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Development and Highly Skilled Migrants: Perspectives from the Indian Diaspora and Returnees

Zakaria Siddiqui and Gabriela Tejada

Abstracts

The migration development nexus assumes that skilled migrants possess the potential to bring benefits to their developing countries of origin. In India in particular, this brain-gain is of great interest to study because of the significant presence of Indian skilled professionals in western countries. This paper examines the role of the factors on an individual and structural level which are responsible for skilled Indian migrants’ interests in their home country’s development. It also examines the extent to which returnees actually perceive themselves as agents of development at both a collective and an interpersonal level. The authors apply logistic regression to a primary data-based survey on skilled Indians in Europe and returnees in India. They find that both familiarity with the contemporary Indian situation as well as disadvantaged identities drive skilled migrants’ interests in home-country development. Disadvantaged identities also affect returnees’ own recognition of their role as agents of development and change. Other factors bearing this agency role include membership of cultural, religious, or political organisations, professional field, and level of education.

Développement et migrants hautement qualifiés : points de vue de la diaspora indienne et des migrants de retour au pays

Le lien établi entre migration et développement présuppose que les migrants qualifiés ont les atouts nécessaires pour générer des avantages dans leur pays d’origine en développement. En Inde notamment, cet afflux des cerveaux (brain gain) est particulièrement intéressant à étudier en raison de la présence importante de professionnels indiens qualifiés dans les pays occidentaux. Cet article examine le rôle, sur les plans individuel et structurel, des facteurs qui influent sur l’intérêt des migrants indiens qualifiés pour le développement de leur pays d’origine. Il analyse également dans quelle mesure les migrants de retour au pays se considèrent eux-mêmes comme des agents de développement, au niveau collectif comme au niveau interpersonnel. Appliquant un modèle de régression logistique à une étude fondée sur des données primaires portant sur des migrants indiens qualifiés en Europe et des migrants retournés en Inde, les auteurs constatent que l’intérêt des migrants qualifiés pour le développement de leur pays d’origine repose à la fois sur leur connaissance de la situation actuelle de l’Inde et sur leur appartenance d’origine, notamment de groupes sociaux défavorisés. Cette appartenance des migrants influe également sur leur propre reconnaissance de leur rôle d’agents de développement et de changement. D’autres facteurs, tels que la participation à une organisation culturelle, religieuse ou politique, le secteur professionnel et le niveau d’éducation, ont aussi une incidence sur ce rôle.

Desarrollo y migrantes altamente cualificados: perspectivas de la diáspora y de los repatriados de la India

La relación entre la migración y el desarrollo supone que los migrantes cualificados tienen el potencial parar aportar beneficios a los países en vías de desarrollo, de los cuales ellos son originarios. En el caso específico de la India, resulta de gran interés para el estudio el fenómeno de “ganancia de cerebros”, debido a la importante presencia de profesionales indios cualificados en los países occidentales. En este artículo se analiza el rol de los factores individuales y estructurales que dan lugar al marcado interés que demuestran los migrantes cualificados de la India por el desarrollo de su país de origen. También se examina el grado en que los repatriados se perciben a sí mismos como agentes de desarrollo a nivel colectivo e interpersonal. Los autores utilizan el modelo de regresión logística con datos primarios recogidos en una encuesta sobre indios cualificados en Europa y repatriados en la India. Sus resultados concluyen que tanto la familiaridad con la situación actual de la sociedad india como la pertenencia a una clase social desfavorecidason los motores que mueven el interés de los migrantes cualificados por el desarrollo de su país de origen. Desventajas en cuanto a la identidad también acaba afectando el reconocimiento propio del rol de los repatriados como agentes de desarrollo y cambio. Otros factores que afectan su función de agentes de cambio son la pertenencia a organizaciones culturales, religiosas o políticas, el campo profesional y el nivel educativo.

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1. Introduction

1Migration or travelling in general has played a pivotal role in the lives of great scholars of the past and present. Great Indian thinkers and activists, including many leaders of India’s struggle for freedom, benefited greatly from foreign exposure and education. It affected their thinking and the choices they made in their lives, and ultimately it is also responsible in a large part for the respectable position that India as a nation has achieved in the world; this is quite evident from their letters and literary works. Mark Twain’s famous quote, ‘Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime’ (Twain 1869) was recently validated through an experimental study (Cao et. al., 2013).

2International migration has intensified and become more complex within the current globalized setting of which skilled migration has become a dominant component (Docquier and Rapoport 2012; Özden et al., 2011). In recent discussions within the migration and development nexus, skilled migrants are increasingly seen as possessing the potential to provide benefits to their developing countries of origin.

3Two issues lie at the centre of this brain gain approach: the contributions that skilled migrants make from a distance through diaspora linkages, and the eventual physical return to the country of origin. On the one hand, since the early 1990s, recognition of the diaspora’s propensity to create multiple associations and long-distance connections (Meyer, 2001, 2010) that could benefit the country of origin has replaced the classical emphasis of the brain drain approach, which saw skilled migration as a permanent loss. The diaspora option views skilled migrants as carriers of a social capital that is waiting to be organized and harnessed for the advantage of the home country, leading to the rise of a new agent in development discourse: migrants, diasporas, or transnational communities (Lowell and Gerova, 2004; De Haas, 2006; Katseli et al., 2006; Wickramasekara, 2010; Weinar, 2010; Tejada, 2012). On the other hand, the increased interest in return skilled migration among scholarly researchers is primarily due to two reasons. First, emigration cannot be considered as a permanent decision, and indeed, skilled migration is mostly characterised by its temporary nature (Chanda and Sreenivasan, 2006; Kuvik 2012; Kumar et al., 2014); accordingly, we cannot overlook the fact that many migrants do eventually return to their home country, driven by a variety of factors. Second, the assumption that the people heading back home with their accumulated experience, knowledge, and technical skills will compensate for the outflows has resulted in skilled migration being seen as important for the development of migrants’ countries of origin (King, 1986, 2000; Iredale et al., 2003; Kapur and McHale, 2005; Dustman et al., 2011; Kumar et al., 2014).

