Many NRIs think of return, but prospects here no brighter

November 2nd, 2008 - 11:55 am ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 2 (IANS) Ajit Singh, an investment adviser in Boston working for one of Europe’s largest commercial banks, had it all good a year ago. Engaged to be married later this year, he now finds that his big fat Indian wedding has been called off, while his great American dream has come crashing down.”The girl’s parents called off the wedding when they heard about people losing jobs in the US. They were no longer sure about the stability of my job,” Singh told IANS over phone from Boston.

His situation, perhaps, isn’t as bad as it was for Karthik Rajaram, a Los Angeles-based financial adviser, who recently killed five members of his family and himself after his finances were wiped out in the stock market crash.

There is no place like home - this is a cliché that is appealing to a host of non-resident Indians in the US and Europe these days as they look for prospects back home, fearing large-scale job losses in the lands of their dreams.

But the opportunities in India are no brighter.

Kunal Banerjee, chief executive of headhunting firm Absolute HR Services, says cases like that of Ajit Singh were not isolated, as the number of jobless people in the US touched 9.77 million in September, the highest in 16 years, and has been worsening with each passing day.

“The number of resumes from people wanting to come back has doubled. The hardest hit are the ones employed in financial and IT services,” Banerjee told IANS.

“It is too early to comment on whether we will witness a mass exodus. The actual picture, I guess, will get clearer by mid-November or so when companies start to gauge the real impact of the meltdown.”

Kris Lakshmikanth, chief executive and managing director of the Bangalore-based staffing agency Head Hunters India, also feels that non-resident Indians will start coming back to India in droves.

“We have seen a more than 100 percent jump in NRI resumes since July,” he said.

“The US and other Western economies are in bad shape and jobs will continue to disappear. The US unemployment rate, which is around six percent currently, could reach double digits by the first quarter of 2009.”

Top executives at headhunting firms said the type of visa, especially to the US, was also a determinant of how quickly or in what desperation people will make that trip back home.

“A lot of them to the US, for example, have gone on H1-B or L-1 visas. Software companies typically sponsor these visas. But since their margins are under severe pressure, they have started laying off people,” he said.

“For H1-B cases, the visas stand null and void and the person would have to come back unless he finds another employer. But for people working for Indian firms like Infosys or Wipro, they have to come back and join the Indian operations - that is, if the employers still want them around.”

Among the Indians expected to return are students. Typically, they are allowed a year-long period to work in the US or Britain once they finish their graduate or postgraduate studies. But with no jobs around, they may not have much of an alternative.

Yet, there are many who still favour the US over their homeland as they have bought houses, raised families and have come to believe in the American dream - like the New Jersey-based T.K. Sebastian, an executive in the finance department of a medium enterprise.

“There are no takers for my house. I can’t sell it for less than what I bought it for. I still have loans to repay. Going back to India doesn’t make sense to me, anyway. I hope the crisis will not last for ever.”

But the situation is no better in India. The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham), in fact, said seven key industries, including banking and IT, would see companies shed as much as 25 percent of the workforce.

Although the chamber later retracted the analysis, it clearly reflected what the underlying sentiment was in the country’s corporate sector which has been reeling under a liquidity crisis and a lack of demand.

“There is a clear danger of fresh investments, incremental employment and additional exports getting affected in the months ahead,” Rajeev Chandrasekhar, president of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), had warned.

“Companies do not want to admit yet. A lot of them who had hired staff in large numbers are asking candidates not to join,” said Banerjee. “This is especially true for IT firms that earned considerable revenues from financial services.”

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