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India @70: Why I chose to stay back in India instead of emigrating to the West

Source | LinkedIn : By Raja Jamalamadaka

As India celebrates its Independence Day today, I thought of responding to the question I have been asked the maximum number of times in my life so far. With an Ivy League education and several opportunities in the US, why did I choose to stay back in India and not migrate to the West (read US)?

Like every typical middle-class Indian in the twentieth century, one thing has been drilled deep into my sub-conscious: “Education is my only pathway to a good job and a good life”. Like all other kids, I studied hard, excelled academically and made it to some of the top engineering schools with the hope of getting a decent job .. and settling down in life. However, nothing that I had learnt until then prepared me for one of the toughest choices I faced upon graduation: whether to stay back in India or not. That question wasn’t as innocuous as it sounds now: half of the engineers who graduated from my institution picked up the famed F-1 student visa and moved to the US. Several others moved to other Western countries.

Never the one to choose the routine path, I picked up a job in the then red-hot industry in India: the technology industry.  I thought the issue of migrating to West would die down: alas, how wrong I was! Nearly one in two technology engineers who worked with me shifted to US. The most popular words in the technology industry in late 1990’s and early 2000’s – and now the most feared – had nothing to do with technology itself: H1-B and L1 (the two visas used by technology organizations to transfer a plane load of people to US almost everyday).

Within five years of my engineering graduation date, almost none of my engineering batchmates or technology peers were to be seen in India. Things were so bad that I found myself befriending a new set of people each year as the old ones moved on– to the West.

The stories relayed to me about life in the US added to the dilemma: being able to afford a car on the first day of landing in the US, fancy house, excellent savings, clean environs, zero pollution, comfortable life, cuisine from every nation on earth, work freedom, excellent leadership, social freedom: the list was endless. And here I was riding my two-wheeler from my small condominium to my office, all along jostling for space on polluted roads that carried every organism on earth besides vehicles. That reality juxtaposed with social media snaps of my friends enjoying their time driving flashy cars against a backdrop of jaw-dropping scenery: the mental trauma was now unbearable.

The presence of opportunities made it more irresistible: Every day, at least one organization was willing to sponsor my visa and send me to US. More people seemed to be traveling to the US than locally in India. My financially-savvy friend in New York added salt to the injury – his analysis had shown him that at one point, I was the lowest paid Harvard alum in the world.

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