4Empirical studies illustrate diverse practical ways in which countries of origin can benefit from skilled migration through both the diaspora and returnees (Agunias and Newland, 2012; IOM, 2013; Kuznetsov, 2013; CODEV-EPFL et al., 2013; Tejada et al., 2014). The prospect of reaping potential gains is associated with two groups of factors. The first group are factors related to the individual profiles and social capital of migrants (age, activity profile and type of skills, sector of employment, length of stay abroad, network of contacts, etc.) while the second group includes factors that are related to the structural and institutional context of the countries concerned (infrastructure level, job opportunities and professional prospects, incentive policies for engagement, social inequality, etc.). Here, the development effects are associated on the one hand with specific host-country environments that influence diaspora linkages with the community left behind, and on the other, with the structural setting to which migrants return in the home country, which influences their propensity to transfer their skills and knowledge gained abroad to the local people.

5India represents a good case in point in this context because of the significant presence of Indian skilled professionals in western countries, which often feeds into national pride, but also creates many concerns. In recent years, India’s gains in the form of reverse flows of expertise, investment and business leads, knowledge and technology, and the world’s highest financial remittances have resulted in a more positive view of the influence that the diaspora can have on the economic progress of India. Furthermore, India has also recently experienced an increase in the number of skilled professionals returning home from the USA and the UK and other European countries as gaps in economic and career opportunities have narrowed between host and home nations, and this is usually supplemented by familial and cultural ties (Chacko, 2007; Finegold et al., 2011), together with push factors, such as economic downturn in the destination countries resulting in job insecurity, as well as the completion of such skilled professionals’ temporary contracts (Chanda and Sreenivasan, 2006; CODEV et al., 2013; Kumar et al., 2014).

6This paper contributes to the existing literature and policy discussion on Indian skilled migration and development by offering new empirical evidence of both the Indian diaspora and returnees. The aim here is to improve our understanding of the factors that influence the aspirations of Indian skilled migrants to contribute to home country development, as well as the factors that influence returnees’ perception of themselves as agents of development and change at collective and interpersonal levels, that is to say, their self-perceived capacity to effectivly utlise their knowledge and skills in the local context after they return to India.

7Accordingly, this paper aims to provide two sets of empirical analysis. It also seeks to provide evidence on the influence that the personal characteristics and affiliations of skilled migrants have on a) the propensity of diasporas and returnees to commit to home country development and b) returnees viewing themselves as agents of development and change within their immediate social (professional and personal) circles. More particularly, the paper seeks to answer the following two questions: what kind of people, with regard to personal characteristics, social background, and identity, are more likely to be committed to home country development? How do Indian skilled migrants (both diaspora and returnees) perceive the extent of the influence that their knowledge and skills gained abroad have on Indian society?

8At this stage it is essential to clarify what we mean by ‘development’ and ‘change’. This paper is concerned with development, which is holistic and considers economic growth as just one, be it significant, enabling factor for achieving it (Sen, 2011). By ‘development’ we mean expansion of the realm of human agency and freedom, both as an end in itself and as a means of further expansion of freedom (Drèze and Sen 2002: page 6). Such a concept encompasses social, human, and cultural development, improvement in people’s quality of life, and the expansion of human capacities and basic liberties (Drèze and Sen 2013; Sen 1999). Under this perspective, the ‘development contributions’ of skilled migrants are seen as a transformation of social or technological structures in a way that expands frontiers for the individual’s agency. Alternatively, skilled migrants’ knowledge and skills earned abroad help to expand their generalized trust as an effective indicator of social capital (Cao et al., 2013) and freedom to pursue and achieve whatever goals or values people around them regard as important.

9Such a consideration of development is particularly pertinent for one of the world’s fastest growing economies, which has massive economic and social gaps in terms of class, caste, gender, and social privilege, particularly during the last two decades of high economic growth (Drèze and Sen, 2013: Ch. 2 and 8). Indeed, India has remained far behind its low-income neighbours in south Asia with regard to many social indicators (Drèze and Sen, 2013: Ch. 3). Even in the discourse on migration and development, the lion’s share of attention is placed on physical economic aspects such as diaspora investment, foreign exchange, and remittances that directly affect economic growth but which may do little good to development as we perceive it (Castles and Delgado Wise, 2012). It is in this regard that India is often seen as a country that benefits from the positive effects of skilled migration (Guha, 2011; Afram 2012). Our objective here is to examine the role that skilled migrants can play in spurring the broad-based development that we referred to earlier, in other words to see whether there is a possibility that diasporas and returnees with their knowledge and abilities attained abroad can contribute to improving the quality of life of the neediest segment of society. This sees us concerned with understanding two things mainly: first, the extent to which overseas-based Indian skilled migrants and returnees feel an obligation towards their home country in the form of improving the lives of their countrymen, especially the most marginalized sections of Indian society, and to understand the factors that lead them to do so; second, if they are truly engaged in one way or another in generating benefits for the development of Indian society.

10Our findings suggest that it is possible to channel the benefits of skilled migrants and returnees to further develop or expand human agency for the most marginalized sections of society provided that a) the government of India or even state-level governments actively engage with diasporas and returnees for this purpose, and b) destination countries are able to absorb migrants from the marginalized or disadvantaged sections of Indian society.   

11Our findings are based on new empirical evidence collected through primary surveys of Indian skilled migrants, in selected European destination countries, and returnees in India. The paper starts by presenting a short overview of the literature on the impact of skilled migration. We then present the data and the analytical framework used. Logistic regressions are applied to conduct an empirical analysis of the two major aims identified earlier (i.e. diasporas’ and returnees’ interest in the development of India and the extent to which returnees perceive themselves as actors of development and change at collective and interpersonal levels). The next section shows the empirical results of the logistic regressions and discusses the main observations. The conclusions in the final section discuss specific policy options for India and destination countries.

