A “substantial number” of highly skilled immigrants are returning to their homelands rather than seeking to stay in the United States, but immigration issues are not the primary reason, according to a new study.

Rather, , say the authors of the report that was funded in part by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.

Vivek Wadhwa, a serial entrepreneur in the Triangle and a fellow with the Labor and Worklife Program at Harvard Law School as well as executive in residence/adjunct professor at the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, wrote the report along with four others.

“We find that, though restrictive immigration policies caused some returnees to depart the United States, the most significant factors in the decision to return home were career opportunities, family ties, and quality of life,” they wrote in “America’s Loss Is the World’s Gain: America’s New Immigrant Entrepreneurs.” The report is the fourth in a series they have written.

Working with Wadhwa on the new study were AnnaLee Saxenian of the University of California at Berkley, Richard Freeman at the University of Edinburgh, and Gary Gereffi at Duke.

In earlier reports, Wadhwa and the others have warned that the U.S. faces a “reverse brain drain” as highly skilled immigrants return home rather than deal with numerous issues. Among the problems many immigrants encounter is a limit on highly sought H-1B visas for skilled workers, such as engineers, as well as lengthy delays in getting “green cards” for extended stays in the U.S.

“Since even before the 2008 financial and economic crisis, some observers have noted that a substantial number of highly skilled immigrants have started returning to their home countries, including persons from low-income countries like India and China who have historically tended to stay permanently in the United States,” the study says. “These returnees contributed to the tech boom in those countries and arguably spurred the growth of outsourcing of back-office processes as well as of research and development.”

The study’s findings are based on a survey of 1,203 Indian and Chinese immigrants who have returned to their homelands after working or receiving an education in the U.S.

Wadhwa, who is a native of India, has written repeatedly that the U.S. stands to lose economically and technologically if highly skilled immigrants leave the U.S. or give up trying to immigrate due to restrictions on visas and other immigration requirements.

Previously, the authors estimated that more than 1 million temporary workers and students were mired in a backlog for the 120,000 H-1B permanent-resident visas the U.S. issues annually. “We speculated that these workers might get frustrated at the wait and return to their home countries, producing a flow of immigrant talent from the U.S. to other countries,” the wrote.

“Immigrants have historically provided one of America’s greatest competitive advantages,” the authors wrote in the study. “They have come to the United States largely to work and have played a major role in the country’s recent growth. Between 1990 and 2007, the proportion of immigrants in the U.S. labor force increased from 9.3 percent to 15.7 percent.

“Approximately 45 percent of the growth of the work force over this period consisted of immigrants. Moreover, a large and growing proportion of immigrants come with high levels of education and skill,” the added.

“They have contributed disproportionately in the most dynamic part of the U.S. economy – the high-tech sector. Immigrants have co-founded firms such as Google, Intel, eBay, and Yahoo. And immigrant inventors contributed to more than a quarter of U.S. global patent applications.”

Career opportunities, job demand and financial reasons topped the reasons for leaving the U.S., the study said:

  • “The commonest professional factor (86.8 percent of Chinese and 79.0 percent of Indians) motivating workers to return home was the growing demand for their skills in their home countries.
  • “A significant majority (84.0 percent of Chinese and 68.7 percent of Indians) believed that their home countries provided better career opportunities.
  • “Financial compensation was a factor important to 62.1 percent of Chinese and 49.2 percent of Indian returnees.

After returning home, survey respondents, in general, reported faster career growth and other benefits:

Respondents reported that they have moved up organization charts by returning home. The percentage of Indian respondents holding senior management positions increased from 10.2 percent when they were in the U.S. to 44.1 percent in India, and Chinese respondents to the same question increased from 9.3 percent in the U.S. to 36.3 percent in China.

The returned immigrants said:

  • Professional growth was faster at home than in the U.S., according to 61.1 percent of Indians and 70.2 percent of Chinese.
  • Overall professional opportunities were considered to be better at home by 55.8 percent of Indian and 72.3 percent of Chinese respondents.
  • Financial compensation, in relation to the cost of living, was more favorable at home in the estimation of 49.4 percent of Indians and 54.1 percent of Chinese. Only 28.4 percent of Indian and 22.0 percent of Chinese respondents reported that it was more favorable in the United States.
  • Professional recognition was considered better at home by 44.4 percent of Indians and 61.8 percent of Chinese. Only 28.0 percent of Indians and 17.4 percent of Chinese thought that the United States was better in this regard.
  • Worker morale was considered better in their home country than in the U.S. by 44.0 percent of Indian and 40.2 percent of Chinese respondents. In comparison, 21.6 percent of Indians and 22.8 percent of Chinese respondents held the opposite to be true.