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Brain circulation is a concept that is posited[by whom?] (Xiaonan Cao 1996) as an alternative model to the idea of brain drain. The concept of "brain drain" gained popularity as skilled labour from certain countries emigrated to other countries in search of better opportunities. In India for example, one witnessed large-scale emigration of engineers from its premier engineering institutes called IIT (Indian Institute of Technology) in the sixties, seventies and eighties. Some commentators[who?] felt that this led to a loss of intellectual capital from the country and coined the term "brain drain" to signify this process.
The late nineties and the early years of the 21st century however saw large numbers of these emigrants returning to India as prospects in India improved markedly, brought on by important economic reforms initiated in the early nineties. Some commentators[who?] now attribute India's success partly on this circular movement of skilled labour. They argue that such circular movement brings to the home country much intangible knowledge that proves invaluable for the country's development. Brain circulation can thus be defined as the circular movement of skilled labour across nations.
Brain circulation vs. brain drain
When skilled labor emigrates from a country, it can be argued that it represents a loss of intellectual capital and resource to the nation. Certainly, when professionals like engineers, doctors and nurses emigrate en masse, it can pose a real problem to a nation as these professionals help in delivering many critical services to the people of the country. Commentators have dubbed this process of emigration of skilled labor "brain drain" and the process of immigration of skilled labor to foreign countries "brain gain", denoting the gain of intellectual capital of host nations receiving this skilled labor.
But some[who?] have lately realized that brain drain is only one part of the story. The other part of the story relates to the social contacts and international experience the expatriates gain when working or studying in a foreign country. These experiences and social contacts are valuable resources for the country of origin of these expatriates, provided it is able to tap into them, and such a process is called Brain Circulation.
The story has been mixed so far. In some cases like Taiwan, Greater China and India, countries have profited enormously from brain circulation, while in others, brain circulation does not seem to happen in a significant way. Why brain circulation can be witnessed in certain contexts and not in others is a question that is at the forefront of research questions that academics[who?] are at present grappling with in this area of study.
- Johnson, Jean and Mark Regets, 1998, International Mobility of Scientists and Engineers to the United States: Brain Drain or Brain Circulation, National Science Foundation (NSF 98-316) 
- Kuznetsov, Yevgeny, 2005, From Brain Drain to Brain Circulation: Emerging Policy Agenda, Presentation to the Office of Policy and Strategy at U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services
- Kuznetsov, Yevgeny (ed), 2006, Diaspora Networks and International Migration of Skills: How Countries Can Draw on their Talent Abroad, WBI Development Studies
- Regets, Mark, 2001, Research and Policy Issues in High-Skilled International Migration, Institute for the Study of Labor, September 2001, 
- Saxenian, AnnaLee, 2002, Brain Circulation: How High Skilled Immigration Makes Everyone Better off, The Brookings Review, Vol 20, No.1
- Saxenian, AnnaLee, 2005, From Brain Drain to Brain Circulation: Transnational Communities and Regional Upgrading in India and China, Comparative International Development, Fall 2005