2. Overview of research into the impact of skilled migration

12Over recent years, the migration and development nexus has acquired relevance in both academic research and the policy debate, with discussions showing that skilled migrants can undertake an agency role, act as bridges, and help to encourage transfers of knowledge and skills between countries. Several empirical studies underline the possibility of migrants acting as agents of development and as a source of contributions to their countries of origin through financial and social remittances, knowledge transfers, investment ventures and the like (Tejada, 2012; Weinar, 2010; de Haas, 2006; Katseli et al, 2006; Lowell and Gerova, 2004), and attempt to identify the conditions and factors that are necessary for positive impacts to be generated. Skilled migrants in host countries often undertake activities through entrepreneurial and investment projects or through scientific and academic collaborations all of which benefit, from a distance, the communities they have left behind. If they decide to return to their home country, their foreign exposure may lead to them bringing back with them improved levels of knowledge and technical skills and a further accumulation of human capital, thereby providing them with the potential to assume a leadership role within society and in their place of work. Return migration could be viewed as a feedback effect of skilled migration because it can generate employment and raise productivity (King, 2000; Cassarino, 2004; Black and King, 2004; Dustmann et al., 2011).

13Current approaches to the development impact of skilled migration show that several factors of influence enable or hinder the deployment of the knowledge and expertise of skilled migrants in the local context of their home countries. De Haas (2008, 2012) points out that the agency role of migrants and their individual factors, together with the structures and environments that stimulate their actions, including their mobility decisions, are main factors of influence.

14With regard to return skilled migration, the literature on the transfers of migrants’ skills after their return refers to factors associated with successful deployment in terms of the beneficial impact generated within the local context. Some approaches show that the preparation of migrants for their return is associated with the propensity to influence social change. The higher the migrants’ level of preparedness and ability to mobilise resources for their move on their own, the greater the possibility of a successful return (Cassarino, 2004). Gmelch (1980) argues that the transfer, after the migrants’ return, of skills and resources gained abroad depends on migrants’ propensity to readjust to the society of their home country. The possibility of readjusting is not only related to the actual home country setting, but to their previous self-defined expectations and imagined prospects as well. Beyond the importance of an enabling country setting and the predisposition of returnees to adapt, Sabates-Wheeler et al. (2009) point out that access to information regulates the pace of the migrants’ adaptation. Keeping oneself well-informed of the situation and opportunities back in the home country is essential if false expectations are to be circumvented (Sabates-Wheeler et al., 2009). Portes (2001) stresses that transnational linkages in the form of systematic contacts and exchanges, regular visits, and sending financial remittances, facilitate migrants’ reintegration into the local society after their return.

15Existing research covers several different issues that prompt the possibility of applying migrants’ accumulated knowledge and expertise to the work environment after their return, including the sector of activity, the type of professional engagement, the links between qualifications and labour market requirements, and the specific location that migrants return to (King, 2000; Iredale et al., 2003; Cassarino, 2004; Khadria, 2004; Chacko, 2007). Furthermore, the motivations and intentions of migrants, their age and career phase, the length of their stay abroad, and the particular host countries where they stay all influence the level at and manner in which they can impact their workplace, household, or community (King, 1986, 2000).

16The literature mentions diverse conditions that allow return migrants to have an impact in the workplace: migrants should have accumulated experience and knowledge during their stays overseas; their acquired knowledge and expertise has to be useful in the context of their home country; they should have aspirations towards home country development and be able to apply what they gained abroad (Ammassari, 2003; Iredale et al., 2003). In a similar vein, Dustmann et al. (2011) point out the possibility of gaining from return migration if opportunities exist to apply the acquired skills in the home country and if accumulated skills are sufficiently recognised in the local context.

17At a personal level, migrants’ experience gained abroad is linked to self-improvement in terms of the circumstances prior to emigrating, and this may be revealed in better living standards, a higher educational level, and an upgraded professional position, all of which can be expected to impact on migrants’ social position and provide them with a prominent role within their families and the surrounding community. In fact, the leadership role that return migrants often play in their community through their behaviour in the workplace and their social interaction is viewed as an important sociocultural effect of return migration (Cerase, 1974; Black et al., 2003; Iredale et al., 2003; Black and King 2004; CODEV-EPFL et al., 2013).

18Migration research has paid attention to the concrete effects the experience has on migrants’ lives and sees the changes in their social position as an important development outcome of migration. While some research indicates that migration can introduce attitudes and skills that are conducive to positive changes that challenge prevailing social inequalities, other studies argue that migrants’ ideas and behaviours may also reinforce traditional social norms including discrimination (Guarnizo, 1997; Vertovec, 2000; Kapur, 2004; Levitt and Lamba-Nieves, 2011). Guarnizo (1997) shows that migration tends to reproduce and intensify class, gender, and regional inequalities.

19The issue of the impact of migration on gender and class stratification has received considerable attention in the literature. Several studies address the question as to whether migration leads to a fall or rise in the status of women as a result of changes in their position in society, and the answers vary according to the migrants’ individual factors, their cultural background and skills level, and the context of the countries concerned. Iredale et al. (2003) show that female returnees in Bangladesh play an active role in civil society and overthrow some discriminatory practices against women.

20Studies of the social impact of migrants from marginalised communities show that their identities are usually reconstructed in the local space as a result of their migration experience. While diverse structural factors related to both the country setting and the migrants’ sociocultural affiliations affect how they negotiate this adjustment, evidence shows that returnees with discriminated identities and from sociocultural minorities may experience important changes in their social position upon return (Guarnizo, 1997; Iredale et al., 2003). The active involvement of these groups in development may be understood as an attempt to both compensate for and react to the home state’s failure to provide more equality.

