The US survey on international migrant trends from a couple of years ago reported that India had the largest diaspora in the world with over 16 million Indian’s living and working in other countries. This is only half the story though. Since 2010 or so, there has been a steady flow of these Indian expats returning to the home country to make a mark here. In fact, a few months ago, the Economic Times reported that leading recruitment and search were “inundated with requests from Indian in the US, the UK, the Gulf, even Singapore, and Hong Kong”, who were looking to move back to India.
People like Srikumar Misra returned to their native land driven by a sense of purpose and founded start-ups to solve the problems faced by the locals there. Misra quit his job at Tetley Tea in London and returned to his native place in Orissa and founded Milk Mantra – the first Indian venture capital-funded agri-food start-up. The people in this area faced scarcity of this commodity and Srikumar Misra found an opportunity in it. “All I wanted was to make a difference to the people of my state. We now have a networked group of 40,000 farmers from whom we procure milk at 300 centres,” Misra told Business Line.
The emergence of India as the world’s fastest growing economy in recent years has seen a corresponding shift in its expat communities across the globe. The opportunities for competent and ambitious Indians once lay outside the country but that’s not the case anymore. There are equal, if we may not say more, opportunities in the home country today. With a large number of MNCs setting base and/or expanding their operations in India, a thriving start-up ecosystem, and a steep growth in opportunities to make an impact in the rural economy, these opportunities are bound to witness an exponential growth.
The booming Indian market and an increase in the protectionist environment in the European and American markets have led many Indian expats to return to explore opportunities in their homeland. In many cases, the returning expats are being hired by MNCs and large Indian corporates like you. But life for the returning expat is not without its challenges. So, as the HR group in the companies that employ them, what can you do to help them settle in?
Difficulties faced by a returning expat
You probably have a settled process to address the relocation of foreigners to India. Much of what you do for those incoming expats would also apply in case of your returning NRI employee. But there are a variety of specific issues that a returning expat must face in the home country. Resettling is no cakewalk. Especially for those who have spent long years outside the homeland, it takes time to acclimatize to the environment of another country.
Here are 3 specific issues faced by the returning expats:
1) Reverse Cultural Shock
The biggest difficulty of a returning expat is to readjust to the culture of his native land. After spending a significant amount of time in a foreign land, a person gets molded into that environment. The dual challenge for these people is that the environment in India is sure to be unlike what they were used to in their foreign home, but is also sure to be different from what they were used to before left the country. India has changed dramatically in the last few years. Returning expats may find a land that is nothing like the simple, cheap, and innocent land they left behind. We are now a confident, aggressive, and opinionated people who believe that we are ready to lead the world – this change of personality can be hard to adjust to. Returning expats need cultural sensitivity training too – maybe even more than foreigners.
2) Food and Drink
This is a physical as well as a mental issue. Many are the story of expats facing tummy or gut issues because of reduced immunity brought about from years of protected eating in their foreign home. Ill-advised attempts at revisiting the spicy, oily street food of their youth have laid many returning expats low. The process of readjusting the gut to spices can be slow and long, especially for the kids who have been born abroad. The same goes for water consumption. Even filtered water can be hard to stomach (literally). Hence it is advisable to start slowly and gradually making the digestive system to adjust with the introduction of spices in the food. If the worst happens, then you may need to familiarize them with the available healthcare options – availability, suitability, costs etc. may all be mysteries to them.
3) Accommodation & Family Resettlement
You must be helping all your expat employees find suitable accommodation but there is a chance that the demands of your returning expat employee could have their own complexity. Many such expats have no concept of how housing has changed in India in recent years. They are often unfamiliar with the amenity-rich, luxe condos in most Indian cities today. They may be outraged and flabbergasted by the rents in such locations. They may seek accommodation of types or in areas that used to be “posh” back in the day, but where accommodation is near-impossible to get now. The modern age also has its own problems – safety, security, privacy, and controlling access to name a few. Returning expats may not quite appreciate the extent of these problems while seeking a house or while building a life here. Exposing them to these realities – shiny as well as harsh will help them make the right choices in these areas.
Returning expats have made a major commitment to the land where they were born. Their willingness to return is admirable proof of their intent to make a difference to their home country. As their employer organization, it’s up to you to support them as they work through the nuances of their move.