‘Brain Drain’ is actually beneficial to countries that lose talent

Study from Migration Policy Institute debunks long-held theory.

By Deepak Chitnis

WASHINGTON, DC: A new study by the Migration Policy Institute offers evidence that the migration of skilled workers from developing countries to ones like the US and UK may, in fact, be beneficial to both countries involved in the sending and receiving of such workers, effectively negating the common perception of “brain drain.”

The reasoning behind this is multi-fold. According to the report, written by Michael A. Clemens, workers who emigrate from one country to another in search of work “transfer money, skills, [and] technology […] their stories can inspire investments in education in [the] sending countries; and they expand their own life opportunities in ways not possible without moving.”

The study also says that by sending unemployed skilled workers to another, more developed, country, the underdeveloped countries alleviate work force and labor market pressures by creating less competition domestically.

Furthermore, the study alleges that skilled worker shortages in developing countries – such as countries in Africa, as Clemens cites – are created by bureaucratic and economic structures, not because of any flaws in the immigration procedures. Therefore, by limiting the number of skilled workers who are allowed to emigrate, these countries are hurting themselves more than if they let these workers find jobs elsewhere.

“Partly for this reason,” says Clemens in the study, “the countries in Africa with the lowest rates of physician and nurse emigration are those with the worst overall healthcare – such as with the highest child mortality rates – not the best.”

The ethics of skilled worker immigration is also up for debate, says Clemens. International law gives every human being the right to pursue the best life possible for themselves; if such a pursuit requires them to leave their home country, they should be allowed to no matter what. By limiting the movement of such people, countries are limiting the freedom of their citizens.

It is popularly believed that the flow of skilled labor out of one country and into another cripples the sending country because it deprives them of critical talent that they need to maintain competitiveness in certain industries, particularly IT and healthcare. In 2009, it was estimated that Indians going abroad for higher studies cost the country about $10 billion.

India is mentioned in the report, specifically the efforts of the American Association of Physicians of Indian origin (AAPI)

“National professional and research societies can also play a role [in fostering mutually beneficial bilateral skill flow],” says the report, “as can Diaspora associations, such as the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (which is cooperating with the government of the Indian state of Maharashtra to register Non-Resident Indian [NRI] physicians for voluntary service in the state.)”

Clemens stops short of offering definitive solutions, but does say that the best way forward is for ministries and departments in both sending and receiving countries need to work together and coordinate to determine which economic and social sectors need skilled labor the most.

“Broad efforts to address issues involved in the flow of skills should involve the many different kinds of actors participating in and affected by the global flow of skilled migrants.”

The Migration Policy Institute is a Washington, DC-based think tank that specializes in the analysis of migration policy in various sectors, such as US immigration, international migration, labor migration, refugee protection, and others. Andrew Clemens is a senior fellow and research manager at the Center for Global Development, also based in DC.

The full Migration Policy Institute study can be read here.

To contact the author, email to deepakchitnis@americanbazaaronline.com

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