21Research into the impact of skilled migration in India is extensive. The frameworks of studies from the 1960s and 1970s mostly emphasised the loss of human capital and the detrimental nature of public investment in higher education (Johnson, 1967; Bhagwati, 1976; Borjas, 1987). While many recent studies focus on the gains from financial remittances and migrants’ savings (Rajan, 2012), the focus has been increasingly placed on studying the effects achieved through the transfer of the knowledge, technical skills, and further social capital accumulated by migrants during their time overseas. Khadria (1999) contributed to a viewpoint change by stressing that human capital can be transferred to the home country without people having to physically return there. Diaspora contributions and return migration became more relevant as attempts were made to understand the impact of Indian skilled migration (CODEV-EPFL et al., 2013; Tejada et al., 2014), and the Indian government has started to acknowledge these benefits and as a response has implemented a number of policies intended to harness the resources of skilled migrants (Elie et al., 2011; MOIA, 2012).

22Diverse studies provide evidence of the strong professional and personal ties that overseas-based Indian skilled professionals maintain with India. The diaspora networks have often contributed to the innovative and entrepreneurial capacity of India with contributions in the form of business and investment leads and financing (Saxenian, 2005, 2006; Nanda and Khanna, 2010; Docquier and Rapoport, 2012). Kapur (2002, 2010) emphasizes the strong influence that the Indian diaspora had on India’s rise in the global IT sector during the 1990s and after. Indian IT professionals have gained increasing consideration as they have come to be seen as a transnational class of professionals eagerly involved in enhancing the national economy and making India a global player (Kapur, 2004; Chanda and Sreenivasan, 2006; Radhakrishnan, 2008).

23Return migration is seen as another powerful tool for development in India. Various studies have shown how Indian skilled professionals have a significant role to play in the local context after they return, pointing to the transfer of technical skills, managerial know-how, and financial assets deployed through their professional activities and entrepreneurial ventures and investments, and the generation of new jobs (Kapur, 2002; Saxenian, 2005, 2006; Chacko, 2007; Nanda and Khanna, 2010; Biswas, 2014; Kumar et al., 2014).

3. Description of the data and analytical framework

  • 1  The project was led by the Cooperation and Development Centre (CODEV) of the École Polytechnique F (...)

24The data, on Indian skilled migrants, that we used were collected simultaneously through two primary survey questionnaires conducted between 2011 and 2012 one conducted in four European destination countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Switzerland) (referred to hereafter as the diaspora survey) and one in the country of origin (India) (referred to hereafter as the returnee survey). The data were collected within the scope of the international research project “Migration, scientific diasporas and development: impact of skilled return migration on development in India”1. One advantage of these data is that they provide us with an opportunity to observe the diaspora and returnees at the same time. As there was no way to target the population of the diasporas and returnees, we had to resort to non-random sampling, targeting organisations and our acquaintances using snowball sampling.  

25The operational definition of ‘Indian skilled migrant’ used for this study refers to Indian professionals or students residing in one of the four selected countries and who are specialised in either ICT, finance and management, the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, or academia and research, which were the four sectors chosen as a means of improving the representativeness of the sample. The respondents had to be first-generation migrants. The operational definition of ‘Indian return skilled migrant’ used is a past or present non-resident Indian (NRI) or person of Indian origin (PIO either the migrant or the migrant’s parents should have been born in India), who had stayed overseas for at least a total of six months before returning to India, who holds present employment status in India, and who has at least a Bachelor’s Degree.

26We used regression analysis to understand the role of the individual characteristics and structural factors that contribute to the willingness of skilled migrants to engage in the process of the development of India at a broader level, or their ability to transfer their skills and knowledge. Since dependent variables of interest to us are dichotomous (binary) in nature, we used logistic regression. This is a standard analytical tool that enables us to understand what role independent variables play in determining the probability of a desired outcome. We employed a total of four logistic regression models for four dependent variables that were of interest. The general form of the model that we adopt can be written in the following manner:

27Øi is the probability of the desired outcome for individual i. Alternatively, Ø is the probability of a dependent variable taking value 1 and thus

28is a log of the likelihood of the dependent variable. Xj are independent variables and βj is the regression coefficient for Xj signifying incremental change in the log-likelihood ratio of a dependent variable due to one unit change in Xj. Alternatively, the exponential of βj, that is, eβJ, would indicate change in the likelihood ratio of the dependent variable due to a unit change in an independent variable usually termed as the odds ratio (OR). Alternatively, the odds ratio represents the likelihood that an outcome will occur given a particular characteristic, compared to the likelihood of the outcome occurring in the absence of that characteristic. An odds ratio with value 1 implies that the likelihood of an outcome remains unaffected due to the presence of a particular characteristic. An odds ratio of a value greater (less) than 1 implies that an outcome is more (less) likely to happen due to the presence of particular characteristics.  We report our results in OR to facilitate a convenient interpretation of results.

29Alternatively, the odds ratio represents the likelihood that an outcome will occur given a particular characteristic, compared to the likelihood of the outcome occurring in the absence of that characteristic. An odds ratio with value 1 implies that the likelihood of an outcome remains unaffected due to the presence of a particular characteristic. An odds ratio of a value greater (less) than 1 implies that an outcome is more (less) likely to happen due to the presence of particular characteristics.  We report our results in OR to facilitate a convenient interpretation of results.

30To pursue our first aim, we have two logistic regression models for an analysis of the diaspora’s interest in development and the returnees’ interest in development respectively. The first model is examined using diaspora survey data. The dependent variable measures the interest of skilled diasporas in the development of India as a dichotomous response. The exact question asked was ‘Do you think your current activity can have a positive impact on India’s development?’ The second dependent variable sourced from returnee survey data measures the skilled migrant returnees’ interest in development by asking: ‘Have you ever thought of taking part in India’s development process?’

