- National Origin and Brain Waste
- Factors Contributing to Differences in Brain Waste
- Destination Country Labor Markets
Brain waste refers to the underuse of migrant knowledge within a host country. In contrast, brain use refers to a situation inwhich migrants obtain jobs commensuratewith their educational level and are in a position to make use of their knowledge and skills in the host-country labor market. Greater incidence of brain waste translates into lower levels of brain use and vice versa.
The 1990s were characterized by major geopolitical change and state reconfiguration. These changes put inmotionnewpatterns inthemovement of people across boundaries and gave rise to several new trends in internationalmigration (International Organization for Migration 2005). An important new trend is that contemporary migration is concentrated in a few developed countries. In 1970, the developed world received 47 percent of all international migrants whereas 53 percent of migrants moved to developing countries. By 2000, the proportion of international migrants to developed countries had risen to 63 percent. The sharpest increase was in the United States, but Australia, Canada, France,Germany, and theUnited Kingdomalso experienced substantial increases in their migrant populations (International Organization for Migration 2005).
In many of these receiving countries, family reunification has been an important vehicle of admission. In recent years, however, admission of skilled workers has gained prominence. In 2000,more than a half million skilled migrants were selected for admission to the United States, along with more than 100,000 inAustralia and theUnited Kingdom, fewer than 100,000 in Canada, nearly 50,000 in New Zealand, and fewer than 10,000 in France (International Organization for Migration 2005). The growing use of skill level as an admission criterion in destination countries is important to the effective use of labor resources in the world economy.
National Origin and Brain Waste
Migrants to Europe and especially the United States tend to be highly educated (Ozden 2006). Those who migrate to the United States from Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe are more educated than their counterparts that set out forWesternEurope. In contrast, theUnited States is by far the destination of preference for Latin American migrants, and their educational levels tend to be lower than the average levels in their home countries (Ozden 2006).
A key issue in brain waste research is the extent to which migrants’ knowledge and skills are employed in destination countries. Some researchers have indicated that, despite the same level of educational attainment, migrants from different regions show significant differences in job placements in the U.S. labor market. One can discern three categories relating to the incidence of brain waste low, moderate, and high from Ozden’s (2006) study.
The first category is composed of professional migrants from Asia and Western Europe. It also includes migrants from Japan and Australia. Using 2000 U.S. Census data, Ozden (2006) concluded that, in general, migrants from Asia tend to do better in terms of brain use than those from Western Europe. Brain use is lowest (and thus the incidence of brain waste is highest) among migrants from the Republic of Korea (33 percent) and Pakistan (38 percent); comparatively moderate for migrants from the Philippines (40 percent), Taiwan (46 percent), and China (51 percent); and highest among those from India (76 percent). For migrants from Western Europe, Japan, and Australia, brain use is estimated at between 38 percent for migrants from Italy to 69 percent for migrants from Ireland. Migrants from Japan,theUnitedKingdom,Germany,Canada,and Australia alsodorelatively well, with between59percent (Japan) and 65 percent (United Kingdom). In this study, brain waste and brain use were measured by assessing the gap between educational attainment and job description in the destination country.
The second category ofmigrants, characterized by moderate brain waste, is composed of those from various African countries. The incidence of brain use is lowest among professionalmigrants fromEthiopia (37 percent), and highest among those from South Africa (62 percent). For immigrants from countries such asNigeria,Ghana, and Kenya, brain waste is in the middle of this range, between 40 percent and 52 percent.
The third category ofmigrants, characterized by a high degree of brain waste, is composed of professionalmigrants from Eastern Europe, LatinAmerica, and theMiddleEast. Although the incidence of brain waste is highest in this category, important differences between regions can be discerned. Formigrants from Eastern Europe, brain use is estimated at between 31 percent (former Yugoslavia) and 57 percent (Hungary). For migrants from Latin America, brain use is estimated at between 32 percent (Guatemala) and 51 percent (Brazil).Of all groups,migrants from theMiddle East experience the greatest incidence of brain waste, with brain use estimated at between 25 percent (migrants from Morocco) and 46 percent (migrants from Lebanon).
Factors Contributing to Differences in Brain Waste
What explains the pattern of brain use among migrants from different regions of the world who possess the same educational credentials? Some brain waste researchers attribute the differences to quality and selection variables (Ozden 2006;Matto,Neagu, and Ozden 2005). Quality variables affect the extent to which an immigrant’s human capital is valued within the host country. Two such variables are the source country’s expenditure on tertiary education and whether the English language is used in the host country. The greater the expenditure on tertiary education, the better the schools and therefore the better the knowledge and skill level of the migrant. Proficiency in the English language can facilitate migrant communication in theUnited States since it is the primary language of business.
