Better education, improved quality of life, work life balance and rebuilding a new life far away from home. Eight NRIs share why settling abroad was their calling
Mohit Sehgal – 22 years in the US
A Computer Engineer by profession with an MBA degree, I work as a Chief Technology Officer [CTO] with an Automation firm dealing in advanced automation, robotics and manufacturing intelligence.
I left India in 1998 and flew to the USA to work for one of the top consulting companies in the world. I wanted to join the IT revolution, and I was on the top of the world.
I graduated in computer engineering from India and MBA from Australia. On my return, I joined a manufacturing firm in Faridabad. My euphoria about using my engineering knowledge coupled with business acumen took a jolt. We in India, were IT back office kings. The government policies did not encourage research and development, entrepreneurship and there was a dearth of financial aid to exploit a talented person or ideas.
India had liberalised in the early 1990s but the babu mindset still lived on. In the engineering field, lots of engineers migrated abroad because they cited lucrative opportunities abroad, lack of similarly minded talent in India, stagnation that de-motivates engineers, lack of growth opportunities, use of inefficient or obsolete technologies, freedom to work independently and not making retention an explicit priority as some of the top reasons India has trouble retaining tech talent.
India is not a developed country and because of reservations, non-encouraging business atmosphere and society, nobody who is talented, skilled and passionate can fully really realize their potential. Growth fuels innovation, which in turn fuels research and development. India, as developing country should encourage youngsters to invest their enthusiasm and entrepreneurial skills to promote innovation in India.
The education system in India needs overhauling. Indian curriculum is not for the creative bent of mind and not hands on, while the western countries are attracting students with lots of scholarships, fee waiver, quality education, international exposure, and awesome placements and opportunities and above all, they evaluate every student on their talent not just for their academic excellence. While the Indian system churns out a bunch of engineers every year, India still lacks the infrastructure to educate the students in cutting edge technology. The medium of instruction is not to understand, but to learn by “Rote”. This makes majority of the engineers’ unemployable, and redundant. And then a few come along who have the passion and the diligence to work hard, but the dreams are dashed with the lack of options, similarly minded peers and growth opportunities.
There is so much prejudice still prevailing in the Indian society based on caste and class, corruption, inefficient work culture that you would ultimately have that innate desire to leave the country and move to a place where your work is much more valued based on your performance.
The American Silicon Valley was created by companies and people who had a passion and the zeal to think original. The US government helped realizing that potential with the right policies. The previous generations of our country decided to either whine about it or move to the US. And that is the path many have taken to be successful and fulfill their dreams.
And finally, I would not hesitate to say that any individual who works hard; deservers and vies for the better compensation in terms of lifestyle, financial prospects, security, self-respect and standard of living.
One would argue that a lot of people in India have been successful living and working in India. But compared to the population its by far only a few to have been able to live that dream. Not everyone can be a famous celebrity, sports star or industrialist. Even in the western countries, everyone is not any of these, but they have a more disciplined and comfortable life.
Anita Navlurkar – 31 years in the US
We came at a time when there wasn’t so much opportunity in India. My first job in 1988 got me Rs 1500. Nowhere enough to be financially independent. It was very different to break through in those times without the right connections. Dealing with corruption was another factor. It was much easier and faster to reach financial freedom and ease and comfort in the US.
Trade-off was being an immigrant and not having family and friends you grew up with around you. These days opportunities are available in India as well. So, I think the decision is not that easy. But I guess competition and lack of infrastructure like electricity, water, are still a problem. My much younger colleagues from work are still wanting to settle here and willing to go through the uncertainty of waiting for 10-15 years to get a green card.
Nisha Khot – 9 years in UK, 10 years in Australia
As a doctor, my options in India were limited – stay in a government hospital job where you are not paid well & can be transferred to any part of the state at any time or set up a private practice where you are at the beck & call of patients 24/7 and have to deal with unethical practices like giving colleagues a percentage of your fee for each patient they refer to you.
Both options were not ones that I liked. So, we decided to try another country. For Amit, it was also to do with the fact that he wanted to do haematology & research, both of which were very limited in India.
In the UK & in Australia, we have the choice of having a private practice if we want to. Neither of us have this. Working for the government pays well (not as much as private practice but still, well enough that we can afford to buy a house, send kids to private school etc). Working only in a government job means that we have regular hours, paid leave entitlement, pension, Medicare & other benefits.
When we are on holiday or not at work, our time is ours. No phone calls from work, no patients calling us directly etc. And now both kids are Australian. They will not live in India. Can’t live in India. So, there’s even more reason to stay here. And other reasons like no pollution, clean streets, open spaces help.
