Podcasts: Analysis

Borders & Belonging: does brain drain hurt the Global South?

Or is it just the effect of global mobility in an interconnected world?

5 April 2023, 7.30am
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Many countries are mining the Global South for one of its vital natural resources – its people. This creates a ‘brain drain’ of professionals and academics leaving the Global South in search of better opportunities abroad.

Why exactly is this happening, though, and what is the socio-economic harm done to the countries left behind? Is brain drain sapping the best and brightest from the Global South? Or is it just the effect of global mobility in an interconnected world?

First, we’ll hear from someone who is himself part of the brain drain, Kevin Njabo. He’s the Africa director and associate adjunct at the Center for Tropical Research, University of California, Los Angeles. The conservation biologist grew up in Cameroon but had to go to Nigeria to study and the US to pursue his academic career.

Host Maggie Perzyna then turns to two esteemed researchers delve into this topic: Ninna Sørensen, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, and Manuel Orozco, director of the migration, remittances and development program at the Inter-American Dialogue and senior fellow at the Harvard University Center for International Development.

Maggie is a researcher with the Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Migration & Integration program at Toronto Metropolitan University and this podcast is Borders & Belonging. In it, Maggie talks to leading experts from around the world and people with on-the-ground experience to explore the individual experiences of migrants: the difficult decisions and many challenges they face on their journeys.

She and her guests also think through the global dimensions of migrants’ movement: the national policies, international agreements, trends of war, climate change, employment and more.

Borders & Belonging brings together hard evidence with stories of human experience to kindle new thinking in advocacy, policy and research.

Borders & Belonging is a co-production between the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration & Integration at Toronto Metropolitan University and openDemocracy. The podcast was produced by LEAD Podcasting, Toronto, Ontario.

Show notes

Below, you will find links to all the research referenced by our guests, as well as other resources you may find useful.

Art and documentary

Arts of war: Ukrainian artists confront Russia’, by Blair Ruble, Wilson Centre (2023)

Below, you find links to all of the research referenced by our guests, as well as other resources you may find useful.


37 of 55 countries facing health worker shortages in Africa: WHO‘, by Madhumita Paul, DownToEarth (16 March 2023)

Brain drain: Migrants are the lifeblood of the NHS, it’s time the UK paid for them‘, by Natalie Sharples, The Guardian (6 January 2015)

Does migration harm developing countries? - five-minute debate’, by Alex Andreou & Paul Collier, The Guardian (7 October 2013)

‘‘Helicopter research’: who benefits from international studies in Indonesia?‘, by Budiman Minasny & Dian Fiantis, The Conversation (29 August 2018)

How we can stop Africa’s scientific brain drain‘, by Kevin Njabo, TEDTalk (6 Feb 2018)

Meaningful collaborations can end ‘helicopter research‘, by Fernanda Adame, Nature (29 June 2021)

Migration is inevitable. Progress drives migration‘, by Shirin Karsan, TEDxPhiladelphiaSalon (4 March 2019)

NHS hiring more doctors from outside UK and EEA than inside for first time‘, by Denis Campbell , The Guardian (8 June 2022)

Stop stealing doctors from developing countries‘, by Martin Skladany, Scientific American (2 September 2020)

The slow brain drain of Nigerian doctors‘, BBC News World Service (6 November 2022)

WHO raises alarm over increased healthcare worker migration to rich countries post pandemic‘, by Megha Kaveri, Health Policy Watch (14 March 2023)

Research projects and policy

Brain gain: Providing healthcare workers with opportunities to migrate can increase education and supply of medical workers in origin countries‘, by Caroline Theoharides & Paolo Abarcar, World Bank Blogs (16 December 2021)

Code of Practice red and amber list of countries‘, NHS Employers (23 March 2023)

The Congo Basin Institute

The race for global talent‘, by Lucie Cerna, Population Europe (2016)

Same but different: Strategies in the global race for talent‘, by Marissa Weigle, International Centre for Migration Policy Devlopment (1 February 2023)

The global talent race heats up as countries and businesses compete for the best and brightest‘, by Ejaz Ghani, World Economic Forum (23 November 2018)

WHO health workforce support and safeguards list 2023‘, World Health Organization (14 March 2023)


Azadi, P., Mesgaran, M. B., & Mirramezani, M. (2022). ’The struggle for development in Iran: the evolution of governance, economy, and society‘. Stanford University Press.

