Reverse brain drain: Economic shifts lure migrants home
The tide of brain drain – from developing countries to industrialized nations – has turned. Human capital is returning home to Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa, while some European professionals squeezed by the recession, turn toward developing countries for advancement.
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"Brain drain" – the flow of intellect and skilled labor from poor to rich countries – has been so constant in modern times that the Nigerian cabdriver who was educated as a doctor back home is just as much a fixture of New York City's landscape as a fledgling Broadway actress or Wall Street banker.Skip to next paragraph
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Academics and college-educated engineers from Brazil to China to Poland have long set off for the world's more developed nations for better opportunities, sometimes in their own fields, often behind steering wheels or in fast-food or restaurant kitchens.
Indeed, over time about 75 percent of international migrants typically moved to a country with a higher level of human development than their country of origin, according to the United Nations Development Fund.
But now that tide is turning; immigrants no longer always see developed countries as a better place to be. This U-turn – a "brain gain" for developing countries – features people like Kenyan Sitati Kituyi, who opted to get off the high-powered consultancy ladder in London for a tech start-up in Africa. Or Han Jie, an entrepreneur, lured home to China from the United States with government incentives to set up a medical-equipment factory. Or Bernardo Fontoura, a young Portuguese in business communications, who moved to Rio de Janeiro to be part of what he calls Brazil's "golden age" as it readies for the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics.
The financial crisis that began in 2008 has tested middle-class America's sense of stability and the European right to social welfare. It has also caused many to question whether the developed world is still the only land of opportunity worth migrating to.
Emerging economies not only are faring better than most of the developed world in the current recession, they also continue to grow, drawing back their expatriates and, in some cases, even luring new high-skilled citizens of the US and Europe.