Saturday, October 27, 2007

Brain drain is not "heart drain"

I was just reading an article on the New York Times about the money sent by Mexican migrants working in the United States to their home country. The article spoke about the squeeze felt by numerous Mexican families because of the recent drop in the amount of money they received from their relatives in the United States. While the remittances from US to Mexico grew from $6.6 billion in 2000 to $24 billion in 2006, there has been a huge drop in 2007 because of many reasons: the current slowdown in the American economy, stricter enforcement against illegal migrants, and more.

The above mentioned article made me think about the role played by resident aliens and migrants in increasing the interdependency among countries. Most people recognize the role played by multi-national companies in bringing countries together, but many don’t appreciate the roles of migrants. Thomas Friedman in his book, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, noted that no two countries with a McDonald's franchise had ever gone to war with one another since each got its McDonald's. McDonald’s, despite making the world obese with its greasy hamburgers, seems to have served the world well in promoting world peace. I guess the reason for that is that fat people can’t fight. But joke apart, McDonald’s is certainly a symbol of the way countries have come together through increased business relationship between them. When countries get billions of dollars in direct investment, it certainly improves their economy and the standard of living of many people. What however, is not so much recognized, is the way temporary and permanent migrants better economies around the world and bring countries together. According to the NY Times, in 2006 alone, migrant workers worldwide sent more than $300 billion to developing countries, which is almost twice the amount of foreign direct investment received by these countries. The developed countries also benefited immensely, in terms of getting skilled and creative manpower. According to an article on, in 2006, foreign nationals residing in the United States were listed as inventors or co-inventors on a quarter of patent of filings. Of course if we include the inventions made by migrants who had already become citizens of the United States, the figures will be astonishingly high. Similarly, in the technology sector, Indians alone founded or co-founded over 26 percent of the startups in US between 1995 and 2005; the Chinese 7 percent and Taiwanese about 6 percent. Imagine the leverage the US economy gets out of such inventions and startups. Many developed countries, including United States, have literally thrived because of the migrant population.

Unfortunately, despite the contributions made by migrants to both their parent and host country, they are often seen in a negative light. Many in the host country feel that the migrants take away their jobs and consider them a threat to local culture. Ironically, many in the parent country too hate the brain drain caused by emigration. They think emigrants cause prosperity on foreign land and not in their parent country. They think the emigrants would have brought about much bigger positive changes to their parent country if they had stayed back. Of course, both the points of view are fallacious. Sure, migrants take away some local jobs but many of them were not substitutable by the local population. In addition, migrants create a lot of new jobs by creating startups. Additionally, the intermingling of thoughts and ideas, stimulate an environment of creativity, for which the host country gets the immediate direct benefit through scientific inventions and discoveries. Similarly, as I have already pointed out in the previous paragraph, migrants contribute a lot to their parent countries. Although it’s true that brain drain occurs when bright people leave a country, but one also needs to realize that brain works at its creative best only when there is a stimulating environment. This sometimes lacks in many developing countries. But there is still good news, because emigrants still contribute to the economy and welfare of their parent countries by sending money, educating family, instituting businesses, research centers and NGOs, lobbying for home country on foreign soil, and more. In other words, brain drain does not automatically result in “heart drain.” Most people contribute much more to their parent countries after emigration than they did before they left. That happens through the process of increased productive capacity of these individuals. The higher productivity benefits everyone irrespective of where one is on the world map.

1 comment:

  1. agreed that a 'stimulating envt' spurs creative thinking, but it doesn't require too much of an effort on the individual's part to nurture and demonstrate his/her creative skills here, because for the most part, the daily strifes of life such as water, electricity, basic meals and other amenities are what bog down the average Indian, where as those are taken for granted here and one has time, resources, money and freedom to do anything one wants. being in an individualistic culture, u do what you want. You can totally disregard how you are affecting those around you. Where as there, people are bound with invisible links with their families, neighbors and society, which take precedence over your own needs and ambitions. It is much more challenging to nurture creativity in such situations but amazingly, it is being done. What immigrants should do then is not just send money and be done with that, but also transmit encouragement, nurturing thoughts, and inspiring life stories. every dollar sent home should have a string of encouraging thought attached to the receiver, who will then see beyond his daily struggles and create that 'stimulating environment' in his microunit. Hopefully that will have a snowballing effect and...