31For the purpose of examining the second aim of our study (i.e. the extent to which returnees perceive themselves as actors in development and change), we identified two dependent variables in the returnee survey data. The first dependent variable is the returnees’ perception of the change in their social position upon their return, used to examine their role as actors of development and change at a collective level, while the second is their perception of the extent of their influence on the people around them, used in order to examine their role as actors of development and change at an interpersonal level. These dependent variables are aimed at measuring the extent to which returnees see themselves as leaders or actors of development and change within their social and professional contexts after they go back to India. We understand that returnees will experience an upsurge in their human agency (capacity to act independently) within the Indian social/professional context due to their exposure to the European working environment and European society in general, and therefore they are likely to challenge incumbent structures. This is important because their ability to successfully transfer skills and knowledge depends on the returnees’ own perception of their influence in the local community/workplace, as well as on structures and opportunities in the context of the home country (Ammassari, 2003; Iredale et al., 2003). Accordingly, we have a total of four regression models to examine: 1) diasporas’ interest in development, 2) returnees’ interest in development, 3) change in social position of returnees after return, and 4) returnees’ influence on the people around them.

32Our independent variables are the migrants’ individual-level factors, such as age, length of stay abroad, and activity profile; and structural factors, such as their ties with India (professional and philanthropic contacts, temporary visits) and their social identities (religion, gender, caste). The reason for considering ties with India as a structural factor is that people who establish professional / philanthropic contacts and who visit India regularly are expected to have the skills and knowledge necessary to deal with the challenges of maintaining sufficiently large networks of skilled professionals and they are committed to carrying out projects that can positively influence the lives of people in India. Thus, such professionals may play a revolutionary role in India's development, as they have already done in the past. As far as social identities are concerned, it is well known that India's development is lopsided and many social groups, such asdalits (untouchables), adivasis (indigenous groups), religious minorities, and women, have shown little progress in terms of human development when compared to others (Drèze and Sen, 2013: Ch. 3).

33We would like to indicate that our analysis is based on the expectations and perceptions of the skilled diaspora and returnee Indians; expectations and perceptions which are decisive factors in their behaviour (De Jong, 2000). It is common to tackle the issue of migrants’ skill transfers from the perspective of perceptions. In such an analytical framework, migrants’ perceptions are based on their own subjective evaluation of the outcomes of their influence (Cassarino, 2004; De Jong, 2000; Gmelch, 1980). Development impact is evaluated in terms of migrants’ own subjective perceptions of the process of their re-adaptation to the local context upon their return and considers the extent to which they feel able to deploy their accumulated skills and expertise gained overseas in the local social context.

4. Discussions of the results

4.1. Diasporas’ interest in development

34About 62 per cent of the 778 skilled Indians who participated in the diaspora survey conducted in Europe agreed that their current activity might have a real impact on India’s development. It is important to note here that any accumulation of knowledge or experience could only be beneficial to India’s development, but our survey clearly showed that skilled diasporas do not universally hold such views, implying that many of them do not visualise themselves as potential agents of development or positive change in India. We investigated the individual and structural factors that could play a role in shaping their interest in development and we found individual-level factors to be less important than structural ones.

35Individual-level factors, such as age and the length of stay abroad, did not play a significant role in shaping their attitude to home country development. However, the activity profile of skilled Indians in the host country is an influential individual-level factor; Indians in training and education have higher development aspirations than professionals in paid employment. Likewise, disadvantaged affiliations (related to caste, religion, and the medium of instruction (vernacular as opposed to English) in elementary education) have positively affected the interest of skilled migrants in the development of India; for example, people from minority religious groups show a higher propensity to be interested in home country development

36Structural factors associated with links to India in the form of professional and philanthropic ties and temporary visits seem to have an influence on the development motivation of skilled Indian migrants. Those with professional and philanthropic ties and those who are on only short trips to host countries or who visit India at regular intervals care more about the development of India than those without any such contacts or those who rarely or never visit the country. The result of these logistic regressions is shown in Table 1.

37Skilled migrants’ Indian region of origin is another factor that influences their development aspirations. The results of our logistic regressions indicate that an individual is 59 per cent (OR=1.59) more likely to say that his or her current activity will have an impact on India’s development if he or she comes from a state with less socioeconomic development, or a more rural area, than is a person from a more developed state. Skilled Indians who maintain professional and philanthropic contacts in India are more likely to think positively about their professional activity having an impact on India’s development than are those without any such contacts. A person with professional contacts in India is approximately 3 times (OR=2.82) more likely to show an interest in India’s development than is a person who does not have these contacts. Indian students abroad, including doctoral scholars, are 67 per cent (OR=1.67) more likely to register their interest in India’s development than are those in paid employment or those who are unemployed.

38Skilled Indian migrants who regularly visit their home country and those who have shorter lengths of stay in the destination countries are 3.5 times (OR=3.54) more likely to register an interest in the development of India than are those who do not visit India at regular intervals or those who have stayed abroad for longer. A person with a minority religious affiliation is 78 per cent (OR=1.78) more likely to register his or her interest in India’s development than is a person with a Hindu religious affiliation.

Table 1: Result of logistic regression. Diaspora interest in the development of India as a dichotomous dependent variable

Independent variables

Odds ratio (OR)

Z score

Person comes from a less developed state in India

1.59*

2.48

Philanthropic contact with Indians

1.33

1.42

Professional contact with Indians

2.82***

4.2

Currently a student

1.67**

2.97

Visits India at least once within two years or has arrived recently

3.54**

3.23

Person with a minority religious affiliation

1.78**

2.83

Constant

0.15***

-4.14

Likelihood ratio chi square (6)

66.29

Probability > chi square

0.0000

Number of participants

778

*, **, and *** imply statistical significance at 5%, 1%, and 0.1%.  

39In summary, being a student, keeping in regular contact with and making visits to the home country, and coming from a disadvantaged identity increases the interest of skilled migrants in home country development. In our regression, we used affiliation to a minority religion and origins in a less developed state as a measure of disadvantaged identity. Therefore, our results indicate that an awareness of India’s current situation and disadvantaged identity are key factors responsible for diasporas’ interest in India’s development. As a consequence of arriving recently from India (in the case of many students), travelling regularly or keeping in touch with relatives and friends helps to keep individuals up to date with the everyday difficulties faced by people in India. Furthermore, people with disadvantaged identities are more likely to show an interest in the development of India as they experience an enormous gap between the rights/facilities they can access in Europe and those accessible in India. European exposure offers them an opportunity to appreciate and understand the unequalising effect of the absence of such rights/facilities back home. Therefore, they feel a sense of responsibility towards the less fortunate members of their own social group.

