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Opportunities and challenges lure expats to India

But once back at his Mumbai flat, he sets up his laptop, logs on to Skype and starts to read to his seven-year-old son who is sitting with his mother at the computer nearly 7,000 kilometres (4,350 miles) away in Geneva.

“It’s not ideal but that’s how it is,” said 48-year-old Rutten, a Dutch national, who works as the top executive of MCX, India’s largest exchange trading in commodity futures.

Rutten’s situation may not be ideal but it’s also no longer unusual, with India now home to an increasing number of foreign nationals, lured by new opportunities and jobs in a country emerging as a force on the world stage.

Head-hunters say India has become a key destination for expats, particularly Americans and Europeans, as uncertainty escalates about the US economy and in the eurozone.

It is estimated that hiring has picked up 15-20 percent from last year, with about 40,000 expats working in various industries in India, which has emerged relatively unscathed from the recent global economic turmoil.

“The rise of emerging markets, increased focus on new revenue streams and changing demographic imperatives are likely to increase the number of people working outside their home countries by 50 percent over the next decade,” PricewaterhouseCoopers said in its “Talent Mobility 2020” report last year.

For Mumbai-based lawyer Satoko Kikuta, working in India became a necessity after doing an internship in the United States during the 2008 global financial crisis.

“US-based law firms were either cutting jobs and not hiring… so waiting periods (after the job offer) became lengthy. I could not let time go,” the Japanese national said.

Kikuta, who specialises in investment law, helps top India law firm Khaitan develop and expand its business opportunities in Japan.

“I wanted a bit of uniqueness and specialisation,” she told AFP.

Before coming to India, she envisioned it as “profound and mystical”, rather like the depictions of the country in Japanese author Shusaku Endo’s 1993 novel “Deep River”.

She has now worked in three local law firms since 2009 and sees India as a “land of great opportunities”.

Gregory Hughes, a director with global consultants KPMG, also came to India as the 2008 financial crisis peaked, and likewise saw new challenges in the South Asian country.

“I wanted to grow. To do that one has to think out-of-the-box and work in overseas markets,” said Hughes, a British national who previously worked in London.

Not all expats come out of professional or financial expediency, however.

For entrepreneur and chef Frederic Fernandez, India simply “seduced” him, he said.

The banker-turned-chef last year opened Mumbai’s first French bistro, “Chez Vous”, serving up Chateaubriand steaks, tarte tatin, French wines and cheeses from a prime location near the city’s bustling Churchgate station.

The restaurant itself is a sign of a changing modern India, a country where art, food, entertainment and sports are rapidly acquiring an international flavour as more Indians travel overseas and its economy grows.

While some foreign nationals make India their permanent home, most know that their time in the country is limited, as new opportunities in new places beckon — or the pull of friends and family draws them home.

Frederic, whose restaurant business is gathering pace, has medium-term plans to be in India, confident that the country’s economy will continue to grow at high rates.

The chef, who also conducts French cooking classes and has appeared on local television channels, said he is keen to stay in a “fast-moving environment”.

Kikuta, who grew up Japan’s ancient cities of Nara and Kyoto, plans to stay for at least two more years, while Hughes aims to move back to Britain next year.

A frequent description among expats of living and working in the world’s second-most populous nation and particularly Mumbai is “hectic and challenging”.

Comparisons with the way things are done back home or in other countries are inevitable.

Kikuta feels India is missing a relentless “drive and hunger” to succeed, often trapped in tackling mundane daily problems.

“I miss meritocracy and the hard working atmosphere in the US which drives you to become the best in the field,” she added.

And Rutten, a former World Bank adviser, warns that India must do more, particularly to boost reforms and on social infrastructure.

His family situation is down to Mumbai being “a great city to work in but not to live in”, he said. “There’s no need for these problems. They need to get their act together.”

AFP/ Salil Panchal