Counterintuitive Result of the Day, Brain Drain Edition

The past 20 years have not been a good time to be of Indian origin in Fiji. As a result, many Indians in Fiji have emigrated to Commonwealth countries such as Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, making use of their points-based immigration systems, which value transferrable skills. The most educated are the most likely to leave, and in fact have left, in enormous numbers: a classic case of "brain drain".

Except this story doesn’t end how you think it will. Satish Chand and Michael Clemens note that even in the face of this enormous brain drain, Fiji educated population, even among Indians, has increased:

While tertiary-educated Indians have been leaving in massive numbers, the stock of tertiary-educated Indians in Fiji has increased. Mass skilled-worker emigration has occurred alongside mass skill creation in Fiji.

By using the native Fijian population as a control group, Chand and Clemens manage to demonstrate causality: the brain drain actually caused Fiji to become better educated. "It is not economically meaningful," they write, "to speak of skilled-worker movement as necessarily representing a ‘loss’ to countries of origin." They continue, drily: "This throws into question the meaning of the term ‘brain drain’."

The instrument of causation is quite easy to understand: the more that educated Fijians emigrate to richer lands, the greater the perceived incentives to increase one’s level of education.

I suspect this is true of other countries, too, such as India. If many highly-educated Indians get jobs in the US, that will only increase demand at and for Indian universities. And more generally, the more H visas the US gives away, the better educated the world will become — not only within America’s borders, but outside them, too.

Maybe one of the best ways to improve global education is for countries like Canada to continue with their present immigration policies, and for other developed countries to follow their lead.

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