For decades, talented people born in emerging markets have moved to study and then to work in the advanced economies of the West. But lately something remarkable is happening. In many emerging countries, the brain drain has reversed its flow.
The causes are fascinating, and there is reason to be optimistic that the vicious cycle of migration from poor countries can be broken, transforming the balance of hope and opportunity between developing and developed economies.
A new study by LinkedIn, the world’s largest online professional network and recruitment platform, has measured the net international movement of talent among its members. LinkedIn has a unique view into how 300 million professionals are moving around the world to pursue career opportunities. This mobility of professional talent can tell us a great deal about the state of economic opportunity and the health of the global economy.
Topping the list as a destination for talent is United Arab Emirates, with a net talent gain of 1.3% of the workforce in 2013. Other net talent magnets include Switzerland, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa, India, Germany and Brazil, as can be seen in the graph blow.
Most interesting, fewer than one-third of net talent importers are developed countries. In fact, the top talent exporters in the study are Spain, the UK, France, the United States, Italy, and Ireland. Rich countries that until recently had been magnets for talents and who were hard hit by the crises are now net exporters.
This shows that opportunity, post-crises, is becoming a scarce commodity in many parts of the West. But this is not the case in the developing world – at least among countries with the appetite and determination to deploy strong governance and continually raise their competitiveness.
Second, quality of life matters greatly. A generation ago, many talented individuals would consider working outside the West a hardship posting. For many of my childhood friends from Sweden it was a necessary but reluctant career step to be posted abroad and they usually returned as they formed families.
Today, standards of living in Singapore and United Arab Emirates, for example, are among the highest in the world and opportunities for spouse and education for children is often better than in the home country.
The business of reversing brain drain is also the business of creating a better life for citizens and residents. I have young near relatives myself who have been attracted to Dubai and who make an excellent career and enjoy a good life there, whilst many of the same generation Y remain unemployed in Europe.