Boucher, A. (2016). ’Gender, migration and the global race for talent‘. Manchester University Press.

Brock, G., & Blake, M. (2014). ’Debating brain drain: May governments restrict emigration?‘. Oxford University Press.

Clemens, M. A. (2009). ‘Skill flow: A fundamental reconsideration of skilled-worker mobility and development‘. United Nations Development Programme.

Mpande, S. M. N. (2021). ’The diaspora’s role in Africa: Transculturalism, challenges, and development‘. Routledge.

Walton-Roberts, M. (2022). ’Global migration, gender, and health professional credentials: transnational value transfers and losses‘. University of Toronto Press.

World Bank. (2018). ’Moving for prosperity: global migration and labor markets‘. World Bank.

Academic works

Beine, M., Docquier, F., & Rapoport, H. (2008). ‘Brain drain and human capital formation in developing countries: winners and losers‘. The Economic Journal.

Docquier, F., & Rapoport, H. (2012). ‘Globalization, brain drain, and development‘. Journal of economic literature.

Orozco, M. (2002). ‘Globalization and migration: The impact of family remittances in Latin America‘. Latin American politics and society.

Orozco, M. (2004). ’Remittances to Latin America and the Caribbean: Issues and perspectives on development‘. Organization of American States.

Selwyn, B., & Leyden, D. (2022). ‘Oligopoly-driven development: The World Bank’s Trading for Development in the Age of Global Value Chains in perspective‘. Competition & Change

Sørensen, N. N. (2012). ‘Revisiting the migration–development nexus: From social networks and remittances to markets for migration control‘. International migration.

Sørensen, N. N., Van Hear, N., & Engberg-Pedersen, P. (2002). ‘The migration-development nexus: evidence and policy options‘. IOM Migration Research Series.


Maggie Perzyna

Welcome to Borders & Belonging, a podcast that explores issues in global migration and aims to debunk myths about migration based on current research. This series is produced by CERC Migration and openDemocracy. I’m Maggie Perzyna, a researcher with the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration program at Toronto Metropolitan University.

Many countries are mining the global south for one of its vital natural resources, its people. The Global North has an ageing population and a declining birth rate. Many countries are anxiously trying to attract skilled labour to fill the gaps in their economies. It’s dubbed the ‘global race for talent’. Coupled with this is a phenomenon informally referred to as the ‘brain drain’. This happens when professionals and academics leave the Global South in search of better opportunities abroad. In a moment, we’ll speak with two esteemed researchers on the origins of this phenomenon and on the socio-economic impacts the drains have on the country’s left behind. But first, we’ll hear from someone who is part of the brain drain phenomenon, Kevin Njabo. He’s the Africa director and Associate Adjunct at UCLA’s Center for Tropical Research. He says, there’s one thing that most people can agree on as a motivating factor to stay in one’s home country.

Kevin Njabo

We always know our mothers cook the best food. So, we always want to stay home and eat what our mothers will cook for us. So that is general across the board.

Maggie Perzyna

Sadly, Njabo had to leave his mother’s home cooking far too early. The conservation biologist grew up in Cameroon, a country where French is the dominant language. Coming from an English-speaking family, Njabo’s options for higher education were limited. So, he decided to leave the country.

Kevin Njabo

So, I moved to Nigeria for a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in ecology and environmental biology. So, at the time, it was really difficult to practice my trade when I went back to Cameroon. So, I got a scholarship from Boston University, where I moved to the US, and I’ve since lived in the US since 2001 when I moved to Boston.

Maggie Perzyna

Njabo went on to pursue his PhD in the United States. And he quickly realized that many of his academic peers in the Global North would do what he terms, ‘helicopter research’ or ‘parachute science’.

Kevin Njabo

What you see is when issues arise in Africa, like we had an outbreak of Ebola, we send in the scientists and specialists from the West. They fly in get the samples, come back to New York or to Paris, or to Los Angeles, analyze the samples and send back those results. So, you see, Africa just becomes a continent of where people can fly in and get samples out.