4.2. Returnees’ interest in development

40We measured the returnees’ interest in development by the dichotomous response of their intention to participate, or not, in India’s development process. About 74 per cent of the 527 returnees surveyed at different locations in India confirmed that they have already thought about participating in India’s development process. Once again, an interest in the development of India is not a universal phenomenon. Thus, not all educated or highly skilled professionals think of themselves as potential agents of positive change or development. This may be on account of the fact that they are unable to foresee how their professional activity can contribute to the development of the country, as a majority of those who said no or nothing in response to the question about their intention to take part in India’s development held managerial or technical positions in their respective organisations.      

41We observed that individuals who are members of religious, cultural, sporting, or political organisations are 2.5 times (OR=2.50) more likely to take part in India’s development process than are those who are not members of such organisations (table 2). Being part of any organisation is definitely an important indicator of a person’s commitment to contribute to society. An association with organisations can be understood as being indicative of individual returnees’ leadership role in their immediate social/professional circles.

Table 2: Result of logistic regression. Returnees’ interest in India’s development as a dichotomous dependent variable

 Independent variables

Odds ratio (OR)

Z score

Member of any religious, cultural, or political organisation

2.50***

4.13

Educational qualification PhD

1.90^

1.74

Working in a non-corporate environment

2.20*

2.2

Affiliated to at least one disadvantaged identity

1.73*

2.41

Constant

0.87

-0.82

Likelihood ratio chi square

80.72

Probability > chi square

00.000

Number of participants

527

*, **, and *** imply statistical significance at 5%, 1%, and 0.1%. ^ implies significance at 10% level.

42Skilled Indian returnees working in non-corporate sectors (i.e. research or academic or philanthropic organisations) are 2.2 times (OR=2.20) more likely to partake in the development process of India than are those employed in the private corporate sector. This may be due to two reasons: firstl, on account of their contact with people in general where they are in a position to positively influence people through advice or teaching; and second, the application of their innovative research could greatly expand people’s opportunities. Accordingly, their professional and personal activities could generate direct benefits for people. On the other hand, people working in the corporate sector may feel that they are working to create profits for their corporate bosses, which may or may not be useful for the development process of the country. Moreover, as our study largely focuses on the IT and finance sectors, both of which rely heavily on serving clients located in other countries, such a feeling of dissociation from the development process of the country may not be out of place. In reality though, such experience actually contributes to development in innumerable ways.

43We observed that returnees with at least one disadvantaged identity (i.e. women, those from a religious minority, dalits, those schooled in a vernacular language, and those from a rural background) are more likely to contribute to the development of India than are those who do not share such identities. Accordingly, we see that returnees with disadvantaged identities are 73 per cent (OR=1.73) more likely to have considered taking part in the development of India. Disadvantaged identity also plays a similar role in determining the diaspora’s interest in development (regression result for the first dependent variable). Note that the indicators of disadvantaged identities are different in the two models. This is because the questionnaires of the diaspora survey and the returnee survey had different questions on individual identities. It is worth mentioning that the questionnaires were not designed with the intention of examining the importance of disadvantaged identities as there was no prior literature to guide us in this direction. Consequently, an exhaustive treatment of the role of disadvantaged identity in driving interest in development remains to be researched in the future. Alternately, an individual’s degree of commitment towards home country development is strongly related both to the level of underdevelopment experienced by that individual at an earlier stage of his or her life and to the motivation to work for greater social equality after experiencing a higher level of freedom and rights in the host countries.

44Educational qualifications seem to matter only at very high levels. A person with a PhD qualification is 90 per cent (OR=1.90) more likely to work for the development of India than are others. A very high educational qualification is just another indicator of the agency of the individual.

45In brief, the intention of returnees to partake in the development of the country is positively driven by the agency of individuals measured in terms of education and membership of organisations, the development gap experienced by individuals, and the nature of individuals’ profession or activity profile.    

4.3. Change in social position after return

46How returnees perceive their social position upon return is important in terms of their ability to work as agents of positive change/development in society. The ability of returnees to successfully work for social change depends upon their social acceptability. The understanding here is that individuals who experience positive change in their social position are actually in a good position to implement their intention of working for the development of the country. This is because, in their own perception, foreign exposure has played a positive role in enhancing their social position, implying that they feel more welcome within their immediate professional/personal circles. Similarly, their views and opinions may play a significant role in collective decisions taken by the groups to which they belong. In the returnee survey questionnaire, returnees were asked ‘In what way has your position in society been affected by your overseas exposure?’ Responses were recorded on a 5-point Likert scale in the following categories: very negatively, negatively, not much change, positively, and very positively. Responses stating a very negative and negative change in social position were negligible in number terms. A very positive change in social position thus indicates that returnees perceive themselves as agents of development and change at collective level. Therefore, we decided to analyse factors that drive the likelihood of a very positive change in social position as opposed to other responses.      

47A meagre 18 per cent of the 527 returnees surveyed reported that they experienced a very positive change in their social position when they returned to India. It is not surprising that only a small proportion of skilled returnees begin to perceive themselves as actors of development and change at a collective level after their return. We must clarify that these individuals feel a very positive change in their social position purely as a result of their foreign exposure. It is important to remind ourselves that many individuals in our survey might actually already enjoy such high levels of social position even before their foreign exposure, as we will see later.      

48Educational level and organisation membership are key factors that influence the very positive change in the social position of returnees. Participants with a Master’s qualification were 2.2 times (OR=2.22) more likely to experience very positive changes compared to undergraduates (table 3). PhDs seem to have a huge advantage in experiencing a very positive change in their social position. PhD-qualified participants were 11 times (OR=11.1) more likely than were undergraduates to experience a very positive change.

