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Gamlen, A. 2015 Gone but not forgotten, The Economist

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Gamlen, A. 2015 Gone but not forgotten, The Economist
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  Diasporas Gone but not forgotten Governments believe their diasporas can solve all sorts of problems. But they are a picky, unbiddable bunch Jun 27th 2015 | From the print edition IF YOUR surname is McNamara and you liveoutside Ireland, expect a letter. IrelandReaching Out, a non-profit organisationfinanced largely by the Irish government, haspioneered what it calls “reverse genealogy”.Rather than waiting for people to trace theirIrish ancestry, it constructs family trees fromroot to branch, tracking down the descendantsof those who left for America, Australia and other countries. Volunteers then invite them to visit the homeland. It is a mighty task: Mike Feerick, the outfit’s founder, wants to build adatabase of the Irish diaspora containing 30m or 40m names.Last year Ireland appointed its first minister for the Irish diaspora; this spring it unveiled adiaspora strategy. As well as Ireland Reaching Out, the government supports hundreds of groups that serve needy Irish emigrants or court successful ones. One of them, ConnectIreland, uses the diaspora as spies for inward investment: it pays for tip-offs that lead toforeign companies creating jobs in the country.In the early 1980s barely a dozen countries had a ministry, a government department orsome other official institution dedicated to their diasporas. And a few countries, including America, still ignore those who have left—except perhaps to send them tax demands. Butthese are a shrinking minority (see chart). Kingsley Aikins, an Irishman who advisesgovernments on how to deal with their far-flung folk, has travelled in the past few weeks toLebanon, Malawi and Wales.Ministers and bureaucrats are multiplying partly because diasporas are too. The World Bank reckons that about 250m people live outside the country of their birth; the number of foreignmigrants living in OECD countries rose by 38% in the 2000s. And diasporas are not justcomposed of emigrants. The Irish government thinks that everybody of Irish descent—perhaps 60m or 70m people—is part of the Irish diaspora. Israel claims all Jews.  Countries are also paying more attention these days because they believe their diasporas canmake them rich. When the World Bank began to publish estimates of remittance flows in2003, “you could see the dollar signs flashing in finance ministers’ eyes,” says KathleenNewland of the Migration Policy Institute, a think-tank. And that was only the beginning of an infatuation. Politicians and officials have since concluded that diasporas can help cure anextraordinarily wide range of national ills, from poor global reputations to weak infrastructure to a shortage of scientific talent. But can they? A few months after his victory in India’s elections last year, Narendra Modi addressed a whooping crowd of some 20,000 Indian-Americans in Madison Square Garden in New York.Thanks to them, the new prime minister said, India was no longer seen as a land of snakecharmers but as a technology powerhouse. This was flattery, but with serious intent. Indiasees its diaspora, which the government thinks is about 25m strong, as a means of projectingsoft power and burnishing the country’s image. “No country has had such a large brain drainand been so proud of it,” says Devesh Kapur of the University of Pennsylvania.  Inspired partly by the example of Israel, many countries have come to believe that theirdiasporas can advance their geopolitical interests. The Turkish government counts on itsdiaspora in Europe, especially Germany, to push for closer relations with the EU; Mexicoknows that Mexican-Americans will campaign against attempts to crack down on illegalimmigrants. In exchange for their help, and to bind them to the politics of their homeland, agrowing number of countries offer diasporas long-term visas (as India has done), dualcitizenship or some voting rights. In 2010 France’s parliament created 11 new constituenciesfor the French abroad.Poor and middle-income countries also see their diasporas as a source of cash. Emigrantssend remittances, often in vast quantities—India receives $70 billion a year, and remittancesto Tajikistan are worth half of the country’s GDP. Because they are a source of foreignexchange, rating agencies can take remittances into account when assessing a country’screditworthiness. Future flows of money can be securitised, as Brazil and Jamaica, amongothers, have done. Governments have also hawked infrastructure bonds to their diasporas, who might buy them for patriotic reasons, and also might not object to repayment in localcurrency. Israel, which has been doing this since 1951, is once again the country to copy.Prodigious sonsThese days, however, diasporas are increasingly seen as talent pools that can be pumped. When its economy crashed in 2009, Ireland summoned some of its most successful