Chasing an Indian Dream

Indians studying abroad no longer remain fascinated about working in foreign countries, with many opting to carve a niche on home turf instead.


Amid the hullabaloo about fear of Indians losing their plush IT jobs in the United States and possible scenario of deportation back to India, there are many who are happy with their decision to head back to the country to make a living.

When the government announced in December last year that India is moving from “brain drain to brain gain” — with 243 Indian scientists returning to the nation in the period between 2007 and 2012 to 649 during the 2012-2017 span, it was highlighting only one stream that saw a marked influx. Brain gain, on the other hand, is true for many other occupations, as Indians who have studied in some top-notch colleges across the world, are finding their way back to take up jobs in the country.

Sheena Ahluwalia, who pursued MSc in international event management from the University of Brighton in United Kingdom from 2013 to 15, is content with how her life has shaped up. “I am happy to work in India as the opportunities to explore, learn and teach here are boundless,” says Ahluwalia, a creative consultant who teaches marketing and management-related subjects in Mumbai.

Many others, who feel that their work in their home country is getting noticed, say studying in a foreign university worked as yet another feather in their cap. Lakshmi Selvakumaran, who did her masters and PhD at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia, coming back to India was always on the cards.

“Even when I was studying there, I was quite clear about returning to India as I wanted to work here on grassroot level projects. So I never tried to seek employment outside India,” says Selvakumaran, 28, who specialized in computational solid mechanics of composite materials at KAUST during 2010-15.

Among the many reasons that prompt Indians to come back to seek employment, is having a healthy work environment. For some like Samrudhi Sridharan, India provides an environment where she could put her skills to good use. Sridharan earned a Masters degree in Anthropology at the University of Sussex. “I was not sure where I wanted to work when I went to the United Kingdom to study. But after I interned in an organization in the United Kingdom and heard my other friends complaining about the work culture there, I was sure that India would be better suited for me,” she says.

Samrudhi Sridharan

Sridharan currently works at a non-profit organization in Bengaluru and feels that her role in her company helps her interact with as well as impact the stakeholders directly — something she always wanted to achieve.

Also, getting employed in the United States and United Kingdom in professions other than those in the tech industry is a challenge.

“I had no opportunity to work in the United Kingdom,” says Ahluwalia. “The rules while I was studying there were quite strict and the window to look for jobs after getting a degree was very limited. So, unless the company one is employed in sponsors the work visa, one is left with no choice but to return to India.”

However, after taking cognizance of the short span of time that foreign students get to look for employment in the United Kingdom, the new changes in immigration rules are set to make switching to work visas more flexible for foreign students. Set to be introduced from Jan. 11, the new rules will make it possible for international students to switch to skilled worker visa or the Tier-2 visa as soon as they complete their course.

These schemes will help many Indian students in getting employed in the United Kingdom and pursue their dreams of working abroad. The United Kingdom also announced a scheme on Dec.18 last year, where it extended a pilot student visa scheme to 23 more universities. According to the scheme introduced last year on a pilot basis in four British universities, students are given six months to get employed after they finish their course.

While it may be difficult to get a job abroad after finishing education there, having a degree from a reputed international university does give students an edge in the job market in their home countries. “Having an international exposure has its merits as it helped me evolve as an individual and that definitely shows on my overall attitude,” notes Ahluwalia.

The experience of spending time in a foreign country, with international students, also helped Indroneel Sen, who recently finished MBBS at Pokhara in Nepal, and looks forward to working with rural people in Bihar. “Stereotypes associated with people, languages, culture and countries are broken when one is studying abroad,” he says, talking about how many of his friends belonged to countries like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Tanzania and Maldives.

Surabhi Srivastava

Others like Gurugram-based Surabhi Srivastava present another view and note that even though they had work opportunities abroad, they decided to return to India in pursuit of a future where they could use their skills to the maximum.

Srivastava completed her Bachelors degree in Forensic Science from Pace University in New York and then did a Masters of Science in Public Health from Yale University. “I wanted to work on sexuality and gender issues and India gave me that opportunity. I was lucky to find a feminist organization that would help me make use of what I learnt in college,” she says.

The same experience is narrated by Vinay Rajapuram who pursued his MS in mechanical engineering from San Jose State University in California. He worked in the hardware as well as the software industry in California for more than two years, before deciding to move to Bengaluru.

For Rajapuram, what mattered more than earning money was making use of the skills he learnt in the United States. “There is a tradeoff,” he says. “I was making much more in the United States, but I felt stagnated and that was one of the reasons why I returned. Also, living in California is not cheap and I was spending a huge part of my salary on rent and other things and could hardly save much. In Bengaluru, I can save much more.”

Rajapuram adds that he was careful to choose an organization in India that helped him experiment, explore and learn, and that keeps him motivated. It is often difficult to find an organization in India that is open to offering employees a window to learn. “The work culture in the United States is very different, a professional can learn and explore much more, while here things are task based,” he notes.

Srivastava feels the same about comparing the pay structure abroad and in India. “I had offers from some public health organizations in the United States and there is absolutely no comparison between the pay level in India and the United States,” she says. “However, I was looking to do more with my skills.”

Guess, for many like her, home is where the heart belonged all the while.

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