Americas Economics

Brain Drain in Colombia

The intersection between migration and development is a complicated nexus of factors, including the impacts of migration patterns on development. One interesting migration phenomenon that greatly impacts development is known as brain drain.

Written by Juan C. Gomez on December 13, 2017

Introduction

Migration is an extraordinarily complex issue that has gained immense international attention by world leaders in recent years, specifically how migration impacts countries that receive immigrants en masse, such as the United States. Migration’s impact, however, is not only felt by countries that receive migrants but also from migrant’s home country. Migration can have varying effects (positive and negative) on the sending country and can impact how the state develops economically, socially, and politically. The intersection between migration and development is a complicated nexus of factors, including the impacts of migration patterns on development. One interesting migration phenomenon that greatly impacts development is known as brain drain. Brain drain is an exodus of high-skilled immigrants (college education or higher) from developing to developed countries. Brain drain creates an economic loss in developing countries in two ways: investment loss of educating future migrants and weakening of high-skilled economic sectors. In the long-term these economic consequences weaken prospects for developing countries to create prolonged economic growth and advancement. [1]

This paper will analyze a case study of the brain drain phenomenon in Colombia and see how the emigration of highly skilled migrants to the United States has impacted the economic development of the country. I will be primarily concerned with the emigration of high-skilled workers in STEM fields and the economic consequences their loss has on growth, inequality, and poverty. Further, I will also address governmental responses to brain drain and how the Colombian government has attempted to incentivize these high-skilled workers to share knowledge, practices, and research with their domestic counterparts.

Through an analysis of brain drain, this paper will answer the following two-part question: How has the brain drain phenomenon impacted Colombia’s economic development and how has the Colombian government responded to such phenomenon? I will answer the first part of the question through an analysis of emigration of highly educated workers from the 1980s until today. Due to limited research, I will primarily focus on the emigration of workers in STEM fields as there is more extensive research on these migrants. Further, the government has established programs and policies specifically targeting these groups. Economic development will be measured by how it impacts STEM economic sectors in Colombia.

The second part of the question will address how the government has responded to this emigration and what policies they have implemented to reverse the detrimental consequences of brain drain. The bulk of this analysis will be done using the Caldas network (Colombian Network of Scientists and Engineers Abroad) which was established by the Colombian government in 1991 to create a network where migrants in developed countries could interact with scientists and engineers back in Colombia. This network sought to establish joint projects, conferences, and events between the diaspora groups and intellectuals back in Colombia.[2] The program was an attempt to mitigate the effects of brain drain and instead utilize these migrants to help support STEM sectors of the economy.

Background information

To properly analyze how the emigration of high skilled workers has impacted Colombia’s development I will give historical, social, and economic context of Colombia and its migratory patterns to the United States. During the latter half of the 20th century, Colombia faced increasing political and economic turmoil.[3] The economic and political crisis throughout the 1980s and 1990s produced a stagnant economy and high chronic unemployment. Following the turn of the century, however, economic prospects for Colombia have grown significantly. GDP (Gross Domestic Product) has grown from $95 billion in 2003 to $270 billion in 2012 and there is rapid economic growth in cities that were historically plagued by high levels of poverty and violence.[4] Further, a fifty-year armed conflict between the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), a guerilla-Marxist group in southern Colombia, and the National Government has ceased and both parties are negotiating a peace agreement.[5]

The economic and political conditions throughout the latter half of the 20th century led to a tremendous growth in the migration of Colombians to the United States. Since 2013, there are an estimated 1.1 million people of Colombian origin living in the United States, a 131% increase from 1990.[6] Education is a crucial and appropriate demographic characteristic to consider in analyzing the brain drain effect. Thirty four percent of Colombian migrants had a bachelor’s degree, comparable to the average US population of 30%. [7]  Between 1970 and 1980 there was a 66% increase of migrants from Colombia who were professionals or technicians, while between 1980 and 1990 there was a 77% increase in this migration.[8] Continuing higher education is also an important motivation for migration of Colombians; the plurality of these migrants went to the United States and are enrolled in doctoral or postdoctoral studies. Nearly three quarters of these migrants completed their undergraduate studies and pursued higher levels of education abroad.[9]

