Brain drain or brain gain?

Immigrants account for almost half of US PhD level scientists and engineers. Even higher up, foreign-born individuals have always won a disproportionate number of Nobel Prizes, elections to the National Academy of Sciences and patent citations. But is it really a brain drain?

by HBS Working Knowledge
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

New research by Prof William Kerr from Harvard Business School suggests that while it may appear to be a drain, technology transfer from the US to the immigrants' country of origin has been very efficient amongst ethnic communities.

Kerr says that this has been a positive effect of ethnic diasporas. "Traditional models of technology diffusion suggest that if you have a great ideas, people who are 10 feet away from you will learn about that idea first, followed by people 100 miles away and so forth in concentric circles," he explains.

"My research on ethnic networks suggests this channel facilitates faster knowledge transfer and faster adoption of foreign technologies."

But with countries such as China and India becoming more attractive places to live and work in, the flow of returnees is likely to increase. "Historically, the US has been very successful at the retention of foreign born PhD level scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs. The returnee pattern is likely to accelerate over the next 30 years and we need to understand how this reverse migration will impact the US rate of progress."

Source: The Immigrant Technologist: Studying technology transfer with China
Michael Roberts
HBS Working Knowledge

Review by Emilie Filou

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