Maggie Perzyna

So, when Njabo moved to California to pursue his postdoctoral studies, he sought to change that. And he met someone else who was thinking along the same lines. His boss and professor, Tom Smith. Smith had worked in Cameroon for over 35 years and came up with the idea of creating a permanent research center called the Congo Basin Institute. It’s a foreign affiliate of the University of California, dedicated to finding solutions to climate change, food and water security, and preserving biodiversity in the Congo Basin.

Kevin Njabo

So, we’re building capacity in Africa to make sure Africans can stay in Africa and be the solutions of issues that arise from the continent. So, we work in collaboration with the local people. We’ve built a school of indigenous and local knowledge, where we tap from the knowledge of these local people and build our curriculum. So, that even when we get students from the University of California who move into Africa, they’re being taught by the professors of the forest.

Maggie Perzyna

Njabo and his colleagues hope that by investing in local knowledge and research, more people will be inspired to stay in the region, and that those who have left will consider returning. Njabo himself now visits the Congo Basin approximately five times a year as part of his work.

Kevin Njabo

Once you start training people and you give them those different opportunities, they’re going to come back. And when they come back, they can really create that - they’re going to fill that void where the best and the brightest were taken out before. By bringing them back in to fill those voids, they could be able to now practice that trade and make sure you take those countries out of that cycle of poverty.

Maggie Perzyna

An example of a tangible change that could arise out of more local involvement and expertise, says Njabo, is a more profitable and better-informed cocoa production industry.

Kevin Njabo

For example, when you look at a trade in cocoa, we see that there is a huge imbalance of those that produce and work hard to get the raw materials and the final product. The cocoa industry, for example, is $100 billion. But the benefits that trickle back to the local people is about 6%. And when you look at Central and West Africa, they produce more than 75% of the raw materials for cocoa. How do you make sure that people who produce 75% of a product, they get 6% of the benefits? Because we have a lot of middlemen in between that value chain. So, once you train and make sure those people are empowered, and you cut out those middlemen, we put the consumers directly in connections, in contact with the producers. And then you can increase that value. But that value can only be increased if you know what they’re doing, the capacity is built and they understand that they have to, they need to have a say in our value chain in production systems. So that is what we’re trying to do. Empowerment.

Maggie Perzyna

Many thanks to Kevin Njabo for sharing his experience with us. Many of you might still be wondering, is brain drain sapping the best and brightest from the Global South? Or is it just the effect of global mobility in an interconnected world? Joining me to delve into this topic are Ninna Sørensen, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for International Studies, and Manuel Orozco, director of the Migration, Remittances and Development Program at the Inter-American Dialogue, and senior fellow at the Harvard University Center for International Development. Welcome to you both. Thanks for joining me.

So what does brain drain look like in the Global South? Ninna let’s start with you.

Ninna Sørensen

Thank you. Well, I think it looks differently in different countries. I mean, we know that skilled migration, which is usually what we talk about when talking about brain drain seems to be rising more than other migration flows, especially when we talk about, sort of, regular migration - people traveling with permission to travel. But we also know that it might affect countries differently. When a brain drain is occurring, I think what it looks like is that that country lacks skilled persons that are important for development of that country. So, we will see that the fact that skilled persons migrate in high numbers from that country will lead to a lack of people who can participate in development, but it may not always be the case. So, we would have to look to each country, right, because brain drain can look in many ways and will not necessarily be a drain, it could also be ‘brain gain’ or ‘brain circulation,’ right.

Maggie Perzyna

Manual, anything to add?

Manuel Orozco

I think in practical terms, I think the term ‘brain drain’ is a little pejorative and more normative than empirically based. I think, what Ninna is pointing out is precisely the key issue in terms of skilled labour and when you have a shortage of skilled labour in a given country, especially in the developing world, as a result from the demand for foreign labour abroad, or because of state fragility in a given country, then you see a problem of how to supply skilled labour in a given country when people with skills are migrating in larger numbers. Overall, I think the trend is not as dramatic as it seems, because of the nature of the economic structures in most of the developing world. But there are instances where there is a problem of shortage of skilled labor in certain places and that’s particularly the case in small countries. In islands, for example, they tend to have populations with high percentage of skilled labor in the local economy, but also with high migration rates. And so, when you look at the net effect between the people living abroad with skills and the host country, then there is a net negative, net effect, and it can have a negative effect in the local economy. But you know, as Ninna says, it depends, you know, where you’re looking at. You may be looking at countries like Jamaica or Ghana, where there is an important demand for skilled labour at a point where economic transformation is needed. And then you’re having problems in other places like Haiti, for example, or Mali, where the labour force is practically unskilled. And migration occurs among those with high skills because there is not the opportunities in the host country. So you have a mix of realities going on.

