Brain Drain or Brain Gain?

For a long time, received wisdom held that migration of skilled professionals out of the developing world was damaging to poor countries. Wealthy countries gained, developing countries didn’t. Africa was hit especially hard by labor migration.

Or was it?

New research indicates that labor migration benefits the developing world, and not just through remittances that are sent home.  Blog posts today from Aid Watch and Owen Barder highlight new thinking on labor migration and its benefits. On Aid Watch, Laura Freschi identifies for benefits from labor migration: gains to migrants, gains to their families, the benefit to poor countries when skilled professionals return home with useful background, and the incentive labor migration represents for higher education. Barder frames it as a trade issue “…preventing people from developing countries from accessing the labour market in developed countries impoverishes poor nations in a the same way as preventing access to our markets for goods and services.”

To back up his argument, Barder links to a Foreign Policy article from 2009 on labor migration. It’s a very readable and convincing piece that argues labor migration benefits both emigrant and immigrant countries. Freschi offers a new paper by Bill Easterly and Yaw Nyarko, entitles “Is the brain drain good for Africa?” I was especially impressed by the paper’s argument for labor migration as an incentive for skill accumulation.

In my own opinion, it’s time we started respecting the benefits of labor migration to all countries involved. And it’s not just an economic issue – in addition to the benefits identified by everyone I’ve listed above, it’s hard to ignore the human rights aspect of allowing people to make their own labor choices from as many options as possible.