Published on People Move

"Brain drain" and the global mobility of high-skilled talent

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Since the 1960s, much of the literature on the development impact of migration has focused on ‘brain drain,’ the emigration of qualified professionals from developing countries and the subsequent loss of skills (which occurs faster than the replacement rate).

In the late 1990s, the literature shifted from brain drain to ‘brain gain,’ exploring the potential benefits of skilled migration arising from remittances, return migration, creation of trade and business networks, and the possible incentive effects of migration prospects on human capital formation at home.  You can see an extensive review of these issues here.

The questions related to the global mobility of high skilled workers can be grouped into two areas:

  1. Brain drain/gain, and the challenge of retaining and attracting high-skilled professionals such as doctors, scientists, and engineers; and
  2. The contribution of the diaspora in fostering the transfer of knowledge, technology, and finance, including remittances. ( link to

A new report from the U.S. Census Bureau on Educational Attainment states that “a larger percentage of foreign-born than native-born residents had a master’s degree or higher in 2007.”  Their numbers lead me to ask:

  • What are the challenges for the U.S. in developing, finding, and retaining talent?
  • Will foreign students continue to choose the U.S.  as a place to study or will they prefer other countries?


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice, World Bank

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