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WPS5394 Policy Research Working Paper 5394

Public Disclosure Authorized

The Economic Consequences of “Brain Drain” of the Best and Brightest Microeconomic Evidence from Five Countries
John Gibson David McKenzie

Public Disclosure Authorized

Public Disclosure Authorized

The World Bank Development Research Group Finance and Private Sector Development Team August 2010

Policy Research Working Paper 5394

Abstract
Brain drain has long been a common concern for migrant-sending countries, particularly for small countries where high-skilled emigration rates are highest. However, while economic theory suggests a number of possible benefits, in addition to costs, from skilled emigration, the evidence base on many of these is very limited. Moreover, the lessons from case studies of benefits to China and India from skilled emigration may not be relevant to much smaller countries. This paper presents the results of innovative surveys which tracked academic high-achievers from five countries to wherever they moved in the world in order to directly measure at the micro level the channels through which high-skilled emigration affects the sending country. The results show that there are very high levels of emigration and of return migration among the very highly skilled; the income gains to the best and brightest from migrating are very large, and an order of magnitude or more greater than any other effect; there are large benefits from migration in terms of postgraduate education; most high-skilled migrants from poorer countries send remittances; but that involvement in trade and foreign direct investment is a rare occurrence. There is considerable knowledge flow from both current and return migrants about job and study opportunities abroad, but little net knowledge sharing from current migrants to home country governments or businesses. Finally, the fiscal costs vary considerably across countries, and depend on the extent to which governments rely on progressive income taxation.

This paper—a product of the Finance and Private Sector Development Team, Development Research Group—is part of a larger effort in the department to study the determinants and consequences of migration and remittances. Policy Research Working Papers are also posted on the Web at http://econ.worldbank.org. The author may be contacted at dmckenzie@ worldbank.org.

The Policy Research Working Paper Series disseminates the findings of work in progress to encourage the exchange of ideas about development issues. An objective of the series is to get the findings out quickly, even if the presentations are less than fully polished. The papers carry the names of the authors and should be cited accordingly. The findings, interpretations, and conclusions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the authors. They do not necessarily represent the views of the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/World Bank and its affiliated organizations, or those of the Executive Directors of the World Bank or the governments they represent.

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The Economic Consequences of “Brain Drain” of the Best and Brightest: Microeconomic Evidence from Five Countries * John Gibson, University of Waikato David McKenzie, World Bank #

Keywords: Brain drain; Brain Gain; Highly Skilled Migration JEL codes: O15, F22, J61

We thank the World Bank’s Research Support Budget, the Knowledge for Change Trust fund, the Center for Global Development, and the Migration and Remittances for Development in Africa Multi-Donor Trust Fund (TF070761) for research funding for this project; Geua Boe-Gibson, ‘Alisi Katoanga, Caroline Kouassiaman, Innovations for Poverty Action, the Micronesian Seminar, the New Zealand Ministry of Education, the New Zealand Mathematical and Chemistry Olympiad Committees, Tanorama and various alumni groups for helping put together the sample frames and contacting the...
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