Demographers were stunned last month when new data revealed a trend reversal: immigrants are no longer flocking to the U.S., and some have made a U-turn and returned home. Data from the Internal Revenue Service show that 1,800 people, mostly living abroad, either renounced their U.S. citizenship or handed in their green cards—more than the total number of people who did so in 2007, 2008, and 2009 combined. A few made the choice to avoid paying U.S. taxes on income earned abroad, but others are seeking greener pastures in the global economy.
With the U.S. facing a shortage of skilled workers, the wave of immigrants who are turning their backs on America is foreboding. A growing population of highly-educated Americans and foreign nationals educated in the states are less committed to living and working in the U.S., preferring to return to their homelands, many of which are emerging economies.
“It’s only really come to light in the last year or two, but we’re noticing a pattern of highly-skilled children of foreign-born U.S. immigrants leaving the U.S. for the countries where their parents were born,” said Madeleine Sumption, a policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute. Sumption says the trend is strong in China, India and Brazil where dramatic economic growth over the last decade has opened up opportunities for entrepreneurship and led U.S. multinationals to hire overseas employees with western educations. “We’re putting together a picture of what’s happening partly from data and partly from anecdotal evidence since it’s a relatively new phenomenon.”
Entrepreneurship experts say a combination of booming developing economies, a still-soft U.S. economy, and difficulty obtaining green cards is driving foreign-born U.S. students who in past years would have remained in the U.S. on temporary visas to move home.
“Some of the sheen has come off the U.S. economy as the place to make your fortune—especially if you’re from another country and have a U.S. education,” said Robert Litan, vice president of research and policy at the Kauffman Foundation. “They know all the hot things that are going in the United States, and see a real opportunity to replicate them or do something similar in their home country that doesn’t have it.”
According to data from the Brazilian government, U.S. applications for permanent work visas in Brazil rose 77 percent between 2008 and 2011, and temporary visas rose 36 percent during that time.
China and India have not released those same statistics, though other data point to growing numbers of American-educated individuals choosing to move to those countries. The Chinese Ministry of Education estimates that the number of Chinese living overseas who returned to China more-than tripled between 2007 and 2010 from 44,000 to 135,000.