A very interesting article in Foreign Policy magazine this week discusses studies that suggest the “brain drain” phenomenon may not be so detrimental to developing countries after all. Brain drain refers to the flight of human capital from developing countries to developed countries; in other words, it refers to the migration of educated elites (notably doctors) from countries like Nigeria to the U.S. primarily for economic opportunities and political stability. At first glance, brain drain seems to cripple developing countries. For example, in Sierra Leone after the Civil War, there were just three doctors for every 100,000 people (the U.S. has 230 doctors for every 100,000 people) and there were just a couple of psychologists left in the country. Most professionals had fled the onslaught and moved abroad. What is a country to do without doctors to heal the sick, and psychologists to manage the trauma of a terribly brutal war?
Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development argues that brain drain does not create a shortage of medical professionals in developing countries, because those very same professionals pursue medicine looking for opportunities to migrate anyway. How then, does Clemens account for the fact that mass exoduses of education professionals occur during times of turmoil and uncertainty?
The most compelling argument for the benefits of brain drain is that migrants from developing countries often make contributions to their home countries either in the form of remittances or by returning home with valuable skills and experiences accrued abroad.