Immigrants from countries like China and India helped launch many of the high-growth ventures in the U.S. in recent years. But that appears to be changing, and now many highly skilled immigrants return to their home countries after pursuing an education in the U.S.
A new two-year study released by the Kauffman Foundation surveyed about 1,200 Chinese and Indian immigrants who returned to their home country. The researchers note that between 1995 and 2005, immigrants co-founded one-quarter of U.S. tech and engineering start-ups, including co-founding well-known names like Intel, Google and eBay. But just in the past couple of years, there has been a dramatic shift: Many of these immigrants leave the U.S. soon after obtaining a degree - and instead make major contributions to their home country’s economy.
“These returnees contributed to the tech boom in those countries and arguably spurred the growth of outsourcing and back-office processes as well as research and development,” the authors write.
Investigators originally speculated that perhaps restrictive U.S. immigration policy was the driving factor in why these immigrants left. But they instead found that very few were motivated by visa issues. Rather, the biggest reasons were career opportunities, family ties and quality of life. A hefty 84% of the Chinese respondents surveyed, and 68% of the Indian respondents, cited better career opportunities in their home countries were a factor in leaving the U.S. About 73% of the Indian respondents said having close family ties in India motivated their decision to return, while 52% of the Chinese respondents reported family ties.
Still, the researchers found that many felt their children would receive a better education and higher quality of life in the U.S., despite their decision to return home. And the vast majority said that U.S. income and health care were superior to what they would have access to in their home countries.
The authors conclude that the U.S. can better retain these temporary immigrants by offering them professional development and more career opportunities. They also said that U.S. immigration policy – though not a big factor in the respondents’ decision to leave the U.S. – needs to also be addressed, in particular by amending the visa program to ease the paths of highly skilled immigrant workers and graduate students. What’s more, they added, the U.S. should consider a program that makes it easier for extended family members of these highly skilled immigrants to relocate to the U.S.