overseasprogeny to an economic forum, which continues to meet every two years. Mexico used tothink of its diaspora in America mostly as working-class remittance senders. It now encourages its young citizens to study in American universities—and then bring their skillshome. Ghana, which has a particularly talented diaspora (see article(http://www.economist.com/news/international/21656175-come) ), has set up a supportunit to schmooze them.No country is hungrier than China. Emulating Taiwan, which built a technology industry  with the help of Taiwanese Stanford graduates, it is trying to woo its most talented foreign-educated citizens to come back; those who do are called “sea turtles”. Provincial cities offertax breaks to returning entrepreneurs and create industrial parks for them. Under the“thousand talents” scheme (which is even more ambitious than it sounds) academics whohave built careers abroad are offered far more money than is usually paid to Chineseprofessors. The wooing is broad and relentless: one Chinese-British academic contacted forthis article had been approached that very morning.She is not interested, though—and in that she is typical. Patrick Gaulé, a researcher inPrague, has tracked the careers of foreign-born scientists in America. He estimates that lessthan 9% will return during their working lives. Scientists from well-off countries are mostlikely to go back: the Taiwanese are about five times more likely to return than are the  mainland Chinese, for example. Surveys of PhD students in America find that 82% of Chinese and 84% of Indians plan to stay. Apart from all the obvious things that bind people to their adopted homes—friends, childrenin school, husbands and wives reluctant to leave—it is often hard to find jobs in the countries where they were born. Returnees may have fewer contacts than those who never left. AndKaifu Lee, who was born in Taiwan, worked in America and now invests in technology firmsin China, says that although foreign-educated computer scientists are technically excellent,they can suffer from inflated expectations—the result, in part, of comparing themselves to theearlier returnees who built China’s great technology firms. And never mind the tax breaksand the industrial parks, he says: almost everybody who returns wants to be in big cities likeBeijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen.Nor can diasporas cure many financial ills. Whereas India and a few other countries havedone well out of diaspora bonds, others (such as Ethiopia) have struggled to find buyers:expats turn out to be less patriotic and more hard-headed than is often supposed.Remittances are reliable—more so, in a recession, than foreign direct investment. But eventhese suffer from exchange-rate fluctuations: flows from Russia to Central Asia have plungedin dollar terms as the rouble has collapsed.Trying to use diasporans to lobby for national interests is even harder. People leave countriesfor a reason, and that reason is often disdain. Mexicans “did not leave Mexico  por gusto  [forpleasure]”, says Carlos González Gutiérrez, the Mexican consul in Austin, Texas. Oldermigrants in particular frequently distrust the government. And expat politics is often ahothouse, in which intransigent views flourish and ancient battles are endlessly refought, whether or not they benefit the homeland.Even when expats are on the side of the government, they are tough to wrangle. The American branch of Overseas Friends of BJP dispatched volunteers to India and mannedphone banks during last year’s Indian elections. No sooner had its man, Mr Modi, beenelected prime minister than the outfit sent him a list of demands. Overseas Indians wouldlike the vote, please. They would also like more flights between America and India, kindertreatment at consulates, fewer restrictions on buying land and better arrangements forshipping dead bodies back to India. A thankless, noble task So the wooing is hard. Yet the effort is worthwhile, even if a country’s diaspora resists itsentreaties. Indeed, it is worthwhile precisely because diasporas are so churlish and hard tocourt. The difficult things that expats tend to demand of their governments—representation,a good business climate, decent investment returns—are the sort of things that governmentsought to be trying to provide anyway.  India reformed its antiquated venture-capital regulations at the instigation of Indian- Americans in Silicon Valley. China is now cutting some of the red tape that is required tostart a business partly because of pressure from returnees, says Wang Huiyao of the Centrefor China and Globalisation, a think-tank in Beijing. And China is no longer just trying to bring back its diaspora: it also wants Western talent.“The diaspora is a powerful engine of change, and for good,” says Mr González Gutiérrez, inTexas. “They are the first people to advocate for openness, for free markets, for better-quality democracy.” Most countries could do with more of that. From the print edition: International
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