Maggie Perzyna

Has brain drain always been an issue in the Global South? Or is this a more recent phenomenon?

Ninna Sørensen

Probably yes. But I think the discussion of whether we are talking about a drain or, a gain, or circulation, that discussion have maybe changed over the years from being very pessimistic when the when the concept first was introduced, maybe in the 1970s 80s, to becoming more positive. Especially when the World Bank and other international donors began to talk about migration-development potentials and stuff. It has not always been a discussion. But I would also like to mention that I find it somewhat problematic to talk about a drain only of skilled labour. Because I mean, drains comes in many forms, and sort of reducing human beings to the labour capacity and their skills levels, maybe wrong. Because developing countries can actually drain from very important skills that are not just high skills. They can be drained from their agricultural labour force, for instance. They can be drained from caregivers. There are many drains here. And I think the discussion for too long have focused on only the skilled migration. And maybe it’s time to talk about also other kinds of drains that developing countries may experience.

Maggie Perzyna

Manuel, what do you think?

Manuel Orozco

Yes, I agree entirely with Ninna. I mean, you have different realities taking place. Today, in fact, we’re talking about what we call digital nomads. And these are basically skilled migrants who go to, you know, Jamaica, again, or to Costa Rica. And they basically come from the North or come from other parts of Uruguay or Nicaragua and start working there. They take advantage of the skills but also of the opportunities that the local economy offers. So, the context today, it’s somewhat different to what it was when the term was introduced. And there are other issues that are important when it comes to drain. And so, you know, we need to nuance this discussion in a much more broader context that is defined by the structure of the global economy, the effects that it has in labour, market integration globally, for example, [rather] than looking at only, you know, this deficit number.

Maggie Perzyna

So, maybe let’s start by asking what is the relationship between brain drain and under development in the Global South, Ninna?

Ninna Sørensen

Well, the relationship could be that the out migration of certain sectors of a population may have a negative economic impact, and potentially also negative social and political impact, right? And could lead to losses of investments in education and loss of tax revenue. And, of course, most severely the lack of sufficient skilled workers that we already talked about in vital sectors for development. And usually we talk about health, education, innovation, but basically all sectors. Yeah.

Manuel Orozco

Well, honestly, statistically, there is no relationship. I mean, let’s put this into context. When we look at, I mean, an obsolete term like under-development, I think we have to problematize the conceptual framework of that because it’s a 1970s approach. But let’s think of in terms of the model of growth that most developing countries, if not practically, the large majority of them whether we’re talking about Africa, Asia, or Latin America, and the Caribbean. Is one that is, is structured along two pillars of economic growth: one with the extractive sector, energy, mining, agricultural exports through enclaves and free trade zones, and tourism. Those five key elements of economic growth, basically capture most of the formal sector of the economy. They may contribute to 70% of GDP, but they only hire 30%, at most, of the labor force. Then the second pillar is an informal labor force that is highly skilled, highly underpaid, and uneducated, and in the middle, you have migration, that is a by-product of the failures of the local economy to integrate the labour force into the formal economy. That type of economic growth model, is the one that has prevailed over 50 years. And it has had consequences of different sorts. One of them is that for the fraction of those people with the skills, which is basically for the developing world is less than 20% of the labour force, in order to improve their economic opportunities they migrate. Because the local economy does not provide for resources. And here there is an important issue because even when you look at the type of skilled labour that we’re dealing with, in developing countries, they are skills that are actually not globally competitive, they are not in the STEM sector. So, you have too many disruptions, too many failures in your economy, where, you know, migration results are of that, and those with skills trying to become competitive in order to make better economic opportunities abroad and for the families in the home country. So, the consequence of this is that brain drain is, to some extent a non-issue. It is an issue for some islands. But overall, you got to look at the broader picture of why the economic model of growth is just a failing one. And we’re not addressing it by investing in human capital, increasing skills of the local labour force, and making them employably competitive. Those are, I think, the issue that we should be addressing.

