Brain drain dilemma: A critical examination



“Brain drain” generally means skilled workers moving from developing to developed countries for better opportunities. While it offers personal benefits, it raises concerns about the impact on countries “losing talent”. This analysis will explore whether brain drain is a problem or potentially advantageous. (See Figure 01)

Benefits of Brain Drain

Brain drain can be seen as a natural consequence of globalization, where skilled individuals seek opportunities in countries with better economic prospects, infrastructure, and quality of life. For individuals, migrating to developed countries often means access to superior educational and professional opportunities, higher wages, and better living conditions. Moreover, the remittances sent back by migrants contribute significantly to the economies of their home countries, aiding development efforts.

However, the benefits of brain drain are not confined to migrants and their families alone. Destination countries gain from the influx of skilled labour, which fuels innovation, enhances productivity, and fills critical gaps in their labour markets. Furthermore, diversity, resulting from immigration, enriches the cultural fabric of these societies, fostering creativity and dynamism.

Global Entrepreneurship and Local Empowerment

Many Sri Lankan entrepreneurs, who have established numerous companies abroad, not only hire Sri Lankans for positions in their overseas ventures but also generates significant employment opportunities domestically, by assigning jobs to their local companies, thereby contributing to job creation at home.

Therefore, in the IT field a compelling viewpoint put forth by modern liberalists compares skilled professionals to export products in the realm of manufacturing expertise, akin to tangible goods and services. Countries such as India and the Philippines exemplify this approach. They produce a considerable number of skilled professionals who venture abroad to establish companies in developed nations, engaging in international business, particularly in information-related sectors.

They delegate tasks and transfer technology to their home countries, thereby facilitating the creation of more human expert products, “exportable expertise” or “exportable intellectual capital.”.

This cycle creates a double benefit: remittances and employment generation. Firstly, while working abroad, these professionals send remittances back to their home countries, providing crucial financial support to their families and contributing to the national economy

Secondly, by employing local individuals to carry out tasks typically done for developed countries, they generate employment opportunities in their home countries, thereby fostering domestic job creation.

In essence, modern liberalists advocate for viewing skilled migration as a form of export, wherein professionals serve as valuable assets that contribute to both the global economy and the development of their home countries. This perspective underscores the potential for mutual benefit and highlights the dynamic nature of globalization in shaping contemporary labour markets.

Drawbacks of Brain Drain

Despite the apparent advantages of brain drain, the traditional perspective is that it poses several challenges. They highlight the multifaceted impact of brain drain, emphasizing its potential to undermine the development prospects of source countries and exacerbate global inequalities. This phenomenon is particularly pronounced in sectors such as healthcare and education, where the loss of trained personnel can have severe consequences for public services.

Among their concerns are:

Talent Loss in Immigrant Countries:

They assert that countries experiencing brain drain suffer from a loss of valuable talent. The departure of skilled professionals creates a void in critical sectors, impacting the workforce and innovation capabilities of these nations.

Skill Shortages and Service Efficiency:

Departure of skilled professionals can lead to skill shortages, affecting the efficient delivery of services to the population. This can particularly impact essential services such as healthcare and education, where skilled personnel are crucial for maintaining quality standards and meeting the needs of the populace.

Hampering Economic Growth and Development:

Brain drain is seen as a hindrance to economic growth and development. The exodus of skilled workers deprives the source country of the expertise needed to drive innovation, productivity, and competitiveness. This, in turn, can impede progress and perpetuate disparities between nations.

Loss of Revenue to the State:

However, according to liberal modernists, the disadvantages of brain drain are more closely aligned with the challenges posed by globalization, such as the loss of revenue to the government, encompassing both current and opportunity costs.

Liberal modernists argue that brain drain leads to a significant loss of tax revenues for the government. As skilled professionals migrate to other countries, they contribute to the tax base of the destination nation rather than their country of origin. This phenomenon diminishes the resources available for public investment and socio-economic development within the source country.

Moreover, liberal modernists emphasize the concept of opportunity cost associated with brain drain. Beyond the immediate loss of tax revenues, the departure of skilled individuals represents a missed opportunity for the source country to leverage their expertise for economic growth and development. These individuals could have contributed to innovation, entrepreneurship, and productivity within their homeland, thereby fostering progress and enhancing competitiveness on the global stage.

In essence, liberal modernists highlight the broader implications of brain drain, emphasizing not only the tangible loss of tax revenues but also the intangible costs in terms of missed opportunities for national advancement and prosperity.

Policy Implications

Addressing brain drain requires a multifaceted approach that balances the interests of both source and destination countries. Source countries must invest in education, research, and infrastructure to retain talent and create conducive environments for innovation and entrepreneurship. Moreover, policies aimed at facilitating the return of skilled migrants, such as tax incentives and professional networks, can help harness their expertise for the benefit of their home countries.

Alternatively, an effective system should be in place to reclaim the funds invested in their education, including graduate and postgraduate levels, especially for professionals like doctors, nurses, and university academics who benefited from taxpayer-funded higher education.

Destination countries, on the other hand, should adopt more ethical recruitment practices and provide opportunities for skill transfer and capacity-building in source countries. Additionally, efforts to promote circular migration, where skilled individuals move between countries while maintaining ties with their homeland, can mitigate the negative consequences of brain drain.

Cost benefit analysis

The regulators should introduce a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis of such migration, enabling informed policy decisions on how to maximize the benefits of “brain drain” without raising objections. Such cost-benefit analysis includes assessing all costs associated with free education, training such professionals, both domestically and overseas, including government-sponsored training programmes.

To ensure that the investment in their education is appropriately recouped, suitable legislation should be enacted. This legislation would aim to recover the costs incurred by the government without allowing individuals to evade responsibility. Additionally, measures such as offering benefits in kind or encouraging foreign direct investments can be explored as means of offsetting these costs, while simultaneously fostering job creation domestically.

Optimizing Human Resource Allocation:

Migration of certain professionals can lead to savings in terms of opportunity costs. Many professionals do not fully contribute their fair share of income tax to fund the infrastructure and public services they benefit from. While the exact positive impact of their migration may be challenging to quantify, it is undoubtedly present. Additionally, some professionals may neglect their primary duties in favour of administrative tasks. The migration of such individuals could result in a more efficient allocation of human resources, allowing those more suited for administrative work to take on those responsibilities.

For instance, it’s a common misconception that only doctors should handle administrative tasks within medical settings. By allowing doctors to focus primarily on their clinical duties and entrusting administrative responsibilities to professionals specifically trained for management roles, greater efficiency and effectiveness can be achieved in healthcare organizations.


Brain drain remains a multifaceted phenomenon that prompts significant debate and concern worldwide. While it offers opportunities for individuals seeking better prospects, it raises critical questions about the implications for both source and destination countries.

The benefits of brain drain, including access to superior opportunities and remittances, are undeniable. Skilled migration also fuels innovation and productivity in destination countries, contributing to their economic growth. Moreover, the entrepreneurship of individuals from countries like Sri Lanka exemplifies how skilled migration can lead to job creation domestically, further enhancing the argument for viewing skilled professionals as exportable assets.

Optimizing professional migration can lead to savings in opportunity costs and improve the efficiency of human resource allocation, as certain professionals may not fully contribute their fair share of income tax and may neglect their primary duties in favour of administrative tasks. By allowing specialists to focus on their core responsibilities and delegating administrative tasks to professionals trained for management roles, greater efficiency and effectiveness can be achieved in various sectors.

Policy measures such as effective systems for recovering educational investments, and comprehensive cost-benefit analyses can help maximize the benefits of skilled migration while mitigating its drawbacks.