A study of highly educated Indian and Chinese entrepreneurs who leave tech hubs like Silicon Valley to return to their homeland to launch startups reports that they have found that economic opportunity truly is better in India and China.
"I was surprised at how overwhelmingly positive people were about being back home. The numbers were just astonishing," said Vivek Wadhwa, a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley, who co-wrote the study with AnnaLee Saxenian, dean of the school of information at Berkeley, and scholars from Duke and Harvard. "The numbers are like a slap in the face for these politicians who are downplaying the rise of a new India and China."
The survey found that 72 percent of Indian and 81 percent of Chinese who returned found that the opportunities to start businesses were better in their home countries. Just 14 percent of Indians and 5 percent of Chinese who had returned felt the opportunities had been better in the United States. The scholars used the professional social network LinkedIn to track down highly educated natives of those countries who returned home after living in the U.S. for several years.
Wadhwa's research several years ago had found that 52 percent of Silicon Valley startups were launched by immigrants, many of them highly educated products of Stanford, Berkeley and other schools. The fact that large numbers of those Chinese and Indian entrepreneurs who are returning home are pleased about their decision
"It means we're going to have that many fewer startups in Silicon Valley, less vitality, less energy, because they are all going back," Wadhwa said. Because of that "reverse brain drain," he believes less than half of the valley's startups are being launched by immigrants now.
When President Barack Obama visited Facebook last week for a town hall event about the country's budget debate, he said he backed changes that would make it easier for highly educated immigrants to remain in the U.S. and start companies here. To an approving audience at Facebook, Obama said it was important that the U.S. find a way to make sure highly educated and creative immigrants like former Intel CEO Andy Grove, a native of Hungary, build their companies here rather than returning to their home countries.
"We want more Andy Groves here in the United States," Obama said. "We don't want them starting companies -- we don't want them starting Intel in China or starting it in France. We want them starting it here."
But Wadhwa said Obama's call to do that as part of comprehensive immigration reform is ducking the problem.
"His words were not backed by any action," Wadhwa said. "This comprehensive immigration reform is an excuse not to do anything because that's not going to pass. There is no way in the world. We couldn't agree on health care, how can we agree on amnesty for illegals? It ain't going to happen."
Contact Mike Swift at 408-271-3648.