Despite the amount of attention devoted to the "brain drain" in recent years, no firm consensus has emerged as to whether or not one exists. Today we know much more about the international migration of professional manpower than we did five, four or even three years ago. But the "more" we know is mainly facts, and not all that many; men still have difficulty saying what the facts mean and deciding whether or not the brain drain constitutes a problem of "disturbing dimensions"-as the Pearson Commission called it.
Instead of mass movements of relatively unskilled and untutored peoples into the world's empty spaces, international migration has increasingly become the movement of people with education seeking opportunities in more developed countries to use skills that education has given them. The dramatic increases in foreign study since World War II, the explosion of international communications and the decline in the cost of travel have combined to internationalize the market for educated manpower to a degree previously unknown. This widening of the market, combined with full employment in the West, has greatly increased competition for professional manpower, especially the competition for exceptional talent. For some employers, this international competition has brought trouble; for many individuals it has brought opportunity.
There can be no quarrel with the statement in the United Nations Report[i] that "highly trained personnel from many developing countries are emigrating to a few major developed countries, that the size of this flow is large and that it is increasing at a rapid rate." But there is great question whether this migration is seriously hurting the countries that are the net exporters of trained manpower. The surprising fact is that in most developing countries the number of professionally trained people who are becoming available for home employment is rising, not falling, and in country after country the numbers are rising faster than their economies can absorb them. One certainly cannot make this statement about all countries, or even all underdeveloped countries. But if we begin with the Big Picture about professional migration from the less developed world, it appears to be not a drain but an overflow. The less developed countries (LDCs) are not being stripped of manpower they badly need; more often than not they are being relieved of manpower they cannot use.
However, the loss of highly educated manpower is not a phenomenon that affects only the world's less developed countries. Britain has perhaps shown the greatest anxiety about the problem as a result of the large numbers of scientists, engineers and physicians who have migrated to the United States. Britain's vulnerability is mainly a matter of language. Norway and Switzerland are two other European countries that have lost quite substantial proportions of their annual output of professional manpower to North America. Canada's relation to the United States is much like Britain's: it loses large numbers to U.S. employers but gains large numbers from other Commonwealth countries and from several European countries as well. Canadian authorities, however, have been far less concerned than the British about emigration to the United States. In Europe many more countries have not suffered from a brain drain than have-e.g. France, Denmark, Finland, Sweden, West Germany, Spain, Italy and Jugoslavia. Japan, too, has suffered almost no losses of its high-level talent. Thus among the developed countries the broad picture is of a highly selective gross outflow of professionals in significant numbers from four or five European countries and from Canada, with the United States and Canada the main destinations. These gross losses are partially offset in Britain and Canada by substantial inflows from less developed Commonwealth countries (mainly India and Pakistan). In the six-year period 1961-66, Britain lost 26,800 scientists and engineers through emigration but gained 19,000 through immigration. What is more difficult to determine is the relative calibre of the two groups.
Students of the brain drain know that the statistics on international manpower flows are of limited help in telling us how serious the problem is. This is partly because the statistics themselves are not very good: they are reasonably good in the United States, Britain and Canada; far less satisfactory in France, West Germany and most other European countries; and unsatisfactory to hopeless in most developing countries. But even good statistics are of little use unless one knows what one is trying to measure. And in the brain-drain debate there is much ambiguity as to who is a "brain" and what is a "drain."
One thing numbers can tell us is that scientists, engineers and doctors ("professional manpower") do not constitute a large proportion of total immigration into the main brain-gaining country. The United States currently absorbs about 400,000 immigrants annually. Of this number some 60 percent are dependents, people "without occupation" who do not enter the U.S. labor market. Of the approximately 160,000 who do seek employment, between 15-20,000 are classified as scientists, engineers or physicians. Thus only about 4 percent of all immigrants, or 10-15 percent of those seeking work, possess high-level professional skills. These proportions are not very significant, however. They tell us nothing, for example, about how important these 15-20,000 professional immigrants are in augmenting the output of professional manpower from our own educational system; or whether the immigration of 49 Turkish doctors in 1968 represented a large or small proportion of Turkish medical graduates; or whether these doctors were likely to have found useful and satisfying employment had they remained in Turkey.
