Disruptive migration of trained personnel

Experimental visualization of narrower problems
Other Names:
Brain drain
Human capital flight
Loss of human resources to other countries
Skilled labour drain
Non-return of students studying in foreign countries
Excessive emigration of skilled personnel
Attrition of skilled expertise

The migration of highly trained persons has caused concern among nations in recent years. This concern was first generated by the movement of engineers and scientists between a number of developed countries. This flow has since been reduced by a number of factors, and there is a growing awareness that such migration is not of high and continuing concern among the nations involved. However, in recent years the migration of trained persons from developing to developed countries has been attracting more attention. There are several reasons for movement of trained and educated people. Most are choosing to take residence in a country which offers them the best professional and career opportunities. Others use their qualifications as a ticket to leave their country of birth because of their preference for a different political system and standard of living. Personal reasons, such as marriage and family, may also influence the move. Detractions of staying may include lack of bureaucratic and administrative control, lack of high quality facilities, absence of peer appraisal and of social respect.


The migration of highly trained persons is to a relatively few advanced nations having market economies, including particularly USA, UK, Australia, Canada, France and Germany, and provides these nations with a valuable resource for which they pay virtually nothing. Their intellectual life and their research capacity are enriched. They augment at low cost their supply of trained personnel, particularly for critically important positions in the health services. The general availability to these advanced countries of highly-trained immigrants has had a tendency to divert attention from the need to expand their own supplies of highly trained persons. The most recent emigration waves have been from Mediterranean and developing countries, as well as from Central and Eastern Europe. In particular, the re-organization of science academies and universities in Eastern Europe after 1989 was such that a large number of active scientists were no longer employed by their former organizations and were forced to either leave their country or leave their profession. The is also a drain of skilled people from the Latin American countries most advanced in science and technology: Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.

[Developing countries] The migration of trained persons from developing to developed countries raises important questions related to such matters as the equity of transfers of talent from developing to developed countries at high cost to the former and at no cost to the latter. Further, technological progress is a prerequisite to the economic development of developing countries, and trained persons are indispensable to the development and functioning of a society dependent upon such progress. The migration of these persons is therefore perceived by some countries as a serious threat to successful development efforts and to the successful execution of the economic and social changes which these countries desire. Yet, many developing nations see large numbers of their trained persons migrate to the advanced industrialized countries and contribute to the steadily growing total and per capita output of the developed countries at a time when they may be desperately needed at home. The financial loss suffered by a developing country due to the outflow of trained personnel is only the visible tip of the iceberg. The effects upon the process of development are as important, if not more so. The capacity of developing countries to achieve the progress associated with development depends upon the existence of structures within which this progress can take place and upon the existence of trained persons who can organize these structures and play key leadership roles within them. The structures include government, industries, agriculture and the social services; the trained persons include engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors and nurses. These persons can function only in the context of organized structures. Conversely, the structures are useless without the trained personnel to make them run. When, therefore, these trained personnel emigrate, the operation of the structures is seriously disrupted unless replacements are found from a continuing pool of similarly trained persons. The loss of such leaders therefore causes serious damage to programmes of development.

Some developing countries, where the early stage of development of higher education necessitates the training of many students abroad, are faced with the problem of students who failed to return home after completing their courses. Such students remained abroad either to pursue their studies up to a level higher than that needed by their own country or to accept employment. Further difficulties created by training abroad are the frequent failure of foreign curricula to meet national needs, and the inappropriate attitudes which were all too easily engendered during a prolonged stay in a more developed country.
[Small island developing states] Some island countries are suffering from acute population pressure, one response to which is emigration. Indeed, in some such countries, emigration can be the dominant demographic feature. Emigration is also influenced by cultural factors, among which is the frequent need to seek higher education abroad: small island countries cannot economically provide at home for their full range of educational needs. While the traditional destinations for unskilled emigrants are becoming more difficult to enter, the technically trained have less difficulty in finding a welcome and may be a lost resource for the country as they seek higher standards of living elsewhere. More generally, the high import content of the economy implies an imported cultural model which itself encourages emigration.



Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic GrowthGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
D: Detailed problems
Date of last update
17.10.2021 – 08:33 CEST