Broken American Dream? Immigrants' Adult Children Leave U.S. For Jobs
Over the last century, scores of immigrants have left their poor home countries behind for the golden shores of the U.S.A. But now their grown American children are leaving college, struggling to find good jobs, while watching cousins and friends in India, China or Korea post on Facebook about their exciting careers. In response, more and more of them are choosing to buck the American dreams of their parents, and move to the birth nations they escaped.
The New York Times noted the trend of "repats" -- repatriating expats -- in April, and while the government does not collect specific data on the emigration of immigrant children, the evidence is rife, experts say. 2,122 Koreans from the U.S. permanently returned last year, up from 1,319 in 2005, according to Seoul newspapers, and reported by the New York Daily News.
Keith Kim is one of them. Born and raised in Queens, N.Y., he gained coveted enrollment at Stuyvesant High, one of the best high schools in the country. When he graduated Binghamton University, however, he couldn't find work.
He taught English for a while, landed a job at UNESCO, and started a website for foreign visitors. Now 29 years old, Kim is a well-established gyopo -- "overseas Korean."
People living in emerging economies are twice as likely as Americans to think the economic conditions in their country are good, according to a 21-nation survey this year by the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project. And they're twice as optimistic about the prospects for their children.
It's a dramatic change from 50 years ago, when these countries were profoundly impoverished and overwhelmingly rural. Between 1970 and 2010, India's GDP per capita multiplied an astounding 13 times, according to United Nations data. Brazil's leapt up by a factor of 29, China's by 38, and Korea's by a mind-bending 74.
"The energy here is phenomenal," Calvin Chin said of China in The New York Times. Chin is Michigan-born, but has now started two companies in his new home of Shanghai.
The new dynamism and optimism of emerging economies is reversing long-held migration trends, and indicates that the U.S. may no longer hold an uncontested edge on recruiting the brightest minds. And foreign governments are happy to take advantage, creating visa privileges and citizenship opportunities for their returning, U.S.-bred countrymen.
Experts and business leaders aren't wholly concerned, however. While a couple thousand Korean-Americans may have left this past year, a robust 23,000 Korea-to-U.S. green cards were filed. And while the highly educated children of immigrant parents may be scouting out opportunities abroad, many see it as less of a "brain drain" and more of a "brain circulation," reports The New York Times, as these individuals build global networks, and may return to the U.S. with new enterprises and new skills.
Often more concerned are the parents of these children, who endured great sacrifices to transplant their lives to the U.S., in the hope of creating better opportunities for their kids. Their sons and daughters' decisions to return to their ancestral lands is often met with bemusement.
Kim, however, says his parents understand that their son entered a different kind of world. "I haven't thought about the American Dream in a really long time," he told the Daily News. "My parents moved there because of that. They made it, they achieved what they wanted to achieve. They gave me the life that they wanted to give me, the education that they wanted to give me. So it worked. It worked for them."
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Claire Gordon has contributed to Slate's DoubleX, the Huffington Post, and the book Prisons: Current Controversies. While an undergraduate at Yale University and a research fellow at Yale graduate school, she spoke on panels at Yale and Cornell, and reported from Cairo, Tokyo, and Berlin.
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