Lack of Data

Hampering the ability to understand global patterns of skills migration and to develop policy responses is a lack of reliable information. There is a critical absence of hard data on migrant stocks and flows, their human capital content, and the actual impacts (negative and positive) of skills migration from particular developing countries. A recent exception is an econometric study on the impacts of brain drain that covered 59 countries. Prescriptions were made as to whether specific countries should allow the emigration of skilled personnel. In general, it was argued that most countries with low levels of both human capital and skills emigration are positively affected by brain drain, whereas it tends to have negative growth effects in countries where the skills emigration rates are higher than 20% and/or the proportion of the highly educated in the total population is above 5%. While a useful starting point, this study did not consider the feedback effects of migration or the sector specific impacts of brain drain in particular countries. There is an urgent need for better data collection systems and further studies, especially at individual country levels.


It is generally agreed that skills migration is likely to increase in the future, despite attempts to control and/or manage it. The policy debate on the brain drain is currently hampered by an overly simplistic conceptualization of the problem itself. Not only is more and better data urgently needed, so too is a better understanding of the complexity of the problem itself. Viewing the world as two great blocs engaged in a zero sum game is all too prevalent in current international migration discourse. Researchers, geographers included, have an important responsibility to disaggregate the phenomenon of skills migration and to understand its specific impacts on individual sectors, countries, and regions.