Maggie Perzyna

So you’ve both problematized the idea of ‘brain drain’ as just a problem, is there an upside to ‘brain drain’ for countries in the developing world?

Manuel Orozco

Look, I think the main point is, we must refrain from the terminology that has very normative connotations, moralistic type, without looking at the empirical data. Again, there is not a ‘brain drain’ trend taking place. But those who have skills have higher probability to migrate. And in the context of the failing economic model of growth in developing countries, migration becomes an option. And so, if you have certain skills that make you competitive, and you can, and are able to join a host country’s economy, because of your skills, that’s a positive. The second positive is that because of it, you try to send money to your relatives, in order to improve the quality of life of that family. One of the elements of quality of life includes education and skills attainment. So you know, there is a positive element in the relationship between migration and development, where people with higher skills or with some skills, are able to contribute to the local economy, despite the fact that their economic model of growth is failing. So, an in-between, I think, Ninna, you know, pointed at an important issue. And that’s regulation. We have in the, let’s call it in the global migration regime, an insufficient set of policies that deal with guest worker programs that could really motivate people to increase their skills and become globally competitive. Global competitiveness does not mean that you can migrate it means that you can be operating anywhere in the world, because your skills can be portable, can be flexible, but also can be connected. And those three elements is not required, necessarily to be mobile. You can be mobile, if you opt to, but doesn’t have to be as in fact of necessity. Those are the things, the issues that we should be focusing on. And of course, looking at remittances as a way to formalize the savings that result from increases in the flow in order to invest in human capital, but that again goes back to the issue of policy and regulation.

Ninna Sørensen

But if I may come in here, I think that ‘brain gain’ protagonists have argued that the departure of highly skilled migrants could contribute to an increase in the human capital level of developing countries in different ways, right? Through remittances, through creating global networks and diaspora philanthropy, and also through return. Through which these new skills learned abroad could be reinvested in local development. But I think this sort of over-optimistic view, sometimes overlooks the fact that many skilled migrants work way below their skills when they work abroad. I mean, if a medical doctor from say, Ethiopia, or the Dominican Republic, drives a taxi in New York, I mean, she will lose, not gain skills. And if she returns, she will return these skills, not relevant skills for the medical profession. So, I think we need to take that into account as well.

Manuel Orozco

Yeah, I totally agree with you. I mean, in fact, this is a critically important issue when we’re dealing with deportations. People who are caught because they don’t have papers, and they have certain skills, and then they are returned after being 10 years in a host country, but they cannot find a job. Because, you know, the skill they had acquired, you know, is not competitive in the home country anymore. And so those are the issues, again, that we need to look at when we’re talking about the relationship between migration and skilled labour.

Maggie Perzyna

Do some countries encourage workers to train in certain sectors as a resource for wealthy nations? Ninna?

Ninna Sørensen

Yeah, some countries really do. I mean, the well-known example often mentioned is the Philippines and its production of nurses for the global market. I know that Filipino migrants account for 4% of registered nurses in the US, for example, and also for substantial parts in South Africa in the UK. Another example could be the Indian IT workers, but there are also less skilled occupations. I mean, Ethiopia, where I do work, currently has bilateral agreements with Middle Eastern and Gulf states to provide domestic workers and these workers are trained before entering on these schemes and being sent abroad. So, yes, some countries do encourage workers to train in certain sectors. And if that is planned well, it could work well. But it would have to be, of course investigated what the long-term consequences are.

