Brain circulation

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Brain circulation is 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.

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. Brain circulation can thus be defined as the circular movement of skilled labour across nations.

Brain circulation vs. brain drain[edit]

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.

In 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.


  • 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) [1]
  • 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, [2]
  • 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

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