Homeward Bound

Bharath Dorairaja doesn't especially like New Jersey

Bharath Dorairaja doesnt especially like New Jersey.

In October 2000, Bharath moved from Bangalore, India, to Parsipanny, N.J., where he established the U.S. business development office of VisionCompass, an enterprise software subsidiary of Bangalores Satyam Computer Services.

But Bharath wants to go back to India someday, and soon. "Im just more comfortable in India," he said. Aside from occasionally saying, "Hello" to his New Jersey neighbors from the driveway, he never socializes with them. Bharath is also repulsed by American television. "I stopped subscribing to cable. I had trouble finding anything that wasnt trash."

Bharaths feelings are indicative of what appears to be a small but growing trend. "Theres anecdotal evidence that there is a reverse brain drain happening," said Dorothy Leonard, a Harvard Business School professor who has researched Indian entrepreneurs. "People are seeing they can come back to India and make good money."

To be sure, the growth of the diaspora of software programmers and other tech workers from India hasnt slowed. "Its a trickle of people coming back to India, compared with the flood of people still leaving India for America," said Avinash Agrawal, managing director of Sun Microsystems engineering center in Bangalore. Through July, the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service had granted 138,000 of the 195,000 H-1B temporary work visas available for 2001, about half to Indian citizens. Roughly 250,000 Indians are in the U.S. on H-1B visas.

Some Indians, though, are going home. Agrawal, 43, is a case in point. A native of the northwestern Indian state of Rajasthan, he came to the U.S. in 1978 and earned a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1994 he went to work for Sun, and when the company decided to open a development center in India two years ago, he readily agreed to head the project and relocate to Bangalore. "I saw it as a unique opportunity to come here and start something from scratch," he said.

The decision to go back isnt always voluntary, though. Layoffs at U.S. IT companies have left many Indians unemployed. Without jobs, H-1B visa holders are not supposed to stay, but the INS says tracking those who stay illegally is not a priority.

Whats fueling the reverse-migration trend is the disappearance of the perceived penalties of working in India. First is the issue of money. Salaries are, of course, higher in the U.S. — typical starting pay for a programmer in India is 30,000 rupees per month, or about $650. But the cost of living in America is much higher. In Bangalore, a midlevel IT worker is able to hire cooks and nannies. "Indian programmers in India are overpaid by comparison [to those in the U.S.]," said Jerry Rao, chairman of consulting firm MphasiS BFL, which has dual headquarters in Santa Monica, Calif., and Bangalore.

Another strike against staying in India was the "networking penalty:" In Silicon Valley, it was assumed there was more opportunity for career advancement. But the Indian IT industry has grown dramatically in the last two years, and a gusher of startups has created a more vibrant local tech community.

Finally, many Indians are coming to believe that theres as much chance to work on cutting-edge technologies in their country as in the U.S. "Now, theres no way you could say the work we do here is any less advanced than anywhere else in the world," Agrawal said. And if youre an Indian guy whos tired of living in Jersey, thats one more reason to pack up and head home.