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15th May 2023

Dinesh Dhamija on the ‘diaspora dividend’ of Indians living and working abroad

Dinesh Dhamija

At a time when India is breaking records for the growth of its population and economy – here’s another. There are more than 18 million people of Indian origin living outside the country, way higher than any other nation. (Russia and Mexico have 11 million each, China has 10 million.)

But so what if millions of us live elsewhere? Doesn’t it mean that conditions were so poor that we had to leave?

At a black-tie dinner in central London last week, I listened to the Industry Minister for the Indian state of Telangana, K T Rama Rao, explain how India’s economy can catch up with China’s in the next 15 years, if the country follows Telangana’s shining example as a ‘startup state’.

To an audience of 500 members of the Indian diaspora, Rao said: “If any UK entrepreneur wants to set up in India, go to Gujarat or Karnataka and then tell us what they’re offering you and we’ll meet or beat that offer.” Telangana has reaped $47 billion worth of investments across 23,000 new business approvals since 2013, including Amazon, which has its largest global campus in the capital Hyderabad, alongside Apple, Microsoft, Meta, Uber, Google and Qualcomm.

What impressed me, as much as all of these statistics, was the mob of British Indians that surrounded Rao when he’d finished speaking and then pursued him out of the hall. The balance of power has switched, from India desperately seeking inward investment, to Western investors – mainly from the diaspora – eager to get in on the act.

If you look at a list of the world’s largest and wealthiest companies, an incredible number of them in recent years have had CEOs of Indian heritage. Google, Microsoft, Pepsi, Mastercard, Diageo, Nokia, Adobe… the list goes on. It’s a 21st century phenomenon, and it’s symptomatic of a global rise in the status of Indian technocrats. In the United States, Indians’ average income is $120,000 a year, compared with $65,000 overall. They’re more often college educated, they work hard and contribute to society.

In the UK, we now have Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Indian descent; the United States has Kamala Harris, a Vice President of Indian descent. Today, 74 per cent of British Indians own their own home, compared with 68 per cent of white British people. In education, 62 per cent of British Indian High School students get grade 5 and above in English and Maths, compared with 42 per cent of white British pupils, and 96 per cent of Indian students continue on to further education, compared with 85 per cent of white British students.

In India, people no longer talk about a ‘brain drain’ of skilled and talented people leaving the country. They talk about a ‘brain circulation’ and about the rich rewards that India now reaps from its extraordinary diaspora, with $107 billion in remittances coming back to the country in 2022, compared with $84 billion from foreign direct investment.

Uniquely in world history, a country which has lost more of its population than any other is now gladly welcoming them home.

Dinesh Dhamija founded, built and sold online travel agency ebookers, before serving as a Member of the European Parliament. His latest book, The Indian Century, will be published later this year.

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