Candan, M./Hunger, U.: Brain drain and brain gain, 2013

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Over decades it was a dominating theory in the field of migration research that the emigration of highly qualified employees from developing countries to developed countries is a loss for the economies and societies of the developing countries (so called brain drain). The argumentation was that the emigration of the very best leads to mitigation of innovation and development in country of origin.After the turn of the millennium, the view gained increasing acceptance that emigration of highly qualified from developing countries to developed countries does not only have negative aspects. As soon as migrants establish themselves in the host country, reach high positions in their occupational field, gain competences and accumulate capital, they start to transfer their knowledge and capital to their home countries. Therefore, the initially occurring brain drain turns into a gain (so called brain gain) for the country of origin (Hunger 2000; Van Hear 2003; Thränhardt 2005).

The development of India is an ideal typical example for this phenomenon. India was hit by a large brain drain in the 1970s and ‘80s. Hundreds of thousands of the highly skilled left the country towards North America and Europe. They were able to establish themselves successfully in their host countries. In the course of the economic opening of the counrty at the beginning of the 1990s many members of the Indian diaspora used their know-how, capital, and networks they built up in the countries of residence to invest in India. In doing so, they contribute to the development of the Indian economy. In particular, the development of the IT sector is a perfect example for a development from a brain drain to a brain gain. Indians who once left India for the US have started to build successful companies in the Silicon Valley and established branches of these companies in India. They took advantage of the more favorable production costs (especially labor force) to produce their goods in India, and sold them on the US market. In the meantime, India is leading in the IT sector worldwide. More than half of the IT companies in India were founded by Indians in the USA or, at least, are managed by them. More than two third of their gains are generated in the US market (Hunger 2004).

The Indian government is aware of this trend, and has already initiated an active policy to stimulate the brain gain of their highly skilled expatriates. The “Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs” (MOIA) was established in 2004. The MOIA “focuses on developing networks with and amongst Overseas Indians with the intent of building partnership with the Diaspora” (MOIA 2013). Moreover, Indians abroad gained special legal status by the Indian government. One of these legal statuses is the “Non Resident Indian” (NRI). Another one is the status of “People of Indian Origin” (PIO). These two statuses mark quasi dual citizenship (see Naujoks 2013). Furthermore, Indians who gained one of these two statuses benefit from many legal as well as investment appreciations. In addition, there exist different state policies to facilitate investments (Hunger 2004).

Several sectors followed the example of the IT sector. Doctors, for example, who previously emigrated to the USA and Great Britain, returned to India and built hospitals there. Scientists, who do research in the field of biotechnology, also returned to India to found companies. Every year, many million members of the Indian diaspora transfer billions of US-Dollars as remittances to their country of origin. The annual amount of remittances is constantly rising; for instance from $53.6 billion in the fiscal year of 2009/10 to $55.6 billion in 2010/11, and to $66.1 billion in 2011/12 (Daily News 2013).

This transformation from brain drain to brain gain is not a unique or isolated process in India. Similar trends can be observed in other developing and emerging countries, which formerly suffered from a large emigration of its highly qualified (brain drain), and now are trying to benefit from their offshore population (brain gain). East Asian migration to the United States, for example, which started already in the 19th century, is still increasing and plays an important role in the developing process of these countries. Asian immigrants surpassed even Latin American immigration in 2012 (see New York Times 2012). Many of the Asian immigrants come as natural science students and stay as successful members of upper-middle class in the United States. At the same time, they contribute to the development of their home countries over generations: There are high return rates to Korea, large remittances to China and the Phillipines (China is the second and the Phillipines is the fourth largest recipient country of remittances next to India and Mexico) (World Bank 2012a: 2), and a wide transfer of technology to Taiwan (Lucas in World Bank 2001). This trend seems not to decrease, but rather increase in the future. Collectively, worldwide remittances ($372 billion in 2011), for example, constitute an important proportion of the GDP of many emerging countries and exceed, for example, the amount of the official worldwide development aid ($135 billion in 2011) (World Bank 2011).

Supranational institutions have discovered the phenomenon brain drain to brain gain too. United Nations (UN), the African Union (AU) and the European Union (EU), for example, have certain programs or initiatives dealing with the topic brain drain and brain gain too. The UN is organizing every year the “Global Forum on Migration and Development” (GFMD). The AU is considering the African Diaspora as the “sixth region” of Africa. There are more than 3,5 million people of African origin living in Europe (World Bank 2012b).