49People working in academic, research, or philanthropic organisations are 48 per cent (=1-0.52 derived from OR =0.52) less likely to experience a very positive change than are those working in the private corporate sector. Professionals in the academic, research, and philanthropic sector assume a leadership role in society because of their profession, even when they do not have any foreign exposure. Teaching and mentoring students is a very important part of the academic and research profession. People who are employed in the philanthropic sector are often community leaders in their own right. Therefore, we may not expect to see any major change in their social position. However, their knowledge and skills earned abroad will prove to be very useful for the people with whom they interact. People with disadvantaged identities do not differ in terms of their likelihood of experiencing a very positive change in their social position, as it remains an insignificant factor in our regression. As we mentioned earlier, the disadvantaged identity of skilled migrants needs to be researched further with regard to its relationship to the development aspirations of professionals. Since we did not systematically capture all the aspects of disadvantaged identity, it would be futile to speculate on the reasons why it would not be an important factor driving the social position of returnees.   

Table 3: Result of logistic regression. Returnees’ very positive change in social position as a dichotomous dependent variable

 Independent variables

Odds ratio (OR)

Z score

Member of any religious, cultural, or political organisation

2.22**

3.11

Education Master’s vs Undergraduate Degree

2.82*

2.03

PhDs vs Undergraduates

11.10***

4.09

Working in a non-corporate environment

0.52^

-1.65

Affiliated to at least one disadvantaged identity

0.77

-1.06

Constant

 .04***

 -6.58

Likelihood ratio chi square

46.87           

Probability > chi square

0.000           

Number of participants

527

*, **, and *** imply statistical significance at 5%, 1%, and 0.1%. ^ implies significance at 10% level.

4.4. Returnees’ influence on the people around them

50The ability of returnees to influence the people around them is an important channel for transferring knowledge and skills earned abroad, and more importantly for enhancing the human agency of individuals around the returnees. In the survey questionnaire, the returnees’ own perception of their influence on people around them was recorded on a 3-point Likert scale: no influence, a little influence, or a lot of influence. Alternatively, it is the returnees’ own subjective assessment of their own influence on people. The dependent variable of this model (i.e. influence of returnees on the people around them) is represented as a dichotomous response: a lot of influence or otherwise. A person having a perception of exercising a lot of influence on people around them implies that that individual perceives that his or her interpersonal exchanges have been effective and have produced desired outcomes for other members of the community or those in his or her workplace. In order to be able to successfully transfer knowledge and skills, and generally enhance the human agency of people around them, returnees need to exercise sufficient influence. Therefore, a lot of influence on people around returnees is considered as an indicator of returnees perceiving themselves to be agents of development and change at the interpersonal level. About 47 per cent of the 527 returnee participants reported that they had a lot of influence on the people around them. This implies that a larger proportion of returnees recognise themselves as actors of development and change at an interpersonal level compared to their similar role at a collective level which we examined in earlier paragraphs.

51Logistic regression analysis reveals that returnees with a Master’s or higher qualifications are 2.4 times (OR=2.42) more likely to have a lot of influence on people around them than are those with a basic university qualification.

Table 4: Result of logistic regression. Returnees having a lot influence on people around them as a dichotomous dependent variable

 Independent variables

Odds ratio (OR)

Z score

Education: Masters or higher vs Undergraduate qualification

2.42***

3.53

Member of any religious, cultural, or political organisation

2.36***

4.55

Person with a minority religious affiliation

0.49*

-2.03

Female

1.77*

1.98

Rural background

1.47

1.56

Constant

0.26 ***

-5.63  

Likelihood ratio chi square

56.8           

Probability > chi square

0.000           

Number of participants

527

*, **, and *** imply statistical significance at 5%, 1%, and 0.1%.

52Membership of organisations continues to play an important role, even in terms of the influence on people around returnees. A person who is a member of an organisation is 2.4 times (OR=2.36) more likely to feel that he or she has a lot of influence on the people around him or her than is an individual who is not a member of any organisation. Women are 77 per cent (OR=1.77) more likely to have lot of influence on the people around them.

53Members of minority religious groups are 51 per cent less likely (=1-0.49 derived from OR=0.49) to feel that they have a lot of influence on those around them. This may be due to the fact that people in the personal circles of returnees with a religious minority identity may not have the minimum level of human capital training required to receive and apply the knowledge and skills that returnees wish to share with them. Educational attainment among religious minorities, especially Muslims, has been among the lowest (Basant 2007 and Sachar et.al. 2006),. To a certain extent, a lack of coordination among these social groups may also play a role in inhibiting the flow of knowledge and skills, which again may cause a lack of human capital development/formation. In all likelihood, the presence of highly skilled returnees among religious minorities goes a long way towards building the confidence of fellow community members and their human agency even when the returnees are not able to recognise the direct influence they have on people around them.   

5. Conclusion

54The objective of this paper is to improve our understanding, on the one hand, of the individual and structural factors that influence the aspirations of skilled Indian migrants (both diasporas and returnees) to contribute to home country development, and, on the other, of returnees’ perception of themselves as agents of development and change in the local context once they return to India. We understand development as the expansion of the realm of human agency, capacities, and basic liberties through improvements in people’s quality of life. We argue here that the knowledge and skills skilled migrants earn abroad can help to expand the agency of individuals, and accordingly, that they have the potential to contribute to home country development. While the positive effects of skilled migration benefitting India by promoting economic growth have often been addressed, less is known about the actual and potential social impact in terms of helping to improve the quality of life of the neediest segments of society.

55In terms of understanding the factors affecting the development interest of the highly skilled diaspora, we find that close contact with India and familiarity with the contemporary Indian situation, either through systematic communication with relatives and friends left behind and for professional and philanthropic purposes or else through regular visits to India, are major factors bearing on the diaspora’s interest in home country development. Such regular contacts keep them informed about changes in Indian society and the economy. Close links of this kind help the members of the diaspora to keep up to date with the day-to-day problems faced by people in India.

