Brain Drain is the Name of the Game

January 18, 2019

“Brain Drain” has often been a concern for those who study immigration and its impacts. Put simply, brain drain refers to the movement of highly skilled workers and intellectuals, like doctors and scientists, out of a country to the point that it harms the origin country’s productivity. Historically, brain drain could happen as a result of prosecution or discrimination, such as the influx of Jewish scientists from Germany to the US in the early 1900s. In the modern day, however, most brain drain is likely driven by simple economic incentives: scientists can make more money and do better work in some countries versus others.

But how does immigration policy impact brain drain? Maurice Schiff from the Institute for the Study of Labor studied the impact that different types of immigration systems could have on brain drain, and its related concept: ability drain. Specifically, Schiff studied three types of immigration systems: the “point” system, used in pre-2015 Canada; the “vetting” system, used in the US for systems like the H-1B; and the “new point” systems, used in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

Examining the impacts of these different systems, Schiff found that vetting systems, like the US H-1B program, generated larger ability drains and larger brain drains than the points systems, thus creating a more beneficial policy for the host country (the US) than those other systems. However, this also means that countries losing workers, such as India or China, are suffering at a greater rate. Schiff suggests that countries work together to provide a less impactful immigration standard.

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Citation: Schiff, M. (2017). Ability drain: size, impact, and comparison with brain drain under alternative immigration policies. Journal of Population Economics, 30, 1337–1354.

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