The repatriation of the professional Indian expatriate

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MUMBAI: Its a different kind of Ghar Wapasi- one that involves the homecoming of those Indians that chose once to leave the comfort of home and hearth and make a leap into the unknown, overseas, in search of the promised better life. Confidence, spurred by a resurgent Indian economy, improvement in the standards of living, and better education opportunities are drawing back homesick Indian professionals.

The trend has reportedly spread beyond just the IT sector, to include banking and finance, pharmaceuticals, auto, textiles and food processing. And surprisingly, this is despite the fact that monetary remunerations have as much as halved in India compared to prospects only a few years ago. 

The reverse brain-drain is now trending says, Moorthy K Uppaluri, CEO, Randstad India, a leading recruitment and staffing firm. “With the recovery of the Indian economy and increase in the number of Indian companies looking to expand globally, there is a definite rise in the number of Indian repatriates.”

Counter intuitively the homecoming of the Indian professional expat is a gaining trend despite the fact that money is no longer the big or only lure. The monetary benefits that these executives could expect to earn has reduced over the last few years reports TOI. The gap in premium between what the managers would have expected, say, three years ago and now has nearly halved, say hiring experts. However, the reasons for their return largely combine family-related matters and better job prospects.

Oddly, market factors have proved to be the big leveller. A combination of high inflation in India along with the search for top talent has reportedly helped to reduce the difference in compensation between India and western nations. Uppaluri says, “About a decade ago, the difference in the junior and middle levels was as much as 75%, and at the top management level it was about 50% to 60%. Today, the difference at the junior and middle levels is about 50%, and at the top it’s just about 30% to 40%.” 

Other observers like Nilay Khandelwal, regional director, Michael Page, a recruitment firm, find that the differences are reducing mainly in areas which have traditionally remained with India for a longer time, such as analytics, risk, finance and operations in banking. “The gap has been reduced as the early movers had a better advantage than people moving at later stages. So, for example, a 40-50% premium in the past is now reduced to 20-30%,” he said.

The banking sector is peculiar because premiums have steadily reduced for returnees, owing to a supply-demand anomaly. Yet, professionals are returning, thanks to stagnation in foreign markets and better opportunities for skill-development in a growing economy like India. Post the financial crisis of 2008, banks in India started grooming talent from within so that they wouldn’t have to rely on expats and returning Indians. In finance and operations, where the supply is greater than the demand, Khandelwal said the gap in premium salary (pre-2011 levels and now) for returning Indians has reduced. “So if a VP level in finance and operations was earlier coming at Rs 50 lakh, he/she today is ready to take up the assignment for between Rs 35-40 lakh,” he noted.

Foreign banks in particular are witness to this reversal of brain drain. Anuranjita Kumar, chief HR officer, Citi South Asia says, “We have seen a lot of interest across the developed markets from managers wanting to relocate to India, whether for personal or professional reasons. In the last 18 months, the trend of returning Indians has gathered momentum.”

According to Kumar, the last time such a trend was witnessed was about a decade ago between 2005-07 when India’s GDP growth was around 8% to 9%. However, following the subsequent uncertainty surrounding the global financial crisis and lower growth in India, the trend plateaued out, she said.

At Citi, Indian managers based abroad with varied experience have indicated their interest to come back to India, given the positive market sentiment. As compared to the 9% growth in compensation in the Indian banking sector, developed markets offer around 2%. “More than compensation, the opportunity for these managers is in up-skilling themselves in a growing market like India,” Kumar points out.

Its the dynamism in India’s market that’s providing it magnetism as well. With economic growth stalling in the West, leading to slower career growth opportunities, India on the other hand, is a market which appears to be be growing and changing, offering better job prospects to NRIs. What’s assisting the process is a change in the standard of living in India and its education system.

For some professionals, an improved quality of life available at a more affordable rate in their native country is a big draw. “The standard of living has risen here and international schooling is, in fact, better and more affordable,” says one banking professional looking to make the switch from London. He returned to India so that his children could reconnect with their roots, a common refrain with most Indian expats. 

It’s not the bank balance per se, such people are weighing into their evaluation. They see the trend catching because many Indians settled abroad are considering relocating to India with a number of jobs being off-shored and roles being developed and designed specifically for the local market.

Indian employers also find the global exposure and experience brought back by Indian expatriates useful. 

As Khandelwal says, “NRIs are in demand as they have gained experience in developed markets. Generally, they are considered to have worked in a more professional environment, where ownership and decision-making has been encouraged. In addition to this, they have a good understanding of the cultural differences between India and other developed markets.” The international experience however is useful only if the skill sets acquired by professionals are readily transferable to the Indian market and conditions. –EJ

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