Show Me the Money (and Opportunity): Why Skilled People Leave Home — and Why They Sometimes Return
By Laura Chappell and Alex Glennie
Institute for Public Policy Research
The classic example of "brain drain" is well known: an overworked doctor from an impoverished country that does not have enough people with medical skills migrates to a developed country in search of better pay and conditions. The result: the origin country has lost one of its most valued people.
This article describes our recent work to better understand both brain drain — the departure of skilled migrants from their place of origin to another country — and brain circulation, defined here as skilled people returning to their home countries.
The work uses a fairly broad definition of "skilled migrant," which refers to people who have either tertiary education or work experience that provides them with equivalent skills. This means we examine all categories of professionals, not only the doctors and nurses who are sometimes most associated with the term brain drain.
We have examined a range of evidence that finds that five factors — wages, employment, professional development, networks, and socioeconomic and political conditions — drive skilled people to migrate.
We also identify three reasons that motivate the highly skilled to return: improvement of the situation at home, the feeling of belonging to one's culture and society, and the achievement of a specific goal.
Our final typology looks not only at the broad trends but also explores how motivations vary across different contexts and groups of migrants. For example, a potential migrant fresh out of university will be more willing to migrate for a reason that is less important to a potential migrant who is midway through his career.
It should be noted that the studies we examined were produced prior to the recent financial crisis and onset of recession in most countries, meaning that little insight is provided into how trends might have changed. Where possible, however, potential implications of the recession are drawn out.
This research does not take a particular view on the circumstances under which brain drain damages development — or indeed if brain drain should be a policy priority at all. Our research is not intended to contribute directly to the vigorous debate on brain drain's impacts. Rather, we seek to better understand what drives skilled people to move, leaving the assessment of when and how governments might try to intervene to other analyses.
Please click on the below pdf to read the full study