Migrants with education and experience in the STEM field are also a significant portion of highly-educated Colombian emigrants. An estimated 4% of Colombia’s scientists and engineers had migrated to the United States as of 1997.[10] Furthermore, Colombia also has the largest number of physicians working in the United States in the entirety of South America.[11] Nearly 6% of the national population of physicians had migrated to the United States.[12] Not only is Colombia sending a large quantity of its STEM workers to the United States, but they are also qualitatively amongst the best workers in their fields. According to a study, 17.4% of migrant physicians had outstanding scores equivalent to the United States, while the general control only had 3 to 5 % meeting this criterion.[13] The emigration of the most educated people in Colombia poses a problem, as the people who qualitatively are the most prepared and prosperous are leaving at a higher rate than their less successful counterparts. Colombian migrants view the United States and other developed nations as a place with opportunities to expand their educational opportunities and achieve higher levels of income.

The Colombian government has been aware of the exodus of highly educated workers and sought measures to reduce the negative effects that result from it. As a result, Colciencas, a “governmental agency in charge of national research management and funding” established the Caldas Network in 1991.[14] Previous government efforts were focused on incentivizing the return of these highly-skilled migrants, but these policies largely failed because the Colombian government could not create an adequate incentive for migrants to return to worse economic and social conditions.[15] The goal of this agency was to create a brain circulation between the diaspora groups in STEM fields and those in Colombia. Brain circulation is information flow between diaspora and home groups to help alleviate the effects of brain drain and instead turn these high-skilled migrants into a positive asset for national development. Instead of pushing for these migrants to return home, they encouraged them to share projects, ideas, and information with scientists and engineers at home. The utilization of migrants as positive agents of change for underdeveloped STEM sectors was also paralleled by an aggressive expansion of research and development in Colombia. During the 1990s there was a 400% increase in research and activities funding as well as the creation of the National System of Science and Technology which sought to increase research and development in STEM. [16] It is evident that the integration of migrants into a STEM network was not the only policy the government sought. Instead, they used migrants as a part of a larger holistic plan to expand science and technology research to expand domestic STEM sectors.

The expansion of technology also helped facilitate the feasibility and effectiveness of the Caldas network. R-Caldas was created in 1993 to discuss academic information between Colombian scientists and engineers.[17] This network exchanges substantial academic papers that discuss a wide variety of topics: there are an estimated 71 specialized groups within R-Caldas.[18] Further, since its inception there have been constant number of members but an exponential increase in the number of messages amongst them.[19] The expansion of technology and the internet specifically has allowed these networks to be more successful and create sustained academic discussions between diaspora intellectual groups and their Colombian counterparts.

The success of this program is uncertain due to research limitations, but there is some concrete evidence about the possible benefits of the Caldas program. It has successfully created ties and ease of communication between intellectuals abroad and at home, establishing permanent relations that have led to join venture projects. Further, these research projects have created closer ties with global universities and local Colombian ones.[20] Although the Caldas network has created a flexible network that spurs intellectual sharing directly with diaspora groups, it still has flaws that limit its full potential. The main flaw of the program is the heterogeneity of the diaspora group.[21] The expansion of key scientific sectors using this network is limited by the heterogeneity of the migrants’ academic specialty, spanning over nearly 300 thematic issues.[22] Due to the vastness of the intellectual specialization, growth of certain STEM industries is difficult because there are not enough intellectuals working in a single field of study. These migrants are spread throughout different STEM sectors and physical locations, limiting the feasibility and effectiveness of an all-encompassing approach to bring these migrants into national discussion.

