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Brain Drain Causes and Effects

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Published: Tue, 11 Jul 2017

Many developing countries continually lose a significant number of high-level educated workers, especially scientists, engineers, academics, and physicians, who decide to move and stay abroad in more developed countries. While the face of immigration often potrayed in the media and thought by the society is done by low-skill workers with low wages, the majority of documented immigration is actually done by the high-skilled workers and high-level educated workers. This phenomenon is called human capital flight or more commonly referred to as brain drain. Brain drain is the emigration of highly educated and skilled professionals in search of higher income and a better standard of living, among a host of other reasons, from the developing countries (Africa, South-East Asia countries, etc) to the developed one (United States, United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, etc.). Brain drain phenomenon is closely related to the agglomeration, a situation in which the population is centralized in the urban area because of the people are looking for a more promising condition. One of the difference between brain drain and agglomeration is that the agglomeration occurs in only one country, whereas the brain drain is happening around the world involving many countries.

Several studies indicate that this brain drain phenomenon has become a common trend in the developing countries. From the data computed by B.I. Logan from the book “The Reverse Transfer of Technology from Sub-Saharan Africa to the United States”, it is known that between 1974 and 1985 in Africa, an average of 12.416 technical and professional personnel per year were admitted to the United States from various contries in Africa. And according to the World Bank Group, nearly 70.000 of high-level educated workers in Africa leave their home countries to work in industrialized nations. Also, from the research conducted by UNCTAD, it is discovered that doctors, ICT expert, engineers and other experts from poor countries continue to move and stay to prosperous countries each year. This research is conducted every year in the 50 countries that are less developed, among other 8 countries in Asia, 33 countries in Africa, 8 islands and Haiti. It appears that the brain drain or the human capital flight from countries in the region continue to rise. In 1990, the brain drain was amounted to 16.5%. And now the number had risen to 21.4%. The number of highest brain drain is coming from Haiti which has lost 80% of educated and skilled workers. From the researches above, we know that the brain drain phenomenon occurs in many developing countries and this phenomenon can be very detrimental to the relevant countries.

In this essay, an attempt is made to answer the questions about what causes brain drain, what are the impacts of brain drain toward the developing countries, and whether the high level of education really has a positive relation with the tendency people to emigrate. In the second section we will discuss about theoritcal framework related to the brain drain phenomenon. Third section presents the relation of the actual data available with the causes and impacts of brain drain as a theory of brain drain and to prove the positive relation of brain drain phenomenon with level of education. The fourth section as the last section examines the conclusion of this essay.

The Theory of Brain Drain

Brain drain is the emigration of highly trained or educated workers from a particular country. Brain drain can be classified into three forms. The first form is “Primary External Brain Drain”, it happens when high-level educated workers leave their countries to go and work in the developed countries. The second form called “Secondary External Brain Drain”, it occurs when high-level educated workers leave their countries to and work in the other parts of the developing region. The last form is “Internal Brain Drain” , it is a condition when high-level educated workers are not employed in the correct field in their own country, or when they move from one sector to another sector in the country. This essay will analize the causes and the impacts from the first form of brain drain, which is the primary external brain drain.

There are two aspects of why educated and skilled people emigrate to other countries, the reasons can be from countries (living condition, political stability, level of crime, and opportunities) and individuals (education, family influence, and personal preference).

From Countries

  • Living Condition

Poor condition of home countries sometimes can be a trigger for people to emigrate. Many developing countries still have insufficient facilities to support the people, for exampe, the lack of adequate sanitation system that can be a major cause of disease. Inadequate infrastructure such as transportation system can also be a reason of the increasing number of people who move to developed countries as it can cause severe traffic congestion.

  • Political Condition

A stable condition of politic means a predictable political environment. Political instablity encourage workers to leave their home countries to a country which has a condusive condition to work or to run a bussiness. People also move to a more stable area to feel safe and comfortable. If the host countries have more stable politic, then this condition will become a pull factor from the host countries.

  • Level of Crime

Poverty and unemployment are common problems in most developing countries, they can create crimes. Robbery and theft rife in poor areas can cause huge losses to the society. Failure to overcome the crimes problem contributes to lower investment capital needed in the country. South Africa is one of the example of a country that has a high level of crime and it drives the people in the country to move to safer countries.

  • Opportunities

The main reason of why educated workers emigrate is simply because there is more opportunities to attain a better life in the host countries. Scarcity of jobs in their home countries encourage them to move and work abroad, and also the higher income that they can get in host countries.

From Individuals

  • Education

Education plays a big role in encouraging the brain drain phenomenon. Several studies reveal the positive relation between the education attainment of individual and his or her prosperity to emigrate. Individual with higher level of income face wider income differintials and higher probabilities in the developed countries than the people with lower level of education.

  • Family Inflluence

The opinion of the member of the family plays significant influence to make a decision to stay and work abroad, although it is not the main factor for the brain drainers. in addition to that, relatives who stay overseas can also be one of the reason for this brain drain.

  • Personal Preference

Sometimes, some workers have an ambition to improve their career abroad or to explore another countries. So that is why personal preference is one the causes of brain drain.

