Understanding the gift of brain drain


By Zaira Zafroon

(Chair of Communications  South Asia Students for Liberty)


The idea that skilled labor immigration from underdeveloped or developing countries is bad for the economy of their country of origin and only benefits the developed countries is deeply rooted in the minds of the people. This migration has been known as ‘brain drain’ for decades and even seems justified – on paper. The justification for this argument is that the country of origin spends significant amounts of resources to train and educate its people. When people move to a different country, these resources are gone from the country without any beneficial return to the economy. The real economic conditions, however, paint a completely different picture.


Firstly, the brain drain argument does not consider the fact that labor migrants send remittances home. Most people who migrate, leave family members behind and they send money back for their livelihoods. The money that comes boosts the economy of their country of origin. In Bangladesh, one of the major sources of foreign currency has been the money the migrant workers send as remittance. In a 2011 study, about African doctors who are working in the United States and Canada, showed that these doctors send more money home than the money invested in their education by the country of origin. So, the return on investment is actually higher than it is thought to be.


Secondly, Labor migration increases the number of educated individuals and skilled laborers in a country. The decision of educating a child depends on economic calculation. When the parents understand that the educated or skilled children, could earn more money than the amount which is spent on their education they chose to invest the money in their child’s future. Most developing countries can not fund their education let alone fund the high salary the skilled laborers would expect. In such a situation, migration is a blessing in the sense that parents pour money into the economy by educating their children so that they have a shot at migrating and sending in more revenue.The parents some time take up loans to educate their children. They only take up these loans when they know for certain that their children can have better lifestyle and more economic gain. In most third world countries this is possible through migration. Philippines and Fiji are two of the countries which has seen a positive effect on their level of education due to skilled labor migration


Thirdly, migrants often act as a bridge between economies of two countries. A 2014 study by the World Bank shows that the presence of migrants from Africa in a country increases exports from their country of origin to their country of residence. Developing countries often have weaker economy and infrastructure. The migrant’s connection in this case provides a guarantee that the foreign investors can trust the developing countries – which also helps to grow their economy.


One of the moral ground on which people oppose migration is that it only benefits the developed country and never the developing country. This deep-rooted belief has been made famous by word of mouth and strong campaigning. The facts on the other hand are completely contrary. GIving people an opportunity to find better futures for themselves does not equate to stealing from their home country and the above discussion proves that point.

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