The increase in the migration of highly-skilled workers has been noticeable over the last decade in and throughout the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean (SEM) and Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) regions. According to the new revised version of Docquier, Lowell and Marfuk (2009) , from 1990 to 2000, the number of skilled migrants has increased by 3.1% in Mali, 2.5% in Sudan, 2.2% in Senegal, 1.94% in Chad and Jordan to a similar value 1.7% in Libya and Morocco, 1.6% Syria and Tunisia and 1.4% in Egypt and Lebanon and for all of these there was an even more significant increase in skilled migration over unskilled migration.
This seems to be the result of two factors: on the one hand, the countries of origin increase the production of skilled workers and, on the other hand, countries of destination try to maximize the skill mix which favors their economic growth and which reduces the integration and assimilation problems of foreign citizens. Skilled migration seems an appropriate solution in squaring up international supply and demand in origin countries, but it could create shortages in required skills in the sending countries (brain drain).
Development research points out that educated family members can play a positive role in child rearing, as an educated elite is vital in modernizing a country and the lack of skilled workers reduces the growth path of the country economy, but this takes place only if qualified workers find an appropriate job.
In conjunction with brain drain, brain waste is frequently used to stress the inappropriate use of the worker’s human capital in the labour market of the country of origin and also in the labour market of the country of destination.
With regard to the presence of an educated labour force, it is noteworthy that such a workforce is the product of investment in either public or private education. Thus, the presence of an excess supply of educated labour can be imputed to a governmental education policy, which is not supported by adequate job creation. The growth model, however, suggests that, if a country invests in education, it will be able to attract foreign capital which will engender economic growth and employment. But this is not always the case as many other factors are needed: a flexible capital market, property rights etc. The type of education needs also to be taken into consideration, because some types of studies are not directly useful in production and even if a general increase in the level of education of the population is positive per se, increasing expectations without appropriate job options can create discontent and social instability, hence increasing the number of potential migrants.
But the excess supply of skilled workers can also be the result of individual choice which is distorted by the presence of job options abroad. Research on skilled migrants and health professionals abroad shows a specific link between this type of education and emigration, so in the UK 31% of doctors and 13% of nurses were born overseas in 2002. In these cases, job options abroad can distort the appropriate allocation of human capital and can be accompanied by a lack of supply in semi-skilled positions which is even more damaging to economic growth and future job creation.
A high unemployment rate among skilled workers in the labour market in SEM countries could suggest an excess supply of educated workers in relation to domestic demand or a labour supply which already takes foreign job options into account and which necessarily induces brain drain and educated unemployment. But this is not always the case, for instance, high unemployment among educated woman in Egypt only describes their long search for a job in the public administration as they are not likely to find a job in the private sector in Egypt, nor are they interested in job offers abroad.
The majority of research is based on information collected in the countries of destination and frequently not even in all the countries of destination (the Gulf countries and Libya – which are the largest employers of migrant workers in the eastern part of the SEM – lack published statistics), thus frequently educational level can be misreported. In addition, in most statistics only the level of education is reported, not the job skill level, with the exception of doctors and nurses. Also, collected information refers to the level of education without distinguishing which part of the education was obtained in the country of origin and which part in the country of destination. For example in France in 2006 only 30% of Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian educated migrants arrived at the age of 22 or above, while 60% arrived before the age of 18 and, therefore, gained part of their higher education in France. 40% of Turkish and Lebanese skilled migrants, meanwhile, entered France as children. Without this distinction it is difficult to disentangle an appropriate employment-migration policy coordinated with an educational policy and with a Diaspora settlement policy where the integration of foreign citizens becomes crucial.
It should also not be forgotten that possible brain waste in the destination country is related to different causes: inappropriate human capital, non recognition of the educational level, lack of suitable jobs available etc. and each can be tackled with different policy instruments.
An increasingly asked question is the matter of whether the emigration of skilled workers damages the sending country. The answer is difficult to find and varies according to skills and countries.
For example, it has been argued that if the outflows of skilled migrants are massive, then they not only impact negatively on the economic development of society, but also on the evolution of society at large, creating distortions there. Economists call this the “threshold externality” of human capital on development.