In the EU there are even active efforts to accelerate this process. Many national and supranational programs were started and many institutions were founded to involve in Europe located diasporas in development related projects as well as to support their own developmental projects over the last years. The “Africa and Europe in Partnership” initiative of the European Union and the African Union is one example for a transnational migration-development program. Furthermore, the EU is financing many institutions working in the field of diaspora and development – such as “The African Diaspora Policy Centre” (ADPC) based in the Netherlands. The aim of these programs and institutions is to support development related engagement of diasporas from developing countries based in Europe. Also, the EU actively facilitates the process of “brain circulation.” Europe’s strategy of brain circulation includes the permission of highly qualified migrants to enter the EU for different purposes: further training, education, and temporary employment – including the idea to stay there for a limited period of time and then to return to their country of origin with their gathered know-how, capital and networks.

The engagement is not limited to the EU administration. Also European nation states, such as France and Germany have introduced special measures and institutions to promote brain gain. In France, a Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-development was established in 2007, which pushes the topic “diaspora and development” through various programs and initiatives. In Germany, the “Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit” (GIZ) has introduced several programs and initiatives to foster brain circulation and initiate so called triple-win-programs (all parties involved supposed to benefit from the diaspora engagement: migrant communities, host countries and the home countries (see

Marocco can be seen as an important example for development cooperation between the European countries and Africa (de Haas 2007). Especially France and Germany, where almost 1.3 million migrants with a Moroccan heritage live, support development related activities of Moroccan diaspora organizations. Most of these projects are based on education and basic infrastructure in rural areas in Morocco. Furthermore, the vast majority of annual remittances (estimated $6.7 billion in 2007 – nine percent of the Moroccan GDP in 2007) where sent by the Moroccan diaspora in Europe (Metzger/Schüttler/Hunger 2010).

In addition to supranational and national efforts, also local state institutions recognized the potential role of highly skilled migrants in the development of their sending countries, and therefore try to encourage them to be engaged in developmental projects. Results of research studies have illustrated that larger cities in Germany, such as Munich or Stuttgart, have incorporated migrants in various development programs, such as town twinning projects or other public-private partnerships in developing countries. At this, it became evident that especially highly skilled and well integrated migrants do not break up connections to their home countries but rather become actively involved in development projects (Hunger/Metzger/Krannich 2011).

Another current example is the Iraqi diaspora in Europe. Main host countries of Iraqi migrants in Europe are Great Britain (estimated 400,000 British-Iraqis), Sweden (120,000), Germany (110,000) and the Netherlands (50,000). Since the overthrow of the dictatorship in Iraq in 2003, members of the Iraqi diaspora are directly involved in the reconstruction process through remittances, direct investments, and lobbying activities in the host countries as well as through temporary or permanent returns to Iraq. Iraqi migrants, who returned to their home country, assume important positions in economy, politics, and administration. Many ministers of the government (e.g. the current Iraqi secretary of state returned from Great Britain), mayors of larger cities (mayor of the city Erbil in northern Iraq remigrated from Germany), artists, journalists, and consultants in Iraq are former members of the Iraqi diaspora in Europe. Therefore, they performed a profound role in the process of political, economic, and socio-cultural reconstruction in Iraq. The Iraqi government is aware of the potentials of its diaspora for the reconstruction process (Candan 2013a). At the beginning of 2012, the Iraqi Ministry for Migration implemented a returnee program to attract highly skilled diaspora members especially residing in Europe and in the United States to return to Iraq. According to the same Ministry more than 2,400 doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and artists have returned to Iraq between January 2012 and January 2013. Due to the success of this program, the government has provided for the year 2013 about $86 million. The funds will support the return and integration of highly skilled diaspora members and their families into the Iraqi society (Al-Qaisi 2013). Furthermore international organizations such as the UN and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have recognized the potentials of the Iraqi diaspora for the development of Iraq and encourage the involvement of the diaspora through the “Iraqis rebuilding Iraq” program (Candan 2013b).

In summary, there is an evident trend of highly skilled migration from a clearly negative (brain drain) to a more optimistic valuation (brain gain), whereas the exact connection between migration and development is not explored sufficiently yet. Nevertheless, emigration of highly qualified from least-developed countries is still perceived as a very problematic issue. A concrete example is the emigration of Malawi doctors to Great Britain. There are more doctors from Malawi in Manchester than in Malawi itself (The Economist 2004). Finally, it is questionable if emigration of highly qualified from least-developed countries is still not positive in the long term for the countries of origin. More research is needed.


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Menderes Candan, PhD student at the Institute for Political Science, University of Muenster and Fellow of the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation, Bonn.

Uwe Hunger, Private lecturer at the Institute for Political Science, University of Muenster. He holds currently a temporary professorship for Political Science and Sociology at the University of Osnabrück, 2013