U.S. faces a reverse brain drain, as highly educated immigrants head home

posted at 3:41 pm on April 17, 2012 by Tina Korbe

An article in today’s Economic Times highlights a discouraging, but not surprising trend: All of a sudden, highly educated children of immigrants are transplanting themselves to their ancestral (developing) countries, where economic opportunities and “creative energy” abound.

Enterprising Americans have always sought opportunities abroad. But this new wave underscores the evolving nature of global migration, which is presenting challenges to US supremacy and competitiveness. …

For generations, the world’s less-developed countries have suffered brain drain – the flight of many of their best and brightest to the West. That, of course, has not stopped. But now, a reverse flow has begun, particularly to countries like China and India and, to a lesser extent, Brazil and Russia. Some scholars and business leaders contend that this emigration does not necessarily bode ill for the US.

They say young entrepreneurs and highly educated professionals sow American knowledge and skills abroad. At the same time, these workers acquire experience abroad and build networks that they can carry back to the US or elsewhere – a pattern known as “brain circulation.”

But the experts caution that in the global race for talent, the return of these expatriates to the US and US companies is no longer a sure bet.

The article points out the obvious: These immigrant children aren’t acting on mere whims. They’re responding to employment, investment, tax and visa incentives. They’re responding, in short, to the government policies of foreign countries.

Why bring this up? This weekend, the president previewed his approach to immigration policy. It’ll be one of inaction and blame and above all of obsession with what to do about immigrants who are already in the country illegally.

The president knew what he was doing by talking about immigration this weekend. He was able to hit his target demographic — much-needed Hispanic voters — with a message to which they’d be receptive and simultaneously fly under the MSM and general radar.

As I argued in my response to the president’s comments, though, we don’t necessarily need a discussion about what to do about immigrants who are already in the country illegally. It’s possible to argue that the consequence of the choice they made to enter the country illegally — the consequence of living an undocumented life “in the shadows,” as they say — is somewhat of a deterrent to others who would otherwise follow their example. At any rate, the question of what to about those who crossed our borders illegally is a question of law enforcement. It’s really not a question of immigration policy, as closely related as it might be.

Immigration policy actually concerns itself with two questions: Who do we want to attract to our country and how do we attract them? Who do we want to prevent from entering our country and how do we prevent them?

Clearly, other countries are answering these questions for themselves and implementing policies according to the answers. Meanwhile, the United States continues to operate according to an outdated immigration quota system. It’s that system that needs reform.

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avgjo on April 17, 2012 at 10:25 PM

Thanks for the kind words and excuse my crankiness this afternoon.
My mother, father, grandmother and my 4 siblings are still in Slovakia and the Czech Republic enjoying their freedom and have become wildly successful since the fall of Communism, all owning their own businesses. My father is retired but does consulting work for Airbus taught us the beauty of capitalism when we had our weekly picnics in a nearby park (couldn’t have those conversations in our state apartment,too many unknown ears).

JPeterman on April 17, 2012 at 11:18 PM


Nothing to excuse. I was stupid and I’m sorry. And I’m very happy to hear of your family’s successes, especially people with the courage of your father.

And I meant what I said to Washingtonswake. Folks like you and your family get it. You understand those intangibles that make a place like America great, because you’ve lived without them. And no amount of argumentation or reading or wisdom can replace experience like that.

I will just say that this experience has taught me to be more careful when I discuss this subject. I meant what I said for the people who tell me that they’re here to make money, while criticizing our (yours and mine) country, and how they can’t wait to leave. But you reminded me in the midst of my foolish anger of the great immigrants (and now fellow Americans) that did and continue to help build America, and I will remember (by God’s grace)to express my sentiments with respect to their ears too.

avgjo on April 17, 2012 at 11:39 PM

You and I are apparently arguing a different sort of cohesion. Since the several states that formed the union bickered on and on about how they’d work it out, and then, less than 100 years later almost killed eachother. The the different cultures, be it new england, the south, the mid atlantic – were all quite different. The german heritage in Pennsylvania vs. the highly english protestant of new england – from before the founding even. The ‘invasion’ of the irish was taken with every bit of the angst and ire that you’re talking about if we were to similarly open our borders now.

Your vision of America just doesn’t seem to match the history, that’s all. I am not suggesting you’re a racist, nor am I suggesting America hasn’t been exceptional. But that is not because of some mythic cohesion or culture – it has been due to a framework that allowed for the rules of combat amongst all the disparate groups such that there was no actual killing or violence, just a lot of nasty rhetoric. We thrive because we can argue and fight with each other without killing each other.

And maybe because deep down, the vast majority of us believe that we all have a right to live as we choose in peace.

I am just arguing that the reason so many millions have run to this country was the opportunity to do just that. That ‘selfishness’ underlies immigrants and probably emigrants too. Those of us born here, with parents, cousins, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles that fought and died for this country don’t really think about the ‘choice’ to come here. It’s a bit different when the choice was just recently made by a family.

I think it’s also different when just being here is a risky proposition. Right now, I do have a bit of fear of being discovered in my community as a conservative. Where I live, that DOES affect your ability to get jobs, and maintain a social life. At some point, I do think it’s reasonable for a person to ask, “Do I want to live somewhere where I am not wanted, and where my values and beliefs are something that is considered shameful?”

So that’s step one, what happens when it’s no longer just social stigmatism and it grows into a threat of real physical harm?

Is it selfish to determine you don’t want to preserve this?

Are we really worse off when we let in foreigners who will work hard and strive to be part of the success story? Suppose the number of immigrants tripled or quadrupled up to the rate it was at in the mid-19th century, would we really lose our country? Would it really be so organized and all from one place and vote as a block?

And they came here for ‘selfish’ reasons. And many went back to Ireland when opportunities opened back up there. I suppose there’d be a huge impact on the politics – the irish sure did back in the day, but it wasn’t the end of America.

WashingtonsWake on April 18, 2012 at 12:39 AM

You understand those intangibles that make a place like America great, because you’ve lived without them.

avgjo on April 17, 2012 at 11:39 PM

Very well said! (your entire comment actually) Reminds me of a quote, paraphrased – America isn’t just a country, it’s a beautiful idea.

DoubleClutchin on April 18, 2012 at 1:20 AM


Sorry, I didn’t meant to imply that you would think I was racist. I meant generally in our culture.

As for the cohesion, just consider this.

The revolutionaries and their enemies:

largely held the same morality
largely held the same religion
largely held the same philosophy

as their enemies. They differed primarily on policy. Compare this with now.

As for the ‘selfishness’…

I think that those folks saw something intangibly different about this country. That intangible something is summed in the words from the Declaration:

‘..men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these the right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

The stuff you (and most conservatives today) are talking about are the mere fruits of this crucial principle. Prosperity and stability follow the correct worldview. Without this worldview, the Founders could not have ordered our society as well as they did. The problem with modern conservatism is that it confuses the signs of America’s greatness (prosperity and stability) with the cause of America’s greatness.

Just as with any disease, as the cause goes untreated, the appearance of health disappears, eventuating in death. America’s rotting at her spiritual, moral and philosophical core. And we’re seeing it in our reduced standard of living, as corruption and fraud erode our system and inflate everything.

And yet all the conservative ‘smart kids’ keep talking about symptoms and nothing of causes.

And we wonder why the patient keeps getting sicker.

avgjo on April 18, 2012 at 4:25 AM

Double Clutchin


avgjo on April 18, 2012 at 4:26 AM