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Our Newest Emigrants

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There is very little difference in the spelling of "immigrants" and "emigrants," but a world of difference to those doing the "migration" and to the countries and societies involved.

As an immigrant to the United States in pursuit of the American Dream, I was intrigued by the title of the New York Times story "Many U.S. Immigrants' Children Seek American Dream Abroad."

As the story's introduction focused on a Mr. Samir N. Kapadia who had arrived in the United States from India as a young child, became a U.S. citizen and was apparently doing very well in his career, I became even more interested.

You see, I emigrated from the Netherlands and came to the United States when I was young, became a U.S. citizen and found the American Dream -- in America.

While I am sometimes frustrated by some of the recent political and social twists, turns and detours the Dream has taken, I still consider America to be the greatest country in the world and I would never consider leaving my adopted country permanently to chase the Dream elsewhere.

There are some huge differences, however, between myself -- a 72-year-old, comfortably retired old geezer -- and the recent and prospective crop of emigrants discussed in the Times article.

They are the young sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, of Indian, Chinese, Russian, Brazilian immigrants -- some born here in the United States, some having immigrated as young children.

They are bright, educated, with language skills and cultural knowledge and, like Kapadia, successful.

The Times:

In growing numbers, experts say, highly educated children of immigrants to the United States are uprooting themselves and moving to their ancestral countries. They are embracing homelands that their parents once spurned but that are now economic powers.

Why are they leaving the land of opportunity?

Because opportunity is now calling in India, China and other countries where new markets are opening; where new e-commerce, internet and high-tech businesses are exploding and where businesses, organizations -- even governments -- spare no effort, investment or tax incentives to attract these enterprising young people.

And, oh yes, "most said they had been pushed by the dismal hiring climate in the United States..."

Remember the "brain drain"? What used to be the sizeable emigration of large groups of people with specialized technical skills or knowledge out of certain countries? The flight of such human capital, according to Wikipedia, "is common amongst developing nations, such as the former colonies of Africa, the island nations of the Caribbean, and particularly in centralized economies such as former East Germany and the Soviet Union."

Well times are changing. The Times:

For generations, the world's less-developed countries have suffered so-called brain drain -- the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That has not stopped, but now a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia.

But, according to the Times, some scholars and business leaders claim that this reverse brain-drain is not necessarily bad for the United States because now we have a pattern known as "brain circulation," where these young entrepreneurs sow American knowledge and skills abroad and in return acquire experience overseas and build networks that they can carry back to the United States or elsewhere .

All well and good, IF they return to the U.S.

Again, the Times:

In interviews, many of these Americans said they did not know how long they would live abroad; some said it was possible that they would remain expatriates for many years, if not for the rest of their lives.

Finally, what do the immigrant parents think of their offspring embracing countries they -- the parents -- "once spurned," perhaps even fled?

The decision by these émigrés to leave the American Dream has, in many cases, troubled -- even angered -- their immigrant parents, according to the Times.

For example:

When Jason Y. Lee, who was born in Taiwan and raised in the United States, told his parents during college that he wanted to visit Hong Kong, his father refused to pay for the plane ticket.

"His mind-set was, 'I worked so hard to bring you to America and now you want to go back to China?' " recalled Mr. Lee, 29.

But eventually, as they see their children succeed and as they reflect on the economic situation in the U.S., it appears that many soften in their attitudes.

Some may question the loyalty of these young émigrés.

I tend to agree with Demetrios G. Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonprofit group in Washington that studies population movements, who calls these young people, "fleet-footed... the ones who in a sense will follow opportunity" and who says:

I know there will be people who will argue all about loyalty, et cetera, et cetera ... I know when you go to war, loyalty matters. But this is a different kind of war that affects all of us.

To learn how Samir N. Kapadia is doing in Mumbai, Jonathan Assyag in São Paulo, Calvin Chin in Shanghai, Jason Y. Lee in Singapore, Margareth Tran in Shanghai and others who followed their dream abroad, please click here.