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Skill Flow: A Fundamental Reconsideration of Skilled-Worker Mobility and Development

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  • Michael Clemens

Abstract

Large numbers of doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers from developing countries choose to move to other countries. Do their choices threaten development? The answer appears so obvious that their movement is most commonly known by the pejorative term “brain drain.” This paper reconsiders the question, starting from the most mainstream, explicit definitions of “development.” Under these definitions, it is only possible to advance development by regulating skilled workers’ choices if that regulation greatly expands the substantive freedoms of others to meet their basic needs and live the lives they wish. Much existing evidence and some new evidence suggests that regulating skilled-worker mobility itself does little to address the underlying causes of skilled migrants’ choices, generally brings few benefits to others, and often brings diverse unintended harm. The paper concludes with examples of effective ways that developing countries can build a skill base for development without regulating human movement. The mental shift required to take these policies seriously would be aided by dropping the sententious term “brain drain” in favor of the neutral, accurate, and concise term “skill flow.”

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by Center for Global Development in its series Working Papers with number 180.

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Length: 49 pages
Date of creation: Aug 2009
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:180

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Web page: http://www.cgdev.org

Related research

Keywords: brain drain; migration; development; labor; education; developing; labor mobility; circular migration; higher education; university; training; skilled; high skill; talent; globalization; health workers; high tech; technology transfer;

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References

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Citations

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Cited by:
  1. Okeke, Edward N., 2013. "Brain drain: Do economic conditions “push” doctors out of developing countries?," Social Science & Medicine, Elsevier, vol. 98(C), pages 169-178.
  2. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2011. "Eight Questions about Brain Drain," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 1111, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
  3. Alessandra Venturini, 2012. "Methodological Aspects of Research on Flows Human Capital Flows: A survey," RSCAS Working Papers carim2012/01, European University Institute.
  4. Ratha, Dilip & Mohapatra, Sanket & Scheja, Elina, 2011. "Impact of migration on economic and social development : a review of evidence and emerging issues," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5558, The World Bank.
  5. C. Fritz Foley & William R. Kerr, 2011. "Ethnic Innovation and U.S. Multinational Firm Activity," NBER Working Papers 17336, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  6. Ibrahim Sirkeci & Jeffrey H. Cohen & Dilip Ratha, 2012. "Migration and Remittances during the Global Financial Crisis and Beyond," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 13092, August.
  7. Michael Clemens, 2014. "Does Development Reduce Migration? - Working Paper 359," Working Papers 359, Center for Global Development.

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