<B>Brain drain</B>

Rafael Pampillón. Director. Area Economic Environment. Instituto de Empresa

18 May 2005

The brain drain is nothing new; people have always been lured across borders by fatter paychecks. But globalization is making it worse.

The World Congress on Human Movement and Immigration, which took place as a part of Forum 2004, warned of the African export of professionals. According to Aderanti Adepoju, Director of the Centre for the Development of Human Resources in Lagos, Nigeria, 125,000 African professionals now work abroad. The figure represents a brain drain that is leaving the continent without qualified workers. On the other hand, a report by Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México indicates that from 1980 to 1998, the Mexican government spent $400 million on doctorates for 1,700 students in the United States – and less than one-quarter of them returned.

The brain drain benefits almost exclusively the United States. Rather than import brains, other developed countries suffer the same drainage problem. More than 400,000 scientists born in Europe now work in America. This figure represents 40 percent of the researchers currently employed there. Of the 15,000 Europeans who completed their doctorates in the United States, 11,000 chose to stay. The EU is trying to stop the leakage, focusing in particular on researchers who emigrate to the U.S. Accordingly, it has launched several initiatives aimed at making European Community research centres a real and attractive alternative. This policy for repatriating researchers is part of the so-called Lisbon strategy. Adopted by the EU in 2000, it set the objective of becoming the world’s most competitive economy by 2010.

Virtual mobility

In poor countries the problem is even worse. Jamaica, for example, a country closely linked to Britain and the United States, is a particular case: 77 percent of its talent are expatriates. The rate in Ghana is also high: 26 percent. The developing countries of Asia lie within a range running from 5 percent in India and China to 15 percent in South Korea; the Philippines stand in the middle, at 10 percent. Iran has 25 percent of its graduates living and working abroad. South Korea, which in the 1980s managed to bring back two-thirds of its scientists who completed their doctorates in the United States, now has thousands of unemployed graduates, who are of course applying for visas to emigrate to America. The same is happening to computer engineers in India. Thousands of highly qualified Argentineans are fleeing their country as a result of its economic crisis and finding places in Italy and Spain. Seventy percent of Peruvians who get their doctorates in the U.S. try to stay and work there. These are examples of the brain drain which is bleeding countries of origin to death.

Recently however, we have begun to witness a phenomenon that is changing the brain-drain problem: globalization is providing the more capable scientists and experts with greater virtual mobility. This removes pressure for the need for physical movement. There is no longer any reason for the brain to move to another country to find a job with better pay. Teleworking makes is possible to work for the U.S., or for any country in the EU, right from one’s home. At the same time, the phenomenon of delocalization means that many multinationals are establishing offices in developing countries, which leads to opportunities for local brains.

Thanks to the Internet, thousands of Russian computer engineers work remotely for multinationals. Eight million people are creating and maintaining software in India, which represents $8 billion per year in exports to customers all over the world. But to work remotely, telecommunications infrastructures are essential (what is known in the trade as collectivity). In some cases, such as Ghana, these infrastructures are financed by the companies contracting the services in question.

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