Brain Drain: the impact on those left behind


In a world ravaged by Trump and Brexit, the majority of the discourse we hear in relation to migration is about how it affects rich countries. In today’s globalised era, migration effects virtually every country and the narratives of countries experiencing net emigration are being neglected. The developing world has become increasingly concerned about the exodus of its skilled and educated population, leading to a depletion of human capital as the best and brightest leave, resulting in a “brain drain” which hinders economic development for developing nations.

Remittances play an indisputable role in relieving poverty

However, viewing emigration as purely the outpour of skilled workers ignores the positive impacts it can have on the region they are leaving. Since the 1980s, developed countries have moved toward immigration policies that favour educated, highly-skilled migrants. Thus, educational attainment becomes a means by which to emigrate to developed countries and so incentivised an increase in expenditure on education in developing economies and improving the quality of human capital. One study found that there would have been 40 percent less university graduates without the prospect of emigrating from Cape Verde, furthering the idea of a supposed “brain gain”. In Fiji too, an increase in the rate of emigration of the tertiary-educated caused an increase in the stock of tertiary-educated people.

emigration could be a pivotal part of the development of the emerging world

The flow of people can also generate flows of money in the form of remittances. According to the World Bank, developing countries received about $441 billion in remittances in 2015, a number three times larger than the size of official development assistance. With remittances making up more than 25% of GDP in countries like Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Nepal, these flows play an indisputable role in relieving poverty, providing families with the money to afford food, shelter and clothing.

Crucially, when directed towards long term investments like business and higher education, remittances can positively affect the long-run economic performance of poor countries. Furthermore, by bridging the cultural and institutional gap between countries through migrant diaspora networks, transactions costs of bilateral trade can be reduced and thus boost investment and trade flows between emigrants and their home countries. “Brain gains”, remittances and the benefits of strengthened economic ties means skilled emigration could be a pivotal part of the development of the emerging world – provided that policy is supportive.

Image by Keith Yahl via Flickr

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