Brain drain

Between 2000 and 2008, before the financial and economic crisis, migration flows to OECD countries increased significantly - by more than 33%. Although countries of origin have been affected differently by recent migration trends, emigration rates of the highly qualified (also known as brain drain) increased in most countries of origin between 2000 and 2006, despite investments in education and increases of human capital.

Brain drain can create shortages of skills and represents a loss of investment. To reap the full benefits of initial investments in skills, countries where brain drain is a major concern should retain their skilled workers by improving labour-market conditions locally. Experience has shown that the best way to prevent brain drain is to provide incentives to stay, rather than by imposing coercive measures to prevent emigration.

The focus on the high cost of skilled emigration has obscured the substantial benefits of it. Over the long term, countries need to raise the demand for skilled workers, but in the interim a way to reduce unemployment among skilled workers is to make it easier to work abroad. Nationals abroad can serve as a bridge to useful technical skills, funding and links to international markets. Easing restrictions to skilled workers could make a substantial contribution.

Brain drain also happens within countries, particularly between rural areas and urban centers. Local career-advice services can help to ensure that skilled people are fully aware and take advantage of the opportunities available within their nearby labour market.

Explore OECD data related to brain drain


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