permanently returning migrants to India’s cosmopolitan cities. This paper explores the movement of transnational Indian elites returning from the United States and Europe to postcolonial India. Through ethnographic interviews in Silicon Valley, California, I attempt to understand why social and technological entrepreneurs of Indian origin, those who see their return as a new venture or idea, are returning to accommodate a hybridized Western lifestyle within an Indian socio-cultural context. These entrepreneurs are transforming the peripheries of the cosmopolitan global city through the gated communities where they reside and Special Economic Zones where they work toward developing new business and change in India. By examining the narratives and everyday life of elite diasporic returners in their newfound ‘home’ spaces, I question (a) what are the principle motivations that guide entrepreneurs to return to India (b) whether the cosmopolitan Global South city can function as a hybrid ‘home’ and (c) in locating ‘home’ by transforming their spatial and temporal relationships, how are power relations constituted. Constantly shifting between hybrid and simultaneous subjectivities in time and space, does an entrepreneurial act of return shift the migrant’s power relationship with the West and India by pushing out of the cycling of colonial and postcolonial histories? Is the migrant-guest-turned-host’s relationship to locals engaged in his or her transformation of India into a ‘home’ country a form of postcolonial oppression? This dissertation investigates the subtextual reasons behind diasporic elite and high-skilled return migration to cosmopolitan India.

This interdisciplinary dissertation project  will integrate a mulit-site ethnography of Bangalore (India), Silicon Valley (USA) and London (UK) with current movements of EU-India migration and mobility policy. Keywords: India, Brain Drain/Gain, Return Migration, Transnationalism, Global South

This dissertation project is funded by the gracious support of the ZEIT-Stiftung Ebelin und Gerd Bucerius 'Settling into Motion'  Ph.D. Fellowships in Migration Studies as well as the research support of the Institute for European Studies.


'Key Issues and Challenges of a Mobilized Diaspora—Measuring the Impacts of Global Circulation of Returning Diaspora Members to the Global South' (June 2014)

This paper focuses on what challenges emerge as diaspora members are becoming increasingly mobile participants of origin countries, particularly in the Global South,’ while they are often circulating between multiple ‘homes’ across the globe. Over the past 20 years, India has worked to successfully build connections between diaspora members as transnational communities that have now, more than ever begun to return to their ‘homeland.’ I will discuss India's developed diaspora policy through the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, as well as expat services in the US and EU could utilize alternative methodologies for understanding a mobile diasporic population that would better reflect the challenges they face. While current connections exist between transnational communities of people of Indian origin and India, I contend that the policy measures made have been under-utilized and the implications for the West of the increasing connections of Global South diaspora members to origin countries has been relatively ignored or over-emphasized for extreme conservative reasons. This paper attempts to demonstrate that in order to render the policy connections between diaspora members and their origin countries as useful, we need to ask the right questions and develop methodologies for measuring diasporic transnational and cosmopolitan communities based upon understanding their current connections to their origin countries. Using India as a case study for the larger changes happening across the Global South, I highlight methods of survey design and data collection for one specific community of tech entrepreneurs returning to India to extrapolate larger methods for measuring aspects of diaspora that can ideally produce more efficacious means of policy development.

'Perceptions of Silicon Valley Entrepreneurs of Returning ‘Home’ to India’s Cosmopolitan Cities' (May 2012)

This paper puts forth cosmopolitanism as a conceptual framework for understanding the return migration of high skilled elite to the global south. I question the dominant role transnationalism plays in locating the motivations for return of diaspora communities in the West to cosmopolitan South cities. I therefore re-visit existing theories of return migration and evaluate their relevance in theorizing the reasons for return migration of high skilled knowledge workers. Substantively, this paper is based upon empirical data from in-depth interviews with social and technological entrepreneurs of Indian origin residing in Silicon Valley, USA about their perceptions of return. I observe that high skilled knowledge workers possess hybrid identities that find a real ‘home’ within a cosmopolitan Global South city space. Engaging the subtext of entrepreneurial respondent discussions of ‘opportunity; and ‘innovation,’ I argue that cosmopolitanism as a theoretical lens reflects a new global citizenry whose rootedness exists beyond transnational ties.

'Post-colonizing Hospitality : Situating the Indian Elite Migrant Guest in a Global Context' (November 2011)

Residing in a context where the Western host nation has historically has both colonized and later raised ‘inhospitable’ migration policies barring entry for third country nationals alike, could the economic future of the Global South pave the way for transnational freedom from post-colonization? This paper utilizes French theoretical interlocutors on hospitality including Derrida, Levinas and Sayad to theorize how the cycling of the postcolonial guest from occupied country to (in)hospitable metropole is reinvented through return migration under a new set of host-guest dynamics.

'Seasons of Migration to the South: Toward a North-South Global Interface of India's Elite Knowledge Workers' (June 2010)

My research question in this paper interrogates whether a feasible return migration scenario can exist that offers a solvent long-term solution for India's economic, social and political development. Herein, I attempt to investigate the profile of a potential returning migrant in order to suggest what kinds of policy initiatives can be made on the part of the Indian government to ensure the sustenance of the elite upon return to a Global South county--so that the cycle of migrant departure in search of greater economic opportunity will not repeat itself. I embark upon an analysis of whether the newly created India-EU Mobility Conference and its current action plan can satisfy such a policy outcome. Through this investigation, I intend to extrapolate a larger narrative on the phenomenon of elite North-South migration return and its impact within the Global South.