Working paper abstract


Global Migration of the Highly Skilled: A Tentative and Quantitative Approach

Theo Dunnewijk

Migration in a globalising world is on the increase, especially migration of the highly skilled. It is quite natural that given certain possibilities, people look for opportunities and chances to improve their lives. Especially when the better educated leave their country in large quantities to try their chances abroad it was labelled in the 1960’s as ‘brain drain’ stressing the negative welfare impact on the countries of origin (European at that time). However not always is the impact of migration negative for the country of origin and therefore ‘brain drain’ turned into ‘brain gain’ when it was seen from another perspective. Indeed destination as well as origin countries may profit from migrating highly skilled people. The road in the middle is called ‘brain strain’ emphasising that out migration can be either positive or negative for the origin countries. A synthesis has been found in perceiving migration of the highly skilled in the more neutral phrase ‘brain circulation’. Brain circulation perceives migration of the highly skilled not as an end in itself but as the start of a circular process in which everyone might be better off: in this view the knowledge worker in the age of globalisation turns into a real cosmopolite.

Despite an enormous literature on migration it is impossible to draw a systematic global quantitative picture of migration of the highly skilled. Therefore discussions in terms of brain drain, brain strain or brain circulation are either theoretical or end unresolved. Empirically only a part of the picture can be drawn with the help of data on South-North migration of the highly skilled. Data on other directions of migration like South-South and North- South is not systematically covered by the international statistical institutes. Given this situation it is the aim of this paper to include as many as possible countries in the data on migration of the highly skilled in order to illustrate the major effects related to migration for human capital in origin as well as destination regions. This is possible by using UNESCO data on international students; this source facilitates estimations of the missing migration flows. The results show that countries like Russian Federation, South Africa, Ukraine, Malaysia, Jordan and Saudi Arabia are, apart from the traditional immigration countries also important destination countries for highly skilled migrants.

Key words: Migration, Diaspora, Highly skilled migrants, Internationally Mobile Students.

JEL-code: F 22