The statistics also show that the trend of professional immigration over the past two decades has indeed been "up"-but not as steadily or dramatically as might be thought. Figures that separate out professional immigrants from others began in 1949; there was a fairly steady rise from the 1,369 of that year to a peak of 6,046 in 1957. But then the figure declined for four years and did not exceed the 1957 figure until 1966. Substantially the same picture holds for doctors, with the figure staying close to 2,000 per year until it began to climb significantly in 1966. A strengthening of the trend during the past three years has caused considerable public concern. Immigration of scientists and engineers has shot up from the 6,000 level of 1963-65 to 7,205 in '66, 12,523 in '67 and 12,128 in the year ending June 30, 1968. Thus the last years of the 1960s have seen a 100 percent increase in the numbers of scientists and engineers entering the United States and about a 50 percent increase in the number of doctors, as compared with the late fifties and early sixties. These increases, however, are the direct result of changes in the U.S. Immigration Law which permitted people from countries with waiting lists to use quotas not fully taken up by other countries. The 1965 revision in the law represented the first stage in this country's change-over from a preference system based on national origins to preferences based on occupational qualifications. Since July 1, 1968, immigration into the United States has no longer been tied to nationality but has been on a first-come, first-served basis depending on a person's skills. (Admissions on the longstanding humanitarian grounds of family relationships, political asylum, etc., were largely unaffected.) The immediate result of this historic change has been (a) to hold down somewhat the number of professionals admitted from Europe (since few had been on waiting lists as long as many from small-quota countries), and (b) suddenly to open the doors to much larger numbers of professionals from Asia (Western Hemisphere countries had never been on a country-by-country quota basis and so were unaffected by the changes). As a result of this shift in U.S. immigration policy the number of Asian scientists and engineers immigrating to this country increased over tenfold between 1965 and 1967, from 360 to 4,160- exceeding for the first time those from Europe, traditionally the largest source. Most of these Asian immigrants (80 percent) were students already in the United States who were suddenly permitted by the new law to change their status from "temporary visitors" to "permanent residents" (immigrants).
Immigration by foreign students who adjust their status is not something that occurs only in the United States. Australia has estimated that perhaps 20 percent of the 12,000 Asian students studying there do not return home at the end of their studies. Canada is believed to show roughly similar experience with its foreign students, and in the absence of figures for other developed countries, we can perhaps assume losses on the same order of magnitude. However, these "loss" percentages are not nearly as significant as the absolute number of students who return home: this number has been rising rapidly as a result of the huge increase in the total number of overseas students.[ii]
Somewhat surprisingly, it appears that during the past two decades the number of foreign students who have been lost to their countries, and the number who have been returned, have both been increasing at a compound rate of 20 percent a year. In absolute terms this means that the numbers of science, engineering and medical graduates returning home-just from the five countries with the largest number of foreign students (see footnote 2)- has increased from 1,600 per year in 1950 to more than 20,000 per year today. And this takes no account of the increase in graduates produced locally.
If there were a general shortage of university graduates in professional fields in developing countries almost any loss by emigration would hurt. There are countries where professional graduates are desperately short- notably in some African countries south of the Sahara. But for every LDC with an overall shortage of professional manpower today there are probably two with surpluses, present or impending. The reason is simple: in country after country there is irresistible pressure to expand university education, and so many countries have found it possible to do this that the number of college graduates (including professional graduates) has been rising faster than their economies can absorb them. The last statement is important. If one looks at the pure "need" of an underdeveloped country for doctors and engineers and lawyers and agricultural extension agents and plant geneticists and economists and science teachers for secondary schools, etc., then it is easy to see shortages. But if you look at the number of unfilled jobs, or the number of university graduates who have difficulty finding what they consider acceptable employment, then surpluses often appear. So part of the argument over whether or not a brain drain exists depends on whether one looks at a society's "human needs" or an economy's "effective demand." Clearly the latter is the more relevant and realistic test to apply; the real question is how rapidly "effective demand" for high-level manpower can be made to grow. To ask this is to ask the riddle of development.