Theoretical Application

Migration

There is a plethora of theories attempting to explain what initially causes migrants to move. The neoclassical theory is best at explaining why Colombian high-skilled migrants decided to move to the United States. According to the neoclassical theory, migrants make the individual decision to migrate to maximize their income.[23] This applies most specifically in regard to high-skilled migrants, who go to countries where the rate of return for their human capital is the highest.[24] High-skilled Colombian migrants can expect a higher level of income in the United States, and that is what pushes them to migrate. Although this theory can be applied to explain why high-skilled migrants emigrate, there exist broader concerns outside of purely economic ones that the neoclassical theory cannot adequately encompass. Many of these migrants choose to leave the country for educational reasons, to expand their research in countries that have greater opportunities for than Colombia.[25] Economics does play a factor in this decision, as developed countries can provide higher earnings for the research done, but it is not the sole motivating factor. A sense of improvement in the academic arena and prestige also play an important role in pulling these migrants to highly developed countries, particularly the United States.

Assimilation

Assimilation is the integration of an immigrant into the socioeconomic culture of the country they migrated to. Assimilation, however, is not a uniform occurrence and strongly depends on the economic and social conditions of the immigrant.[26] Assimilation can occur at three levels: upward mobility to the middle class, downward mobility towards impoverishment, and personal economic growth while retaining traditional cultural ties.[27] Based on demographic characteristics, high-skilled Colombian immigrants typically assimilate upwardly into the white middle class. High levels of education ease assimilation because of the selective nature of their migration pattern. Migrants who possess a high level of education and migrate will have an easier time adjusting to the host country and most likely will live in middle-class neighborhoods. Evidence of this assimilation is limited by research constraints but data has shown that demographic indicators such as average education, age, employment, and marriage are comparable with average national levels in the United States. These demographic indicators are often higher in Colombian migrants than the general Hispanic immigrant community.[28] Furthermore, assimilation for second generation Colombians is much easier, especially because nearly 57% of them have a parent from an origin outside Colombia, particularly the United States. [29] Many first generation Colombians marry outside their nationality to “white America” which makes assimilation for their children a much easier phenomenon.

Development

Colombia’s emigration of high-skilled migrants effects can be analyzed through two different, but complementary theories: world system analysis and state theory. The creation of the Caldas Network can be seen as an attempt by the Colombian government to create a developmental state. A developmental state is one where the government bureaucracy is free from special public interests but is also linked to society and understands the needs of its citizens, a concept known as embedded autonomy.[30] Colombia’s network is an attempt to form a developmental state which cooperates with diaspora and non-migrant groups to create a network that is mutually beneficial for both parties. The success of this attempt as a developmental state, however, is hindered by Colombia’s position in the global hierarchy. World Systems Analysis argues that there is a strict hierarchy of wealth among core, semi-periphery, and periphery countries.[31] Core countries are one that have the highest level of income, followed by the semi-periphery, with the periphery at the lowest level. For the purposes of this discussion, Colombia will be considered a semi-periphery country because of its upper middle-income GDP per capita and regional military and political influence.  As a semi-periphery country, its development path is limited because the hierarchy of wealth is a rigid structure and if a country makes too much economic gain it will be pushed down by the core. Using this analysis, no matter how the Colombian government reacts to brain drain it will not end the long-run inequality inherent in the world order. This analysis can be applied to the emigration of physicians from Colombia. The physicians at the top of their academic and medical fields are also the ones who are migrating disproportionately to the United States, creating a double negative effect of the brain drain. Essentially, World Systems analysis implies that the unfair labor and income stratification of the world gives Colombia little prospect for upward relative mobility. World systems analysis would argue Colombia is a semi-periphery state that is attempting to make the best out of a bad situation and use its resources to mitigate the worse effects of its brain drain, while in the long-run maintaining its position on the hierarchy of wealth.

