Brain Drain – Is the grass always greener on the other side?

In the new globalized world, we’re living in nowadays, it has become quite often to see people working in multinational companies that have several branches/headquarters in different regions of the globe. We see families leaving almost everything behind and deciding to start a new life in another country. However, the trend has been mostly having a one-way direction: people migrating from developing to developed countries. In this sense, under-developed countries lose their stock of human capital. But why is that bad?

Before answering this question, we need first to clarify what is exactly meant by the term “Brain Drain”: it occurs if emigration of the educated for permanent or long stays abroad reaches considerable levels that offset the benefits of having labor abroad. This harms the developing countries’ economic growth as they lose their return on investment in education, nurturing technical skills and apprenticeship. Nonetheless, brain drain is a higher level. It happens only when there are not enough high-skilled/well educated labor in the country of origin to drive it through positive economic growth.

So, does this mean that brain drain maybe in fact beneficial for the developing countries?

The short answer for that is “NO”. The reason for that is that reaching this stage is already worth worrying about. The case where both parties benefit is when the loss (drain) of human capital is not offset by the feedback effects of remittances, technology transfer, investments, or trade. In other words, the mobilization of educated labor force abroad has indeed several benefits for the countries of origin as well.

But why do these people migrate?

When you’re in your most productive phase of life, you are willing to make use of it as much as possible. If there are no significant opportunities available home, then searching abroad is surely a very viable option. This is the case especially in middle income countries where people have incentives to migrate and can afford paying the moving costs. The main drivers for that are mainly from within the home country. Students don’t get the best quality of education; experienced labor don’t receive a satisfying remuneration and those working in the scientific fields may even end up being unemployed. This led to the enhancement of science, technology, R&D and IT in the developed countries. On the hand, the more underdeveloped countries are economically, the more they remain trailing in those fields. Which makes more educated students willing to migrate, so it turns into a viscous loop!

Thus, is there any mean to mitigate this phenomenon or at least make the best out of it?

As a reply for the first part of the question, it can be said that brain drain would be strongly weakened (some authors go as far as being completely stopped) by providing individuals who have expertise with career opportunities and giving them the necessary space to prove their capabilities.

Concerning utilizing the existence of the phenomenon within the appropriate rates, rebuilding a contact network with the people that left is essential. After that that country should invest more in creating a local workforce that could support or imitate the field they were seeking (having more technological hubs to curb the IT professionals’ migration for example). Not to forget, investing in the basic and complex infrastructure is also fundamental. Enhancing the quality of education through modernizing schools and universities, improving the healthcare system and hospitals to lessen the migration of medical staff and personnel and creating more well-paid career opportunities for the local skilled labor.

Finally, human capital retention has to be a number-one priority on the agenda of every country worldwide in the future as international mobility is getting easier. But it’s also still unclear and misleading to generalize about the possible effects of migration from developing countries. So, what do you think about this process, are you willing to go through it at some phase of your life or would you prefer studying and working at your home country?


B. Lindsay Lowell and Allan Findlay (2001). Migration of highly skilled persons from developing countries; Impact and Policy Responses. International Migration Branch, International Labor Office-Geneva.

Docquier, Frédéric (2006): Brain drain and inequality across nations, IZA Discussion Papers, No. 2440, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn.

Mohammad Reza Iravani (2011). Brain Drain problem: a review. International Journal of Business and Social Science Volume 2 No. 15, Aug. 2011.

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