All this is not to say that development is not being hurt by the migration of key individuals. Gifted, educated, experienced leaders are scarce almost everywhere, including the United States. These are the brains that really count, because they have such high leverage. They are not to be defined in terms of genius or Nobel-laureate quality; but their number is only a small fraction (5-10 percent) of all professional migrants. They are the outstanding individuals who are unlikely to be satisfactorily replaced even if a country has dozens of men with the same educational qualifications waiting to apply for their posts if they leave. Much of Europe's concern about the brain drain focuses on its loss to the United States of this small class of "key men."
Loss of the key man does not show up in migration statistics. The only way to get at it satisfactorily is to make qualitative studies of important institutions, field by field and country by country, as a basis for judging whether or not those institutions have been seriously hurt by such losses or by inability to repatriate key men from abroad. No one has made such studies on more than a casual basis and it seems very improbable that anyone will. So all we can do is fall back on the assumption that migration of the critical élite would be roughly proportional to the total number of professional migrants. This would mean that losses of key men have risen as total migration has risen. These losses are considerably offset, however, by the rapidly growing supply of key men (albeit younger and less experienced) being generated by expanding education both at home and abroad.
Another person who does not show up in migration statistics is the returnee. Immigration statistics in many countries show numbers of immigrants by occupation and country of origin. But if a man subsequently decides to return home, this is not recorded. It is known, however, that substantial numbers of professional people do in fact return to their countries of origin after working abroad for varying periods (often in the country of foreign education). Such returnees not only reduce the gross outflows reported in official statistics but often their qualitative importance is great: such individuals return not only with foreign education but with experience, outlooks and access to foreign influences they could not have acquired at home. These return flows appear to be fairly sensitive to fluctuations in economic and political conditions and to the development of well-designed "recapture" programs. This means identifying key nationals working abroad, offering them specific job opportunities and providing expenses of return travel. Thus a not insignificant amount of emigration appears to be temporary; and from this "bank" of human resources overseas (perhaps initially unusable at home) withdrawals may automatically occur if home conditions change for the better.
Let us briefly examine emigration in five developing areas:
East and Southeast Asia
Study of high-level migration from seven Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand) shows three of them to be "losers" and four not to be. During the past decade, emigration has been rising, quite significantly, in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. But there is little evidence that these losses have had any significant effect on economic growth; indeed, among LDCs Taiwan and South Korea have been noted for their high growth rates. The underlying explanation of the emigration appears the same in all three countries: a growth in university graduates greater than their economies can absorb. In all three countries (and in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand also) the situation is expected to become worse, not better, because of insistent pressure for educational expansion. At bottom, therefore, the Asian brain drain is an overflow, not a drain. Government officials of affected countries acknowledge the emigration but have not considered it much of a "problem." To the extent governments do voice concern it is frequently more political than substantive-a reflection of frustration with the slow pace of development and a convenient issue with which to embarrass the United States.
Manpower losses have not yet affected Malaysia, Singapore or Thailand in any significant degree and government leaders are not yet concerned that the problem may arise, This unconcern is partly because their stocks of high-level manpower and their education systems are somewhat smaller than in the three "losing" countries, so that up to now their expanding economies have been able to absorb the rising supply of graduates. The low level of emigration from these three countries supports the view that, at least in Asia, emigration is primarily an overflow, not a drain.
Japan has no brain-drain problem of its own nor does it create one for its regional neighbors: it neither drains other Asians into its booming economy nor does it lose any significant numbers to the West. In this neutral experience, Japan illustrates perhaps better than any other country in the world the strength of cultural and linguistic barriers to international migration.
Perhaps 5-10 percent of India's high-level manpower has been permanently or temporarily diverted abroad. The order of magnitude represents the proportion of gross emigration of university-trained Indians with degrees comparable to European or reasonably good American degrees. There is no telling how many of the estimated 30,000 Indians abroad (mostly in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada) may eventually return to India. The best estimate is that something like 15 percent of India's annual output of high-level manpower goes abroad soon after graduation in pursuit of work or further study, and that something like 40 percent of these fail to return. The proportions vary considerably by field of study and by level of degree: the higher the level of study, the greater the loss (e.g. perhaps 10-20 percent of Indians with postgraduate degrees are today living and working abroad). The proportion of the new output of engineers who go abroad is today around 25 percent; of doctors, perhaps 30 percent. But these high figures represent little loss in view of the widespread unemployment among engineers and doctors in India. Over the next few years unemployment among educated Indians, including those in science, technology and medicine, is expected to rise, not fall. Consequently any brain drain that may be said to exist concerns only the normal shortage of exceptional people that exists in almost all countries. When specific Indian institutions (e.g. the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur) have developed careful arrangements to identify and to invite home outstanding individuals needed for specific critical openings, they have often been able to repatriate them even at India's much lower salaries.
