Is the migration of large numbers of doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers from developing counties a threat to development? The answer appears so obvious that their movement is most commonly known by the pejorative term “brain drain.” This paper fundamentally reconsiders the question. Much existing evidence and some new evidence suggests that regulating skilled-worker mobility itself does little to address the underlying causes of skilled migrants’ choices, generally brings few benefits to others, and often brings diverse unintended harm. The paper concludes with examples of effective ways that developing countries can build a skill base for development without regulating human movement. The mental shift required to take these policies seriously would be aided by dropping the sententious term “brain drain” in favor of the neutral, accurate, and concise term “skill flow.”
(This paper was originally prepared as a background paper for the UNDP's Human Development Report 2009.)
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