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DESA/OECD figures on world migration and brain drain

The smaller a developing country’s population, the higher the risk that its highly skilled population will emigrate to developed countries. Earlier this month, the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published jointly figures on world migration with emphasis on the issue of brain drain. The data used by DESA and OECD relies largely on the Database on Immigrants in OECD and non-OECD countries (DIOC). Data for the reference years 2010/11 will be made completely available in December 2013.

The DESA/OECD findings with regard to migration of highly educated people (i.e. those who completed tertiary education) are:

  • 30 % of all migrants (i.e. 27.3 million people) in the OECD area are highly educated;
  • one in nine highly educated immigrants in OECD countries comes from Africa, while one in 13 comes from Latina America and the Caribbean and one in 30 from Asia;
  • 1/5 of highly educated migrants in the OECD area come from India (2 million), China (1.7 million) and the Philippines (1.4 million);
  • alone in the last decade the number of highly educated immigrants increased by 70 %;
  • the number of African highly educated immigrants in the past five years amounts to 450 000;
  • in terms of countries the highest rate of highly educated immigrants from non-OECD countries over the past five years come from Romania (109 000), Brazil (75 000) and Colombia (71 000);
  • the emigration rate of highly educated people is up to 20 times higher than the total emigration rate in case of some developing countries;
  • countries with a small population are strongly affected by brain drain with a proportion of more highly educated persons residing in OECD countries than in their country of origin (i.e. Guyana, Barbados, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago).

The figures demonstrate a significant problem of brain drain and a lack of possibilities for highly educated people in developing countries as well as a high degree of selectivity within OECD countries as to migration by educational attainment. The DESA/OECD figures also provide information on immigration of highly educated people within OECD countries. Most highly educated people emigrating to another OECD country come from Germany (169 000), followed by the United Kingdom (165 000) and Poland (165 000), France (147 000) and the United States (120 000). Given that the figures refer to 2010/11 the supposedly high rate of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Greek university graduates looking for employment in other EU countries is not yet reflected.

DESA/OECD report