There is practically no one, in India or outside, who feels that India's economic growth is being held back because the country has lost educated manpower. Indeed, government officials have more than once said they hoped that educated Indians in large numbers would not return, since the country has no way of putting them to work.
In Tanzania and Kenya, prior to independence, almost all high-level public and private posts were filled either by Europeans or by members of those countries' large Asian minorities. It was only after independence in the early 1960s that large numbers of Africans began to go abroad for higher education and the countries' own systems of secondary and higher education began their rapid expansions. A study of experience in retaining professional manpower in these two countries was made in 1967. It found practically no losses of African high-level manpower but substantial losses among Europeans and Asians, for political and social reasons internal to the host country. Thus East Africa (in which Uganda should also be included) is a region in which emigration has been fairly serious but has very little to do with the "creaming" of the country's educated manpower by the international labor market. The process of Africanization was not being held back by any serious reluctance of East Africans to return from foreign study or to remain after taking up employment at home.
The Middle East
Iran and Turkey are probably the two most interesting countries of the region from the point of view of talent migration. Both have had large numbers of students abroad (most of them self-financed), both have rapidly expanding university systems (although Turkey's is twice as large), and in both countries there has been desultory official and private concern about the brain drain. Both countries also display a phenomenon found in country after country, i.e. the piling up of professional manpower in the one or two largest cities, with consequent underemployment of some skills (notably medicine) and chronic difficulty in getting educated people to live and work in the provinces. Thus, Turkey and Iran, like many countries in Latin America, suffer from an internal brain drain which is larger and more serious than the external drain that has received all the attention. Finally, both Turkey and Iran provide excellent but isolated examples of well-designed, well-administered and largely successful programs to recapture nationals abroad for service in "modernized" domestic institutions, especially universities and hospitals.
Both Egypt and Israel have experienced relatively heavy numerical losses of educated manpower, but in neither country does this seem to have been an important drag on growth. Until very recently, Egypt firmly discouraged its professional manpower from leaving; but in the first half of this year it adopted a policy of openly encouraging educated people to emigrate. The brain drain seems neutral with respect to the development of both countries.
The Pan American Health Organization sponsored a study of emigration from Latin America to the United States, covering the period 1961-1965.[iii] The study found that, "There is no general drain of highly trained people from Latin American countries." In general, the brain drain has not been a source of tension with the United States, as it has been with some European countries, notably Britain. Some countries have been losing very few people: Mexico, Venezuela, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina and Chile among them. Nevertheless there have been some heavy losers-Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for example. During the six years studied, Latin America lost, on average, about 600 scientists, engineers and doctors each year, after subtracting returnees. Half of these were doctors, representing about one in twenty of all Latin American medical graduates each year. (These losses, however, were concentrated from eight medical schools in six countries.) Since many of these doctors (and some others) would not have found useful employment at home, their migration meant that "the United States gains more than they lose." Such remedial action as can be taken lies mainly with the "losing" nations, not with the United States. Since all countries are about equally "exposed" to U.S. influences, this differential impact suggests that the main explanation for high losses must be "attributable primarily to conditions in those countries."
The migration of highly educated, technical manpower will undoubtedly continue to worry governments and to threaten or injure employers throughout the world. But already concern for the problem is on the ebb-in Washington, in other capitals, even in the United Nations, where an emotional debate in 1964 launched the Secretary-General's study of the subject. The main conclusion of the best book on the subject is that if both the developed and developing countries concentrate on economic growth the brain drain will largely take care of itself.[iv] The outlook, therefore, is that little or nothing will be done by governments or by the United Nations to deal directly with the problem. Thus, half a decade of concern about the brain drain seems to be ending not with a series of proposals for reform but with a "decision by default" to enter the 1970s with the ground rules on migration left essentially unchanged in both gaining and losing countries.