Emotional attachment is to the people – family in India. Some attachment to the homes but most have been replaced with modern buildings so they are not the ones from memory.
Need to pay back: Yes, definitely. Everyone I speak to feels this very strongly. We do what we can- contribute to charities, give our time when we can- Amit does research projects in India & teaches young doctors the principles of research, helps them design good projects & gets them funding for their projects. I do teaching/training for medical students, junior doctors & nurses in managing childbirth emergencies. The wanting to give back is the strongest emotional attachment we have. And the gratitude for a highly subsidised education
Rajendra Navlurkar – 31 years in the US
Better opportunities (education and career), seeking a better life, job prospects in 1989 were not so great.
US offers a life which is not necessarily affected by corruption (although it’s here as well) which is part of life in India.
Civic sense and general understanding of cleanliness is missing back home. I’m sure it has changed significantly but things haven’t change much for the lower income folks in India.
Religious views and forced observation also play a role. Especially when politicians use it against other religions, for example discrimination based on religion. Rules and laws should be for all to follow and not different for Hindus or Muslims.
On the other hand, leaving parents, family and friends behind is a big sacrifice but if that is what my parents wanted and wished so that we would have a better life says it all.
Parents are the driving reasons as to why young people are leaving India. They have sacrificed everything and want better things for the next generation(s).
Medicines and access to better health care are additional reasons. It’s not easy to be an outsider in any country. It’s challenging but overall at least you can have better life. Still miss India but make do with great memories and going back whenever possible.
Deborshi Dutt – 6 months in UK, 18 years in the US
The basic intent to move out is the opportunity access, merit-based growth model and transparency in the dealings for basic day to day life. In the last few years, #3 is growing in India (with digitisation of services) however #1 and #2 are still a gap. The opportunities seem to be there, however the volume/scale is not the same as in US. More so the US seems to have a much larger share of this than the European Union. China may be similar to US but the govt intervention may be the limiting factor.
The emotional attachment is still there – thus the debate to get citizenship and give up the IN passport. Would not do that unless for the current nationalist behaviour / political scenario. Which after a lot of debate we have initiated with a heavy heart.
Also, there is the want to give back to the country. That’s the current dilemma, and the parents getting old which is a bigger one with both brothers here. Supporting them is something we will have to figure out as they won’t move to the US.
Natasha Khanna – 3 years + 1 year after a gap in the US
The main reason we moved were better quality of life, greater opportunities for Naira, better work-life balance which is completely missing in the Indian work scenario.
I think we have emotional attachment because we have just relocated less than a year ago. But I think once you settle down here, have a friends’ circle, the attachment reduces to quite an extent.
The only reason I truly feel the want to go back is because parents are there alone and getting old.
When you are here for years and build a life here it becomes home and going back feels like you are an outsider there. (This is what friends who have settled here have told me.) I still think of Pune as home. Probably this might change when I am here for a while and buy a house and settle down.
Amrish Kapoor – 1 year in UK, 11 years in the US
My main reason for leaving India was obviously education. I felt higher education (Master’s degree and beyond) was better served in UK / US than being in India in general. So that’s the reason for leaving India. Now, the reason for staying and starting a family here was similar. I wanted my kids to have the opportunity for a world-class, well-rounded education. I didn’t have too many complaints about my education growing up. I did well academically, but I did feel like it was very one-dimensional. I thought kids here came out of school much more confident about life in general. They also had a much easier path to getting into really good world-renowned universities that I had a much harder time getting into. I also thought this translated into better job opportunities finally, and a better life as a result. At least in the tech industry, the centre of that universe is very definitely still here. Other lines of work are similarly advanced too – medicine, finance, whatever else.
I do think the reservation policy contributed to this, yes. I don’t know if things have gotten better or worse recently, but when I was getting into engineering, there were very few seats left for the “general” category for all of us to compete for. So, you either had to do very well academically to get into the colleges you wanted, or go to lesser colleges in Maharashtra at least.
Raj Bagchi – 2 years in Singapore, 20 years in the US
I think better higher education and job opportunities are what bring us abroad. Resource constraints for majority of the population. In India it is hard to do day-to-day tasks.
In this conclusion to our stories on NRIs, whether someone is a technology officer or medical officer or an educationist, young people have found enough compulsive reasons to move out of India. And a majority of the reasons are the same – no religious bias, no quotas, no corruption; and slowly with parents no longer being there the emotional attachment also evaporates. Everyone is entitled to a good quality of life and that’s what NRIs believe when they leave India and don’t want to come back.