Friday, February 28, 2014

Brain Drain and the Politics of Immigration

When it comes to immigration, U.S. policymakers have never been shy about which types of foreign workers they want living and working in the United States. In his 2013 State of the Union address, for example, President Barack Obama listed attracting “the highly-skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy” as a key tenet of immigration reform.

This sentiment is widespread among policymakers. They want doctors and engineers, not dishwashers and landscapers.

But while this kind of immigration can pay dividends for a small pool of educated migrants and the companies who hire them, it produces losers as well. Like their outsourcing counterparts, some U.S. corporations use imported workers as a way to keep wages down as well as to fill their labor demand. And what happens to the countries these educated individuals leave behind is almost never discussed.

The term “brain drain” was first coined by the British Royal Society to describe the migration of scientists and technologists from the United Kingdom to the United States and Canada in the 1950s and 1960s. Today, the term has come to explain the large-scale emigration of educated individuals from the countries of their birth. When a nation exhausts its human capital, economic development is impeded, leaving the citizens who remain in dire straits.

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