The United Nations Report of November 1968 concluded with "no single, sweeping recommendation" and acknowledged that the relationship between emigration and economic development is not clear. However, on the assumption that emigration "may retard development," the Report offered a set of "preliminary guidelines"-e.g. the need for developing countries to adopt "relevant" science policies; to formulate educational and manpower policies "related more closely to their own needs;" to consider the establishment of overseas recruitment offices to repatriate highly trained nationals; to "study the effect which salary levels and related conditions have on the migration of talent and, where possible, to adjust salaries and enhance conditions of professional employment; and to improve statistical data on manpower needs and flows (especially on the return-flows, now largely terra incognita)." To developed countries profiting from inflows, the United Nations suggested that they "should feel a special obligation to help [the less developed] countries to improve conditions of education;" that they should conduct more of their own programs of research and development (e.g. in tropical agriculture and medicine) in "appropriate centres in developing countries;" that "consideration might be given . . . to establishing an international pool of skilled manpower for development" (supported by financial contributions from brain-gaining countries); that they should join with international agencies to "provide centres affording wider opportunities to scientists and other professional personnel for study and research . . . to reduce professional isolation in developing countries;" and that their universities "should be encouraged to develop policies of their own emphasizing the role of higher education in development" and should cultivate "affiliations" with universities in LDCs.
Neither the executive nor the legislative branch of the U.S. Government has felt it necessary to do anything to reduce immigration by tightening direct controls. Two and one-half years ago the Judiciary Committee of the Senate heard Assistant Secretary of State Charles Frankel review a number of suggested changes in U.S. immigration policy and regulations. The main thrust of Mr. Frankel's testimony was on the need to harmonize the economists' concern for the manpower requirements of developing countries with the humanists' concern for personal freedom and mobility. He declined, for example, to recommend that the United States withdraw its occupational preference system from countries which need the same skills we are seeking, since we cannot set ourselves up as a worldwide judge of every country's skill requirements and since such a policy would call for a complicated new set of international agreements. He demurred at the suggestion that we restrict the privilege of our many "temporary visitors"-exchange visitors, students and temporary workers-to adjust their visas to immigrant status. "Visa-adjustment immigration," he argued, is such a small part of the brain drain to the United States that it would do little good in return for the new restrictions it would impose. Frankel also came out against a related proposal that would tighten up on the existing obligation of certain categories of visitors to leave the United States for two years before qualifying for visa-adjustment as "permanent residents." (Such people might, for example, be required not merely to leave the United States but to return to their home countries; or the waiting-period might be lengthened from two to four years.) Finally, Mr. Frankel chose not to take any position on the proposal that all foreign students in the United States be subjected to this requirement.
In sum, Frankel objected to all the major specific changes that had been proposed and came forward with no new ones of his own. The main "causes" of emigration from developing countries, he felt, lay in the "push" factors found in those countries, and the most important thing the United States could do to help was to continue and to expand its foreign assistance for institution-building, particularly the building of research and educational institutions capable of attracting and holding professional people. As for the special problem of medical doctors, Mr. Frankel acknowledged that the United States should indeed expand its own training programs.[v] The one Congressional subcommittee that conducted staff studies of the problem in recent years made several recommendations, not one of which aroused any interest in Congress.
One of the more interesting proposals that has been heard among a few economists is that brain-gaining countries should compensate losing countries for the costs involved in producing this "export." Is it not grossly unfair that Egypt or India should invest the equivalent of $20- 40,000 in producing a doctor, engineer or physicist only to have him emigrate before he repays his country, in the form of services rendered, for the costs of his expensive education? While a good case can be made for this view on grounds of equity and logic, no one has made any specific proposals. I doubt that such a scheme could be made administratively feasible or that it could overcome the fatal appearance of requiring immigrants to buy their freedom.
