April 09, 2007

Eccentric Expatriates

What some will do for green backs and green cards

I know it will probably sound like something out of "Ripley's Believe It or Not", but I assure you that the stories I am about to relate are completely true.

A guy I've known since we were both knee high left for the US about 15 years ago to do his Masters. Masters became PhD, PhD became job, and then green card, then citizenship etc. etc. He visited India exactly once in all these years, to get married. Last year, he bought tickets for his parents so they could visit him there. And since he spent quite some money on the tickets, he had to reduce his household expenditures. His cost-cutting measure: Get aged parents to repaint house.

My next story is even better. My friend's boss worked in Detroit, the northern tip of USA. His wife was a student in Atlanta, way South. He roomed with my friend, and married life for him was restricted to occasional cross-continent weekend trips. Not too bad, but then his wife got pregnant, had a child and brought the kid up for two years as a single parent while still doing her PhD. All along, his presence was still just restricted to weekend trips. Why didn't he just chuck his job and find another down South ? Oh, his employers were processing his green card, don't you know ?

And finally, my last piece concerns a colleague of mine, a guy who's worked in my team for over a year. He went to the US last year late February. Towards the latter half of the year, (September, I think) his child was due. His leave was sanctioned then. In December 2006, the project wound down, and furthermore, the company had a long vacation of 10 days. At the time of writing this, in April of 2007, HE HAS YET TO SEE HIS BABY IN THE FLESH. And he doesn't have any plans to come back in India in the foreseeable future.

Mixed emotions. I am simultaneously amused, saddened and revolted at these stories. Has the Indian, the same Indian who chanted "Matru Devo Bhavah, Pitru Devo Bhavah", now forgotten his values at the sight of greenbacks ? Has he sacrificed humanity for money ?

Indians started emigrating en masse about twenty, thirty years ago. India had a semi-socialistic economy then, and private enterprises were largely unpredictable fly-by-night affairs. The public sector was largely comprised of bureaucratic pencil-pushers, and such jobs were hard to come by too. This was when the brain-drain started, as the smarter Indians emigrated to find their fortunes in the USA, then labeled the land of opportunities.

Today, things are very different. India has a strong and growing economy. Private companies are stable, jobs are secure, and easy to come by. Salaries are high and the stock market is booming. Fortunes are there for the taking in every street corner. Salaries in India are actually higher than abroad on a purchasing power parity scale. Indeed, the land of opportunities has been redefined.

So why do rational, perceivably well-balanced citizens wish to dwell a substandard life, as an expatriate in a foreign country, hanging onto jobs which they probably hate, at wages which are most likely lower than a white citizen would get ?