Transnationalism

The theory of Transnationalism belongs to a different sphere of the migration development nexus. It is the space where migrants participate in social, economic, political, and cultural practices across borders of the country they reside in and their home country.[32] Of particular importance is how transnationalism occurs in the economic, political, and social spheres and how these spheres are constantly evolving according to the actions of the migrants. Transnationalism also occurs at many different levels, from political institutions and grassroots activities.[33] In Colombia’s case, these institutions and organizations are very powerful in helping establish and continue transnational networks between highly educated individuals. For example, A state level organization like the Caldas Network attempts to establish a permanent network so that diaspora intellectuals can cooperate and share knowledge with non-migrants. This Colombian governmental policy can be seen as an attempt to proliferate their knowledge economy. The knowledge economy is an idea developed from a World Bank Report that argues through the expansion of knowledge economy as a pathway to development, this would allow developing countries to leapfrog light industrialization and move towards high-tech industry.[34] Colombia is attempting to follow this knowledge for development model through the use of transnational networks.

Conclusion

The conclusive data on how brain drain has impacted Colombia is uncertain, but there is evidence of its impact on certain economic spheres, particularly the healthcare industry. The healthcare industry in Colombia is more vulnerable to brain drain compared to other sectors because of the double negative effect of the brain drain. The combination of large number of physician emigrants and the quality of those physicians weakens the growth of a strong and advanced healthcare industry. People who would be at the top of their fields in Colombia instead move to the United States. This problem is further exacerbated because emigration of physicians weakens the rural healthcare sector, limiting the scarce healthcare opportunities that rural citizens have access to.  This helps entrench inequality further as this physician emigration produces “an exodus of physicians from poor, rural areas.”[37] The physician emigration has negatively impacted the advancement of the healthcare industry and widened a rural-urban gap of healthcare access.  Due to limited evidence, an analysis of brain drain on other economic sectors is not feasible. However, the physician case showcases that emigration can not only widen economic opportunities between countries but also within them.

The government’s ability to react to the brain drain phenomenon has led to an increase in transnational activities between diaspora groups and domestic ones, but success has been limited and the program has met with structural issues due to the heterogeneity of its members. The Caldas network is a positive move towards the incorporation of migrants into a national development plan, but it needs a more dynamic approach to adapt itself properly to different fields of study and projects. The Colombian government initiated steps in the 1990s towards mitigating the negative effects of brain drain, but it needs to develop new and innovative networks to create a brain gain from the emigration of high-skilled workers.

 

Bibliography:

  1.     Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 285-315. Accessed December 3, 2017.
  2.     Meyer, Jean-Baptiste. “Network Approach versus Brain Drain: Lessons from the Diaspora.” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 91-110. Accessed December 3, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00173.
  3.     Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2492-500. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.
  4.     Rosselli, D. , Otero, A. and Maza, G. (2001), Colombian physician brain drain. Medical Education, 35: 809–810. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.1014f.x.
  5.     Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 111-32. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.
  6.     López, Gustavo. “Hispanics of Colombian Origin in the United States, 2013.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. September 15, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2017. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/15/hispanics-of-colombian-origin-in-the-united-states-2013/.
  7.     “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 1-14. Accessed December 8, 2017. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/select-diaspora-populations-united-states.
  8.     Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1-9. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  9.     Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009. Accessed December 5, 2017.
  10.  Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. “The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530 (1993): 74-96. Accessed December 5, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1047678.
  11.  de Haas, Hein. 2010. “Migration and Development: A Theoretical Perspective.” International Migration Review 44:227–264.
  12.  Evans, Peter B. “Predatory, Developmental, and Other Apparatuses: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on the Third World State.” Sociological Forum 4, no. 4 (1989): 561-87. http://www.jstor.org/stable/684425.
  13.  Arrighi, Giovanni. “The Developmentalist Illusion: A Reconceptualization of the Semiperiphery.” In Semiperipheral States in the World Economy, 11-42. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.
  14.  Levitt, Peggy, and B. Nadya Jaworsky. “Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends.” Annual Review of Sociology 33, no. 1 (2007): 129-56. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.33.040406.131816.
  15.  Radhakrishnan, Smitha. “Rethinking knowledge for development: Transnational knowledge professionals and the “new” India.” Theory and Society 36, no. 2 (2007): 141-59. Accessed December 6, 2017. doi:10.1007/s11186-007-9024-2.

 

[1] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 112. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.