A two-year study by Education and World Affairs[vi] concluded that it would be a mistake to try to reduce international migration either by tightening up controls on immigration or emigration or by slowing down production in the educational systems of developing countries-the two main categories of brain-drain proposals. Instead, the EWA study emphasizes that the brain- losing countries' top-priority task is to improve the conditions under which the "critical élite" are expected to work. Political, administrative and institutional leaders in developing countries must realize that professional men normally have dual loyalties, divided between their country and their intellectual and professional careers. Losses of key professional leaders will continue unless the conditions of work in their countries can satisfy such elemental needs as minimum salary requirements to permit full-time employment, recognition of individual talent and creativity, adequate progression through career channels, increased labor mobility and opportunities to maintain and cultivate contacts with professional counterparts abroad. The EWA viewpoint amounts to saying that professional men the world over have much the same requirements for job satisfaction and, unless the traditional cultures and pay scales of many brain-losing countries (developed and less developed alike) can adapt to these requirements, then, in Kenneth Boulding's phrase, high-level manpower with "get-up-and-go will get up and go."
"Stopping migration is not a rational goal," as a Senate subcommittee was reminded in 1967 by Dr. C. V. Kidd, chairman of the EWA study. On the contrary, migration is "good" and more migration is "better"-within limits. Any change in laws and regulations affects in some way the settings on the valves that regulate the amount and direction of migration. But within the limits defined by how the valves are set at any time, the volume of migration will be determined by a complex mixture of "push" and "pull" forces. A major lesson of recent research is an increased respect for the strength of non-salary considerations underlying migration, particularly those related to the working conditions of professionals in their home countries. The more important of these factors are weak budgetary support for research; traditionally hierarchic status systems in academic and governmental institutions which deny satisfying opportunities to able younger men; the poverty of intellectual stimulation (poor libraries, weak professional associations, inability to secure foreign journals, rare opportunities for foreign travel) which creative minds require; career insecurity resulting from political intrusions at the personal and institutional levels; and unemployment and underemployment. These domestic forces ("push forces") would be operative even if there were no salary differentials to throw into the balance. One of the most important conclusions to come out of the EWA research is that countries can withstand quite considerable salary differentials if these other factors are favorable.
The central problem in helping developing countries retain their high-level manpower is to combine respect for individual freedom with the need to minimize the emigration of key people. There is great reluctance in both developed and developing countries to attack the problem directly through tightening controls on emigration or immigration. There is growing awareness that an indirect approach, one focused on causes instead of symptoms, can be effective: poor countries can compete-because most men have strong ties to their own countries. But many countries need help-and nudging-before they will be in a position to profit from the basic loyalty of their professionals.
Among the problems needing attention if brain-losing countries are to compete more effectively for professional manpower are the following: improving counseling services for foreign students before and after arrival in their country of study; assisting in the establishment of more effective "recapture" mechanisms for institutions and countries interested in repatriating nationals studying or working abroad; greatly increasing the U.S. output of medical personnel; experimenting with new health-delivery systems in poor countries to reduce the largely futile dependence on overtrained physicians who, quite understandably, will not live out where most of the people are; assisting-as we have been doing for years, but with more variety and money-the building up of foreign institutions that can offer satisfying careers to the key individuals who count so heavily. These reforms-not reforms in migration controls-are the kinds of things to focus on if we wish to put the brain drain in perspective. In short, we can afford to be relatively relaxed about migration but not to be complacent about its causes.
[i] "Outflow of Trained Personnel from Developing Countries." Report of the Secretary-General, United Nations General Assembly, 5 NOV. 1968, 85 p. (mimeo A/7294).
[ii] Between 1938-39 and 1968-69 the number of foreign students in the United States rose nearly 20 times, from 6,000 to about 110,000. The number from the LDCs increased from 3,300 to 70,000-or 22 times. In the same period the number of foreign students in the United Kingdom rose from around 600 to 73,000 (of whom 54,000 are from the LDCs). In 1951 Germany had about 100 foreign students in its universities; fifteen years later it had 31,000. France in 1950 had "a few hundred;" by 1965 it had 18,500, preponderantly from Africa. Australia, which had a negligible number of foreign students in 1945-50, had 12,000 Asians by 1966.
[iii] "Migration of Health Personnel, Scientists and Engineers from Latin America." Pan American Health Organization, Scientific Publication No. 143 (Report prepared by Dr. C. V. Kidd). Washington: September 1966. 118 p.