After analizing the causes of the brain drain phenomenon, we shall analize the impacts of brain drain toward the home countries. Brain drain can bring many disadvantages to the home countries. First, brain drain can weaken the employment structure, it is a major factor that inhibit the industry to move forward, because it will affect the performance of the home countries in term of economic growth. Second, the brain drain phenomenon is a vicious circle of underdevelopment, which brings shortage of educated and skilled workers in home countries. The educated and skilled workers have left from the origin countries to find a better opportunites in another countries.Third, the wider gap between rich and poor people. Fourth, it will waste the money of the origin countries, because they have spent a lot of money to educate the people to study abroad but instead of going back, the people work in the host countries. Fifth, the workers who emigrate will be replaced by expatriates with the same capabilities. But, they will ask for more expensive fees that leads to the inefficiency of the domestic economy. Sixth, brain drain causes a huge losses to the human capital. Education is one of the most important factor to improve the human capital. But as we know earlier, education has positive relation with the brain drain phenomenon. It means that the higher level of education that the workers achieved, the higher tendency of the workers to emigrate to more prosperous countries. Beside the disadvantages, brain drain can also bring advantages to force the economic growth of the home countries. Reverse brain drain happens in China and India, as they have high level of brain drain concentrarion. The advantages of the brain drain phenomenon are the international networking, the decreasing of unemployment level, the improving quality of human resources, the optimization of production capacity in the home countries, and the availability of alternate investment resources.

Critical Analysis

In the third section, we will examine the relation between the available data with the theory that is already mentioned above. The United States has been a favorite place for people to emigrate. In term of living condition, United States is known for having a very sound infratructure. Transportation system was well built as it has subway (underground rail) to facilitate the citizens if they want to go out. Opportunities to experience a better standard of living is easier to be achieved for educated people, because the salary of workers in the United States is relatively high in average compared with other countries. High income is one of the reason why people want to move far away from their origin countries, that is why, in this essay we will look closer at the brain drainers in the United States. The table 1 (appendix) shows about the number of immigrants to the United States according to the educational attainment for selected developing countries. This table considers as all foreign-born individuals who emigrate to the United States. Individuals who emigrated to the United States when they were children, and people who studied and graduated in the United States, or other things that are not related with the brain drain may still be included in this figure.

We can take an example to analize the causes of the brain drain to the United States. In 1990, Phillippines has the biggest number of immigrants to the United States in Asia and Pacific with 728.454 of total immigrants, 10.680 from primary or less, 224.700 from secondary, 493.074 from tertiary schoolinf level. This high number of immigrants is related to the increasing of the unemployment rate that happened in 1990 as we can look in the chart of the time series unemployment rate in Phillippines in the appendix. Unemployment rate is one of the indicators to show that there is lack of opportunities in a country. High level of unemployment rate can be a push factor for people to emigrate. So the reason of the high number of immigrants in Phillippines is relevant with the causes of the brain drain phenomenon mentioned above. Another example is from Mexico which contributed to the highest number of immigrants to the United States back in 1990. One of the reasons is the enactment of Immigration Act (November 29, 1990) which increased the limits on legal immigration to the United States. Mexican people has already emigrated to the United States before 1990, both docummented immigration and undocummented one. With the enactment of the Immigration Act, there were more immigrants coming from the Mexico. This condition means that political condition in the host countries also play a role in the increasing number of the brain drainers.

Another important fact that we can learn from the table 1 is that most of the immigrants with primary or even less level of education tend to contribute to the brain drain phenomenon in the United States at the least amount. From Asia and Pacific from 2.326.277 of total immigrants, only 95.320 of immigrants are from primary or less schooling level. Africa has the same pattern, from 127.853 of total immigrants, only 2.060 are from lowest level of education. North America and South America also have their lowest level of education as their least contributor to the emigration. From North America, only 436.420 immigrants from total 3.761.084 are from primary or less schooling level, an in South America, it is only 16.320 from total 616.040. Although the number of tertiary graduated immigrants is smaller than the secondary graduated immigrants in North and South America, we still can conclude that as people attain higher level of education the tendency to emigrate becomes stronger. People generally will search a higher income to accommodate their living. In this case, the high-level of educated workers mostly can get higher income in the developed countries. So education is one of the most important reasons to answer this brain drain phenomenon.

Conclusion

The high rate of the emigration of high-level educated workers from developing countries to the developed countries can inflict a huge financial losses to the home countries. Although this brain drain phenomenon also has a positive impacts to both host and home countries as explained in the third section, but the loss is even bigger.Thus, it is important to the home countries to find the solution to overcome this problem immediately.

The home countries could lower the power of the push factors that can cause people to move and stay abroad. These factors are the political instability, poor living conditon, and the high level of crime. Another way is to improve food security, education, healthcare, infrastructue, and other things that can motivate people to stay in those countries. In the previous section, we know from the data that the unemployment rate encourage brain drain in Phillipines. Unemployed people will seek an available opportunities in other countries. So it is necessary for the government in the Phillippines to boost the employment sector to create more job opportunities, in return the brain drainers in Phillippines will decrease. Another conclusion from the previous section is the positive relation between the brain drain phenomenon with the level of education. Higher level of schooling completed will lead to the higher tendency for people to emigrate. It can be stopped by giving the people an appropriate incentive that is competitive with another countries which means an upward salary adjustments.

Developing countries could also adopt the strategy of India and China to transform brain drain to brain gain which can be very beneficial to the home countirus. For example, Kerala (city in India) has produced millions of young professionals  to international destinations like the Gulf or Europe, where they can search for better income. Kerala’s economy has benefited greatly from the incomes sent home by remittances workers. So, to solve this problem, the leaders of the developing countries have to find proactive strategy to maintain the high educated and skilled workers to stay in the countries. Beside that, the leaders should nurture the nasionalism spirit to the citizens, so they have a willingness to develop their origin countries. As you know, the prevention efforts are actually work better than cure.


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