Brain Drain - Do we have to protect developing countries from emigration?

A country at the edge of collapse. Bulgaria is losing its young population. Between 1990 and 2007 about one million people left the country. Since joining the European Union (EU) about 30,000 people have been emigrating every year. Besides demographic problems especially the highly skilled are leaving. The so-called Brain-Drain, the emigration of a country‘ elites, is threatening developing countries. Does it?


Brain-Drain is defined as a large-scale emigration of political, intellectual and economic elites. They move abroad to earn higher wages and to enjoy a better lifestyle. However, due to the emigration of doctors and teachers public infrastructure is deteriorating. The economy is lacking well-educated staff. Migrants take their savings with them. Therefore, desperately needed investments leave the country as well. Domestic demand is sinking. Capital is lost. Moreover, modern values such as democracy or the equality of men and women are lost as well. Some scientists such as Paul Collier from the University of Oxford argue for measures to prevent emigration. Some sort of national protectionism to develop a country.  


A wide range of factors contradict this position. In many cases especially those elites emigrate who are only available to the origin country’s rich population. The Bulgarian doctors who have foreign language skills and can compete on the international labor market are too expensive for the majority. Their migration does not affect society in general.


Migration also creates another mechanism: Brain-Gain. The country of origin also gains ressources. First, migrants receive extra qualifications abroad. The Bulgarian doctor works in Switzerland with the best medical equipment and learns up-to-date treatment techniques. The newly acquired knowledge is transported to Bulgaria, e.g. via lectures or return migration. Second, migrants invest in their country of origin and strengthen economic ties. An engineer opens a business and imports goods from France. Third, values acquired abroad such as environmental protection are transferred back home. Modern digital media makes this process easier and faster. The diaspora has played an important role in democratization processes all over the world. Moreover, as migrants earn more money abroad, a share is sent back to family members or are invested. Remittances are an important economic stimulus in many developing countries. If they are invested in the young generation’s education the general level of education is lifted as well.


Brain-Drain’s effects are not as cristal clear as they seem. It remains uncertain how Bulgaria will develop. Already today about 10,000 people are immigrating every year. Maybe migration does make sense after all.


You can find more information about this topic in "Grenzenlos - Warum wir illegale Migration neu denken müssen"