 

[2] Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1-2. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[3] “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 3. Accessed December 8, 2017. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/select-diaspora-populations-united-states.

[4] Ibid. 3

[5] Ibid. 3

[6] López, Gustavo. “Hispanics of Colombian Origin in the United States, 2013.” Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project. September 15, 2015. Accessed December 7, 2017. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2015/09/15/hispanics-of-colombian-origin-in-the-united-states-2013/.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 127. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.

[9] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 294. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[10] Pellegrino, Adela. “Trends in Latin American Skilled Migration: “Brain Drain” or “Brain Exchange”?” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 128. Accessed December 7, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00174.

[11] Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2493. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.

[12] Rosselli, D. , Otero, A. and Maza, G. (2001), Colombian physician brain drain. Medical Education, 35: 809–810. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2923.2001.1014f.x.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 289. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[15] Granés, José, Alvaro Morales, and Jean-Baptiste Meyer. “Potentialities and Limitations of the Caldas Network of Colombian Researchers Abroad: Case Studies of Joint International Projects.” International scientific migrations, 1996, 1. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[16] Meyer, J., Charum, J., Bernal, D., Gaillard, J., Granés, J., Leon, J., Montenegro, A., Morales, A., Murcia, C., Narvaez-Berthelemot, N., Stella Parrado, L. and Schlemmer, B. (1997). Turning Brain Drain into Brain Gain: The Colombian Experience of the Diaspora Option. Science, Technology and Society, 2(2): 291. Accessed December 3, 2017.

[17] Ibid. 299

[18] Ibid. 300-301

[19] Ibid. 300

[20] Ibid. 309

[21] Ibid. 311

[22] Ibid. 296

[23] Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009: 17 Accessed December 5, 2017.

[24] Ibid. 19

[25] Meyer, Jean-Baptiste. “Network Approach versus Brain Drain: Lessons from the Diaspora.” International Migration 39, no. 5 (2001): 99 Accessed December 3, 2017. doi:10.1111/1468-2435.00173.

[26] Portes, Alejandro, and Min Zhou. “The New Second Generation: Segmented Assimilation and Its Variants.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 530 (1993): 48. Accessed December 5, 2017. http://www.jstor.org/stable/1047678.

[27] Ibid. 48

[28] “The Colombian Diaspora in the United States.” Migration Policy Institute, May 2015, 1-14. Accessed December 8, 2017. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/select-diaspora-populations-united-states.

[29] Ibid. 3

[30] Evans, Peter B. “Predatory, Developmental, and Other Apparatuses: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on the Third World State.” Sociological Forum 4, no. 4 (1989): 575. http://www.jstor.org/stable/684425.

[31] Arrighi, Giovanni. “The Developmentalist Illusion: A Reconceptualization of the Semiperiphery.” In Semiperipheral States in the World Economy, 11-42. New York: Greenwood Press, 1990.

[32] Levitt, Peggy, and B. Nadya Jaworsky. “Transnational Migration Studies: Past Developments and Future Trends.” Annual Review of Sociology 33, no. 1 (2007): 130. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1146/annurev.soc.33.040406.131816.

[34] Radhakrishnan, Smitha. “Rethinking knowledge for development: Transnational knowledge professionals and the “new” India.” Theory and Society 36, no. 2 (2007): 142. Accessed December 6, 2017. doi:10.1007/s11186-007-9024-2.

[35] Massey, Douglas S., Joaquín Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino, and J. Edward. Taylor. Worlds in motion: understanding international migration at the end of the millennium. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2009: 224. Accessed December 5, 2017.

[36] Astor, Avraham, Tasleem Akhtar, María Alexandra Matallana, Vasantha Muthuswamy, Folarin A. Olowu, Veronica Tallo, and Reidar K. Lie. “Physician migration: Views from professionals in Colombia, Nigeria, India, Pakistan and the Philippines.” Social Science & Medicine 61, no. 12 (2005): 2495. Accessed December 5, 2017. doi:10.1016/j.socscimed.2005.05.003.

[37] Ibid. 2498

 

 

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