Manuel Orozco

Yeah, I mean, I think Ninna pointed out two very good examples. The one I have done a lot of work on is Bangladesh. Bangladesh is you know, a country the size of Nicaragua, but with a population that is over 110 million people. And it has a guest worker program with several Gulf countries. It basically sends about 2 million people every year on short-term labour work. This is, there is a positive element of having that type of exchange. However, the critical element is how you integrate the earnings and the skills of that labour force over time in order to increase the productive capacity of that local economy. And for the most part, countries have failed to work along those lines. So they are not leveraging on remittances. They are not leveraging on the skills obtained abroad. They are not leveraging on long term programs to make the country more competitive. For example, Bangladesh, uses almost labour migration as an escape valve, while it still continues to be a largely agricultural based economy, or an economy that is using free trade zones to focus on certain textile exports, but that require very limited labour. So, you don’t really have a way to integrate this labour migration into a more competitive landscape of economic growth. And so, you don’t see prosperity taking place in the Philippines or in Bangladesh, or in other countries, you know. And we have lots of examples. Jamaica is another one that, we do have. Jamaica is the Philippines of Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of nurses. They supply a lot of people. I mean, it’s almost like a factory when it comes to Jamaica, providing skills to people to come to the US to work in the East Coast as nurses and caregivers. But Jamaica continues its own economic growth model that is focused basically on remittance dependence and tourism and a little bit of mining. But that’s the Jamaican economy. So, they’re still a developing country, despite, you know, all these ways in which they integrate into the global economy.

Maggie Perzyna

So, I have an example for you, the World Health Organization developed the Workforce Support and Safeguard list for countries where health workers should not be recruited, because of chronic shortages. Nigeria is on the list, yet countries in the Global North still recruit their doctors. What are the ethical concerns here?

Ninna Sørensen

Well, I might not be able to tell you more about that particular lead. But I mean, we talk a lot about adequate compensation for loss and damage when we talk about climate change, right? And I think in brain drain discussions, we could also talk about adequate compensation for the cost of education and potential loss of vital workers, not just for developing local economies, but for the human development of developing countries, where the health sector is vital. I mean, many developing countries suffer from a lack of, of sufficient numbers of health workers. So of course, it is a problem, if x country is drained from a particular group of skilled workers, like health workers, right? Especially if we again take the example of Ethiopia, where many rural areas are affected severely by drought, people suffer from hunger, all kinds of illnesses stemming from not having access to clean water, and do not have access to health facilities. So there, of course, we could talk about the need to compensate, if say doctors are migrating from that country. Now, that is not the case in Ethiopia, but it could be in other countries, that doctors go there. So, if our health sectors in the Global North do recruit people from the Global South to fill positions in our sectors, I think we could talk about how can that be done in an ethical way? And if for example, as is the case in my country, that we have made severe budget cuts in our educational system for producing more medical doctors? I mean, then I think there is an ethical discussion to be made. Can we cut down on producing medical doctors within our educational system, and then import them from a country that might need them more than us?

Maggie Perzyna

The Global North benefits from the migration of skilled workers with increased economic development and growth? What responsibilities do wealthy nations have to help counter the negative effects for the Global South?

Manuel Orozco

Look, I think? Yeah, I’m not sure the term responsibility is correct. But I think there is a reality that it’s outside of the concept of skill. But basically, that migration is, again, the result of this inefficient growth model. And that growth model is very much tied to the structure of the global economy. And where you still have, you know, this somewhat artificial divide between the Global North and South. And I think the wealthy countries need to focus more their investments in human capital in developing countries. They don’t do it. They continue to promote official development assistance in areas that are connected either to food security, humanitarian supports, or trade. But without really having investments in triggers that will make these developing countries more competitive. Is it intentional? It could be. But you know, there are serious issues. For example, there is a mantra of free trade agreements all over the world, between European Union member countries with developing countries, North America and Latin America and the Caribbean, but also other places. That includes elements relating to labour and environment. Yet, there is no compliance to those elements. And in fact, one of the byproducts of these trade agreements is that it has deepened oligopolistic practices in global trade. And one of the consequences of oligopolistic practices is migration. Because the labour force is unable to join the local economy because oligopolies have a very strict process of controlling labour. And so, the consequence of that is that you have more migration, people have to find opportunities elsewhere in the North perhaps, but on lower economic terms. So what responsibility, they need to do their homework, they need to comply to the trade agreements, they need to comply with the covenants they commit to. And second, in terms of offering or official development assistance, it needs to invest more in those areas that make the global economy more prosperous, and that’s human capital. So, this is the issue the sort of debate we are really missing.

