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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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  • Michael Clemens, 2009. "Skill Flow: A Fundamental Reconsideration of Skilled-Worker Mobility and Development," Working Papers 180, Center for Global Development.
  • Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:180
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    Cited by:

    1. Michael Clemens, 2010. "A Labor Mobility Agenda for Development," Working Papers 201, Center for Global Development.
    2. Michael A. Clemens, 2014. "Does development reduce migration?," Chapters, in: Robert E.B. Lucas (ed.), International Handbook on Migration and Economic Development, chapter 6, pages 152-185, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    3. Antwi, James & Phillips, David C., 2013. "Wages and health worker retention: Evidence from public sector wage reforms in Ghana," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 102(C), pages 101-115.
    4. John Gibson & David McKenzie, 2011. "Eight Questions about Brain Drain," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 107-128, Summer.
    5. Driouchi, Ahmed, 2014. "Evidence and Prospects of Shortage and Mobility of Medical Doctors: A Literature Survey," MPRA Paper 59322, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    6. Michael Clemens, Colum Graham, and Stephen Howes, 2014. "Skill Development and Regional Mobility: Lessons from the Australia-Pacific Technical College - Working Paper 370," Working Papers 370, Center for Global Development.
    7. Michael A. Clemens & Colum Graham & Stephen Howes, 2015. "Skill Development and Regional Mobility: Lessons from the Australia-Pacific Technical College," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 51(11), pages 1502-1517, November.
    8. Lucrezia Fanti & Marcelo C. Pereira & Maria Enrica Virgillito, 2022. "The North-South divide: sources of divergence, policies for convergence," DISCE - Quaderni del Dipartimento di Politica Economica dipe0027, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Dipartimenti e Istituti di Scienze Economiche (DISCE).
    9. Kelly Jones, 2014. "Growing Up Together: Cohort Composition and Child Investment," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 51(1), pages 229-255, February.
    10. Kristina A. Schapiro, 2009. "Migration and Educational Outcomes of Children," Human Development Research Papers (2009 to present) HDRP-2009-57, Human Development Report Office (HDRO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), revised Oct 2009.
    11. Michael A. Clemens, 2011. "Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 25(3), pages 83-106, Summer.
    12. Syed Zwick, Hélène, 2019. "Motivation - Opportunity - Ability Nexus: Application to Regional Central Asian Student Mobility," MPRA Paper 93051, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Adriana Jaramillo & Alan Ruby & Fabrice Henard & Hafedh Zaafrane, 2011. "Internationalization of Higher Education in MENA : Policy Issues Associated with Skills Formation and Mobility," World Bank Publications - Reports 19461, The World Bank Group.
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    16. Michael Clemens, 2015. "Global Skill Partnerships: a proposal for technical training in a mobile world," IZA Journal of Labor Policy, Springer;Forschungsinstitut zur Zukunft der Arbeit GmbH (IZA), vol. 4(1), pages 1-18, December.
    17. Ted Davis & David M. Hart, 2010. "International Cooperation to Manage High‐Skill Migration: The Case of India–U.S. Relations," Review of Policy Research, Policy Studies Organization, vol. 27(4), pages 509-526, July.
    18. Michael Clemens, 2014. "Does Development Reduce Migration? - Working Paper 359," Working Papers 359, Center for Global Development.
    19. Alessandra Venturini, 2012. "Methodological Aspects of Research on Flows Human Capital Flows: A survey," RSCAS Working Papers carim2012/01, European University Institute.
    20. Mariele Macaluso, 2022. "The influence of skill-based policies on the immigrant selection process," Economia Politica: Journal of Analytical and Institutional Economics, Springer;Fondazione Edison, vol. 39(2), pages 595-621, July.
    21. Carren Ginsburg & Philippe Bocquier & Donatien Beguy & Sulaimon Afolabi & Orvalho Augusto & Karim Derra & Frank Odhiambo & Mark Otiende & Abdramane B. Soura & Pascal Zabre & Michael White & Mark Colli, 2016. "Human capital on the move: Education as a determinant of internal migration in selected INDEPTH surveillance populations in Africa," Demographic Research, Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany, vol. 34(30), pages 845-884.
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    24. Anda David & Mohamed Ali Marouani, 2013. "International Labor Mobility and Employment Interactions in Tunisia," Working Papers 804, Economic Research Forum, revised Nov 2013.

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    More about this item

    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;
    All these keywords.

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • J24 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demand and Supply of Labor - - - Human Capital; Skills; Occupational Choice; Labor Productivity
    • O15 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Development - - - Economic Development: Human Resources; Human Development; Income Distribution; Migration

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