56Another factor that positively affects the interest of both diasporas and returnees in development is their affiliation to a disadvantaged identity. In the case of returnees, disadvantaged identity is measured in terms of a participant being a woman, dalit, member of a religious minority, coming from a rural background, or having been schooled through a vernacular medium, or any combination of these group affiliations. For diasporas, we measured disadvantaged identity with the help of two variables: persons belonging to a religious minority, and those from an underdeveloped region or state. The fact that people with affiliations to a disadvantaged identity show a higher likelihood of being interested in home country development can be the result of the huge gap between the rights and facilities they can access in Europe and the lack of such rights and facilities that they experienced in India at an earlier stage of their lives. Their European exposure provides them with an opportunity to understand how the lack of such rights and facilities back in India creates inequalities and this understanding boosts their sense of responsibility towards the less privileged members of their own social groups and their motivation to engage in actions aimed at achieving greater social equality.

57We find also that Indian students abroad are more likely to show an interest in home country development than are persons who carry out a different activity (professionals in paid employment, the self-employed, or the unemployed).

58People employed in research, academic, or philanthropic sectors were more likely to partake in the development process of India than were those employed in the private corporate sector. However, the former are less likely to experience a very positive change in their social position as a result of their overseas exposure. This may be due to the fact that they already enjoy a high social position because of the nature of their professions, regardless of their foreign exposure. Therefore, it is not surprising to see that only 18 per cent of returnees surveyed said they experienced a very positive change in their social position upon their return to India. Thus, a larger proportion of returnees recognise themselves as actors of development and change at an interpersonal level (47 per cent) as compared to their similar role at a collective level (18 per cent), which they see as an outcome of their foreign exposure. However, many returnees, especially those from an academic or philanthropic background, see themselves as agents of development and change irrespective of their foreign exposure.

59With respect to returnees recognising themselves as agents of development and change at a collective and interpersonal level, we find that being a member of any organisation which positively contributes to society enhances the returnees’ likelihood of experiencing a very positive change in their social position. Being part of an organisation is a significant indicator of a person’s social engagement and it can be understood as a proof of the agency role of individual returnees in their immediate social and professional circles.

60Women and highly educated returnees tend to exercise a lot of influence at an interpersonal level, while coming from a religious minority reduces the likelihood of returnees having a lot of influence on the people around them. This may be partly due to the people around them not having sufficient human capital formation to be able to effectively receive and absorb the skills that the returnees have acquired overseas. While religious minorities are very keen on development, they are not able to exert influence due to the bottlenecks that are endemic among people of disadvantaged groups. But this does not mean that skilled returnees who live among religious minorities or in low social achievement circles do not have any influence in terms of building the confidence of their fellow community members and these members’ human agency. What is happening is that returnees are not able to see the direct result of their interpersonal exchanges.

61While we find that a large majority of returnees and the diaspora are interested in the development of India, the reality is that they may not see themselves as agents of development and change. In terms of understanding the factors that might help returnees to position themselves as leaders or agents of change in their professional and personal spheres of life, we find that all those stating an interest in development may not be able to translate that interest into real contributions unless their development aspirations are credibly backed by appropriate planning and resources. For example, according to our empirical results, students are more likely to register an interest in development; however, they may not be able to translate that interest interest into reality as they may lack essential means such as networks of contacts, availability of time, and experience of real issues on the ground, whereas people in paid employment who have an interest in development may exert a larger impact.

6. Policy Recommendations

62A number of specific policy recommendations follow from this study. First, given that returnees with disadvantaged identities have a propensity to contribute to development, their ideas and knowledge sharing will directly impact the neediest sector of Indian society. Facilitating their engagement in social and professional activities upon their return and enabling the transfer of their skills would help to promote socioeconomic equality in India.

63Second, countries of destination should reorient their equal opportunity policies in order to suit the situation prevailing in the migrants’ country of origin. In the case of the Indian diaspora, we clearly see that skilled Indians from disadvantaged communities can become a vital source of social and economic change in their own country after being exposed to experiences in the host country. The contributions of such individuals are more equalising as their efforts are directed towards the neediest section of society.  

64Third, a policy approach by the central- and state governments of India should support channels for professional and philanthropic communication that can harness the resources of the diaspora. Probably the most important reason to do so is that this helps diaspora members to keep up to date with contemporary Indian realities, as their interest in the development of India depends on how well informed they are about India’s development needs. One such engagement of the government of India is to organise Parvasi Bhartiya Divas (Non-resident Indian Day) on January 9 each year to commemorate the return of Mahatma Gandhi from South Africa to India in 1915. The government of India has dedicated a special ministry, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to this purpose, but there is little activity in terms of engaging with diasporas and returnees. The government of Bihar, one of the country’s most underdeveloped states, is very actively engaging with its diaspora through the Bihar Foundation to promote the kind of development that we are concerned with in this paper. The number of such projects run by Bihari diasporas can be seen on the web site of the Bihar Foundation2.

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Notes

1  The project was led by the Cooperation and Development Centre (CODEV) of the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and implemented in collaboration with the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata (IDSK), the International Migration and Diaspora Studies project of the Zakir Husain Centre for Educational Studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and the International Migration Branch of the International Labour Office (ILO). The project ran from January 2011 to March 2013 and was funded by the Swiss Network for International Studies (SNIS).

2  http://www.biharfoundation.in/

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References

Electronic reference

Zakaria Siddiqui and Gabriela Tejada, « Development and Highly Skilled Migrants: Perspectives from the Indian Diaspora and Returnees », International Development Policy | Revue internationale de politique de développement [Online], 5.2 |  2014, Online since 05 June 2014, connection on 04 December 2016. URL : http://poldev.revues.org/1720 ; DOI : 10.4000/poldev.1720

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About the authors

Gabriela Tejada

Research Leader, Cooperation and Development Center, École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

Zakaria Siddiqui

Research Fellow, UniSA Business School, University of South Australia, Australia, and Honorary Adjunct Fellow at the Institute of Development Studies Kolkata, India.

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Copyright

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International Development Policy is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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