Human capital flight, or brain drain, is a complex and multifaceted issue many countries around the globe are trying to solve. What makes it so tricky is that there are social, economical, geographical, and educational implications to consider when trying to tackle the brain drain phenomenon. Managing these aspects to find a constructive balance for human capital satisfaction has proven to be difficult for many countries. To make matters worse, some regions of the world are running out of time, as economic hardships are already starting to cripple development.
Brain drain refers to the situation in which highly skilled, educated individuals leave their respective region in search of a better life — whether that be for more money, freedom from religious or social persecution, or safety from war-torn countries and political instability. There are many reasons for the emigration of a country, but when one emigrates—especially a talented, well-educated person—they bring with them a wealth of human capital. This will cost the region they left behind valuable skills and experience and is given elsewhere. Below are common reasons for brain drain, what regions are affected by it, and what a country can do to plug the drain.
The most common reasons for human capital flight are high unemployment, not enough income, and political oppression, specifically that of religious and social freedoms. If someone can make more money elsewhere, they are more than likely to move to earn a better income. Similarly, a person will be even more likely to travel if there are no employment opportunities where they currently live. Being constantly in fear of war, or being discriminated against for religious or personal beliefs, will also motivate someone to look elsewhere for work.
However, when these highly skilled and talented people leave, they are taking just that with them—the skills and knowledge to lend to another region and help it prosper. Oftentimes a country spends time, money, and resources training an individual just to have that same individual take that training elsewhere. Over time, as a population of skilled professionals leave, a region gets depleted of not only economical, but educational resources.
Virtually every region is affected by some degree of brain drain; however, less developed countries are hit hardest as less-developed countries are usually in situations of political instability or war/conflict. Lesser-developed countries are also not in the position to provide a better income or advancement opportunities. It is a perpetual loss for lesser-developed countries because as an educated population leaves, the country loses money educating them, is less able to provide income, less able to provide research for things such as career advancement, and then lose out on the people who could educate the rest of the population. These are all reasons to move and find greener pastures elsewhere.
Developed countries can also be see pockets of brain drain, however are less affected because skilled individuals from lesser-developed countries usually seek opportunities in the more-developed parts of the world. In America, we can see brain drain international as well as internally.
Brain Drain in America
Just because America is a developed country, don’t think that it doesn’t experience brain drain. Rural American farming town populations are dwindling away with the emergence of the monetarily attractive agribusiness. Midwestern manufacturing towns are dying because of automation, forcing employees to look—and move—elsewhere for work. There is a growing number of social workers moving out of rural areas simply because of higher employment opportunities. The people in rural areas are then left with a community of individuals with lack of knowledge or support for many things such as counseling and therapy. America’s brain drain can’t be blamed on a lack of educated social workers, rather just a shift of where the markets are located.
Brain drain is happening in America on an what could be called an international scale as well. With the uncertainty of visa and immigration reform in the current administration, more and more bright minds who are studying at some of the most prominent universities in America are moving back to their homelands. Many are considering Canada as a suitable, more immigrant friendly environment to work and live in as well. A large industry affected by the international brain drain of America is the tech industry. Many engineers and developers from India and China who have studied in America are now looking to either move back to their respective countries, due to incentives presented by their educational systems, or aiming to work in other countries.
As noted above, it is a tricky situation. Short of unethical practices and forbidding people to leave, there is not much a country can do to stop a person from taking their talents and education elsewhere. The common practice is to incentivise individuals who have moved to return and people who are still there to stay there. This can be done by taking the money you have and essentially making an investment. This investment involves improving educational facilities and conditions for your citizens to promote the research and further innovation of education from the educationally interested.
It would help America to start thinking about brain drain on two levels. From regional level, Americans need to seek as much education as they can and prepare for the job market. As noted above, the manufacturing and farming industries aren’t going to pay a decent living wage today. With the easier access to computers—and therefore education—a better education of rural populations will become more proportionate to the rest of the country and brighter minds will shine.
If you can manage to get these individuals back, it can prove to be very beneficial. As an already skilled person goes off, learns more skills and gains more experience, they will transfer those skills and experience back into your country or region upon coming back. Furthermore, with the advancement of technology, people have easier access to educational tools and experiences that may also slow down the rate of brain drain.