Thursday, March 5, 2009

The land of milk and honey: not so sweet and nourishing anymore?

Interesting but in many respects unsurprising is a recent column by Vivek Wadhwa on titled "Why Skilled Immigrants Are Leaving the U.S." Wadhwa and a team at Duke University have done some research showing that foreign workers coming to the United States (and students who come to study and stay to work) are increasingly heading home.

There is, of course, the much lamented and discussed wait period to secure the necessary permits and visas (the dreaded H1-B) to blame. But Wadhwa also points to another factor in many instances: the fact that these workers can enjoy a better quality of life in their home country than they currently enjoy in the United States.

Now, milk and honey is not slurped uncut anywhere anymore:
It isn't all rosy back home. Indians complained of traffic and congestion, lack of infrastructure, excessive bureaucracy, and pollution. Chinese complained of pollution, reverse culture shock, inferior education for children, frustration with government bureaucracy, and the quality of health care. Returnees said they were generally making less money in absolute terms, but they also said they enjoyed a higher quality of life.

But, still, in surveys Wadhwa and his team found that:
Eighty-seven percent of Chinese and 79% of Indians said a strong factor in their original decision to return home was the growing demand for their skills in their home countries.

This certainly points to expanding labor markets (these expansions might not hold through the current downturn -- what expansions are? -- though one would imagine as the world economies pick back up these expansions will as well). It's not at all clear, however, what corollaries or lessons we can draw for US students interested in working abroad. I doubt that these labor markets are, in most instances, developed enough to begin to absorb excess labor (as the US economy has done -- has depended upon -- for years and years).

One thing that it does mean, for every graduate of any particular US institution of higher education (and perhaps mostly especially for those larger schools like the UW-Madison which have tremendous international student populations), is that there will be more and more alumni of your alma mater in country with whom to network.

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