Selection variables relate to differences in the abilities of immigrants from different countries. Selection variables predict whether immigrants from a particular country represent the highly educated and therefore professionally competitive, or the minimally educated and therefore professionally uncompetitive, members of their own society. Ozden (2006) considers three selection variables (gross domestic product GDP per capita, distance, and conflict) that relate to the source country and one selection variable (migration policy) that relates to the destination country.
The higher the GDP per capita of the source country, the higher the opportunity cost of migration. Therefore, those whomightwish tomigrate are those who expect to get higher monetary returns on their knowledge and skills overseas. Less-educated individuals from high GDP per capita countries are unlikely tomigrate because the costs ofmigration are greater than the expected returns. In contrast, both highly educated and less-well-educated individuals from low GDP per capita countries may want to migrate to highGDP per capita countries because of the expected economic rewards.Migration from low GDP per capita countries tends to favor the highly educated, however, because they are likely to possess the financial resources required tomake amove. The implication of this for differentiating the abilities of migrants from different source countries is that we can expect migrants from high GDP per capita countries to be educated and skilled, while, in general, there is greater uncertainty about the abilities of those from low GDP per capita countries since they represent an education and skill mixture that has to be sorted out in the host country labor market. Further, the process of sorting between skilled and unskilled migrants can be costly for organizations.
Distance between source and destination countries can also have an impact on migrant ability through a self-selection process. Migrants are likely to select a distant destination over a closer one if they believe that they will obtain higher returns on their knowledge and skills in the former. Thus highly skilled migrants from Africa and the Middle East who expect higher rewards in the U.S. labor market are likely to migrate to the United States rather than to the closer destination of Western Europe. Even in Western Europe, wheremigration policy has favored family reunification and political asylum seekers, there is a trend toward policies that favor economic migration, making the distance explanation more widely applicable.
Military conflict can have at least two impacts on differences in abilities amongmigrants.The presence of political instability andmilitary conflict creates an incentive for people with varying educational levels to migrate. This, in turn, contributes to a migrant population with a varying skill and knowledge composition. Military conflicts also affect the allocation of scarce resources from education tomilitary efforts in source countries. This, in turn, diminishes the quality of education and the abilities of migrants from affected countries.
The only selection variable that relates to the destination country is migration policy (Ozden 2006). This relates to the openness of immigration policies to migrants from particular countries. The more open the migration policies of destination countries, the more varied the skill composition of migrants. In contrast, migration policies can range from being open to migrants from countries perceived to have highly educated migrants in targeted industries, to being relatively restrictive toward migrants fromcountries perceived to have a low level of educational attainment among their populations.
Destination Country Labor Markets
Although quality and selection variablesmay play an important role in brain waste, they mask destination-country labor market characteristics that may play an even greater role in explaining the differential patterns of brain waste among migrant professionals. The presumed efficiency of the labormarket can hold only if employers in the destination country have perfect information relating to the quality and selection variables pertaining to the source countries of each immigrant.Furthermore, theywould also have to use this information rationally to assess the value of identical educational credentials of migrants from different source countries.Research in organizational studies, migration, and cross-cultural adaptation, however, suggest that both structural and cognitive biases on the part of employers and migrants alike play a significant role in shaping perceptions of migrants from different parts of the world and affecting hiring decisions.
Research on diversity in organizations in the U.S. context identifies a wide range of structural barriers faced by nonmajority groupmembers.These include discrimination and prejudice based on a variety of differences (Cox 1993), institutional barriers such as the organizational history in relation to diversity practice, formal hiring practices, and informal organizational processes (Nkomo 1992; Cox 1993). There are reasons to believe that these barriers would also be relevant to other destination countries (de Beijl 1996). Although diversity research has provided significant insight into the impact of these types of barriers on minority members in general, it has generally ignored the unique circumstances of migrants. Research on migration and cross-cultural adjustment suggests that many of the barriers identified in the diversity literature are important in understanding migrant work adjustment. There are other barriers faced by migrants, however, such as language, culture clash, lack of information and knowledge about the labor market, and the inability of potential employers to assess migrant credentials (de Beijl 1996).These barriers affectmigrants’ ability to adapt and become effectively integrated into the work context as well as the employment and promotion decisions of employers. Most important, these employment decisions on the part of employers fly in the face of any rational calculation regarding the migrants’ qualifications. Thus exploring the cognitive and structural biases that play a role in migrant work adjustment would give us greater insight into the factors that may contribute to the differential pattern of brainwaste amongmigrants from different parts of the world identified by Ozden (2006). See also brain drain; brain gain; migration governance; migration, international