Ninna Sørensen

I agree, Manuel. But I also find it very interesting that there is this ongoing philosophical discussion of the extent to which developing states should be permitted to use some kind of coercive power to prevent their skilled nationals from leaving the country, right? Or at least pose conditions, for instance, requirements for serving for a certain period after graduation, which Ghana for instance, practices. They will hold, I think nursing diplomas for five years after graduation to motivate them nurses to at least do some service in the country before they migrate. But I mean, of course, we can discuss whether preventing skilled migrants from migrating is patronizing and neo-colonialist in some way, right. But in my view, this discussion should be turned around to the question of how much brain harvesting development countries should be allowed to do, and really find this more relevant at a time where we see severe budget cuts in our own educational systems.

Maggie Perzyna

So, flipping the script a bit what happens to those who leave for better opportunities abroad, Manuel?

Manuel Orozco

Well, I mean, relatively speaking, they do better in the host country than in the home country. But they are typically at the bottom of the ladder in the host country. So, the, their economic vulnerability continues. It adapts, and you have a better quality of life, to some extent. But for the most part, you may have better services, you may have access to, you know, new technologies to opportunities, to some extent, but the reality is that two thirds of the labour force in the world doesn’t have a legal status to live by. And half of that labour force doesn’t have access to medical insurance, and medical services, and much less they have access to credit to build assets. So yes, you are better off, I mean, you may be making 13/15 times more than what you were making in the home country, and you are able to buy a car, for example, or to buy, you know, new technologies in cellular telephony, and things like that. But the speed by which you can raise to the middle class. It’s practically three times slower than the native born person in any country in Europe or North America.

Ninna Sørensen

Well, I think Manuel said almost everything. I mean, if they bring their children, that’s the only thing I think I can add. I mean, those children may have access to better education in the new country and the destination of that migration, right? So, if we talk about sort of generational opportunities, this migration of a skilled person, even if that person works under his or her skills, might actually lead to better education and better opportunities for the next generation. But again, that is not given. But just to add to what Manuel already said.

Manuel Orozco

Yeah, I agree with Ninna. I mean, even with the second generation with the children of migrants, you do have a lot of challenges there because they go to marginalized schools, they struggle to make ends meet, they don’t get the same opportunities to have better education. I mean, they do have access to higher education, for example, but you start from the bottom. So yes, there are opportunities, you know, there is better compliance with the rule of law with market etc. But the challenges are still significant. So, you can be the first person with a college degree in your family, in a family network, not just in the nuclear family, but you will go to not the top university. So, you know that divide is still the predominant problem. And this is an important issue because Ninna has, nailed this issue of migration today in the sense that nature and composition of global migration today has changed from uniquely labour migration to migration that comes with family groups. And these families come with kids that enroll public school, but they go into marginalized locations where the quality of school is not very good, where discrimination is a problem. So, you’re dealing with serious problems with social inclusion. And again, when you talk about responsibilities, these groups become, you know, a key responsibility of the state and the state in many countries is not looking at this with the seriousness that it needs to.

Maggie Perzyna

Many nations in the Global North are enticing skilled migrants with promises of better pay and career opportunities. Looking to the future, how do you see this trend playing out? Ninna?

Ninna Sørensen


Manuel Orozco

...tell me which nation [laughing]

Ninna Sørensen

How can you look into the future [laughing]. But well, I think the global competition to attract highly skilled migrants, this competition for brains and talent will continue. I don’t see how it wouldn’t. I think the important issue to address here is that the terms of competitions are not equal. But as always set by, what can we say, powerful interests in the Global North. So, I see that as a problem that is not dealt with and which I could fear would be become even bigger in the future, despite international agreements and bigger agreements made between at UN level and elsewhere. I also see de-skilling as a real problem and brain waste to be really something that that needs to be addressed in in in the future.

Maggie Perzyna

Thanks to Ninna Sørensen and Manuel Orozco for joining me today and thank you for listening. This episode wraps up Season 1 of Borders & Belonging. We hope you enjoyed the topics covered as much as we enjoyed exploring them. We’ll be back with Season 2 in September, and in the meantime, we’d love to hear your ideas for future episodes. follow CERC Migration on Twitter and Instagram and let us know what migration issues interest you. This is a CERC Migration and openDemocracy podcast produced in collaboration with Lead Podcasting. Subscribe to Borders & Belonging on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. As always, for more information on today’s topic, please visit the show notes. I’m Maggie Perzyna. Thanks for listening.

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