Mainstream Migration, Scientific Diasporas and Development – Impact of Return Skilled Migration on Development in India

What are the patterns and impacts on the development of return skilled migration and how can the potential of scientific diasporas best be exploited for development?

Project Summary

For more than a decade increased globalisation has accelerated international migration flows, and the mobility of skilled labor in particular. One major global concern is the migration of scientific and professional elites from developing countries for better personal and professional opportunities, which is considered as a net loss for the countries of origin and a gain for the richer destinations. However, recent global initiatives have highlighted migration-development interconnections based on feedback effects from skilled migration in the form of remittances, return and circular migration and contributions of diaspora associations.

The overall objective of this project is to advance knowledge-based evidence on return skilled migration and its impact on development and to explore strategies and measures for leveraging the potential of scientific diasporas. Through the example of Indian skilled migration, the research will identify ways of involving returned skilled migrants in the development process at home as well as the best approaches to engage the diaspora in this. The project findings will have wider application in contributing to the policy dialogue on migration and development, and specifically on brain gain for developing and emerging countries.

Academic Output

Executive Summary

Skilled migration has gained significance over the past number of years, with increasing studies addressing the flows of scientists, skilled professionals and students within the migration and development nexus, from the perspective of their potential contributions to the countries of origin either through diaspora interventions or by their eventual return. India represents a good example because of the high quality of its human resources and the fact that it is a significant source of skilled personnel for many countries around the world. While a number of European countries have upsurged as new destinations in the search for Indian talent, little is known about Indian skilled professionals and students there, their commitment to home country development and return intentions. Also, skilled return migration to India has not been fully understood. The objective of this research project was to explore the development impact of skilled return migration in India and to examine the perceptions of Indian skilled professionals and students in Europe with regard to their potential role in home country development. Drawing on first-hand data collected simultaneously in India and Europe, and using the framework of diaspora contributions and the return channels, the study illustrates the influence overseas exposure has on the professional and social position of skilled migrants upon their return to India, and the problems they face when transferring the specialized knowledge and technical skills they have gained abroad. While skilled Indian migrants consider physical return as a necessary condition for knowledge transfer, linking their development aspirations to their return plans, they face a number of obstacles within the local system that hinder the transfer of knowledge once they return to India.

Working Paper

IMDS Working Paper Series

This document contains three working papers:

(1) Incorporation of Skilled Migrants in a Host Country: Insights from the Study of Skilled Indians in Switzerland

(2) Migration, Return and Coping Patterns: A Study of Gulf Returnees in Andhra Pradesh, India

(3) Growing Relevance of Modern Indian Diaspora for India’s International Relations

Working Paper

The Link with a Home Country: A Comparative Analysis of Host Country Environments for Diaspora Engagement

This chapter focuses on host country institutional environments in several countries, and it looks at opportunities to gain relevant expertise. We argue here that migrants who have successfully settled in their host country are in the best position to contribute to the development of their country of origin. This paper is based on data from the international research project ‘Migration, Scientific Diasporas and Development: Impact of Skilled Return Migration on Development in India’. 1 The chapter includes the results of the perspective of the countries of destination. The countries we have selected are France, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland and our aim here is to examine migration policies, labour market regulations and other institutional settings that enable or hinder the links that skilled Indians have with the country of origin. All four of the selected countries have seen a recent increase in immigration from India, and they are changing their policies to attract a more skilled labour force. Little is known about the activities of Indian professionals in Europe. Until recently countries in continental Europe rarely appeared on the map of mobile Indian professionals. Therefore, this paper aims to fill two gaps in the existing literature: firstly, it examines the conditions of Indian professionals in new destination countries and, secondly, it explores the impact of structural differences between host countries and their ability to provide a fruitful environment for diaspora engagement in home-country development.


Positive effects of skilled mobility for development in India

The realization that skilled migration does not necessarily lead to brain drain does not represent a new way of thinking. People living abroad can stay connected and contribute to home country development in many ways. Some of the positive effects of skilled mobility include remittances, exchange of knowledge via professional networks and the eventual return of expatriates to their country of origin.


Migration, Scientific Diasporas and Development: Impact of Skilled Return Migration on Development in India

Over the past few years, the increase in international migration and its complexity have intensified the interest that researchers and policy makers have shown in minimizing the negative effects and maximizing the positive effects of migration. With the discourse on skilled migration shifting from the view that it is an obstacle to development to viewing it as a development leverage (Khadria, 1999, de Haas, 2010), recent research provides evidence of the possible benefits of skilled migration in the form of the transfer of skills and knowledge through diaspora networks, business and entrepreneurial investments, and eventual return to the home country.

Research Team

Gabriela Tejada
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Jean-Claude Bolay
Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Uttam Kumar Bhattacharya
Principal Member
Institute of Development Studies Kolkata

Metka Hercog
Principal Member

Binod Khadria
Principal Member
Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University

Christiane Kuptsch
Principal Member
International Labour Organisation – ILO

Zakaria Siddiqui
Principal Member
Institute of Development Studies Kolkata

Amiya Kumar Bagchi
Associated Member
Calcutta University Alipur Campus

Jean-Baptiste Meyer
Associated Member
Université de Provence (Aix-Marseille I)





Policy domains


Host Institution