Immigration may be deeply unpopular with electorates throughout the developed world, but that hasn't deterred immigrants themselves: The foreign-born share of the population of high-income countries doubled between 1985 and 2005, to nearly 9 percent. And the percentage who were college graduates increased fourfold between 1975 and 2000. That's great news for the rich countries that benefit from their skills, of course. But as it turns out, it is also great news for the poor countries the migrants leave behind.
It is hard to find a more confused discussion than that surrounding brain drain. Opposition to unskilled migration is usually based on perceived self-interest, the threat of stolen jobs -- a misguided fear, but at least a rational one. But certain well-meaning Westerners call for immigration restrictions on educated workers from the developing world for the opposite reason: If you let them leave, they'll abandon their home countries to poverty and deprivation. In 2008, the respected medical journal The Lancet carried an editorial on the medical brain drain of doctors and nurses from low- to high-income economies, complaining that "richer countries can no longer be allowed to exp[l]oit and plunder the future of resource-poor nations"; the same issue carried an op-ed calling for those who recruited African workers abroad to be sent to the International Criminal Court. (Never mind that the ability to leave the country of one's citizenship is considered a human right by the United Nations.) As a result of such thinking, Britain's National Health Service has a code of practice that bans recruitment from 150 developing countries, and there have been calls for something similar in the United States.
Certainly, most skilled migrants make more money abroad than they would at home. John Gibson at the University of Waikato and David McKenzie of the World Bank document salary increases ranging from $40,000 to $60,000 a year for skilled emigrants from developing countries across a range of professions. But the money these workers make abroad doesn't stay there: The average Africa-trained member of the American Medical Association sends home $6,000 a year in remittances, often for two decades or longer. Indeed, remittances from immigrants are an incredibly powerful force for development in any number of African countries -- more than the amount of foreign aid to Ivory Coast, triple that given to Togo, quadruple that to Nigeria, and nearly six times the aid to Mauritius. And the money is put to good use. One estimate from the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development suggests if you doubled remittances to a developing country, you could reduce poverty by nearly a third.
Perhaps more importantly, countries that swap people also swap goods, ideas, and investment. Doubling the number of people who have migrated between two countries raises trade between those countries by 10 percent. And if the number of skilled immigrants doubles in a recipient country, subsequent foreign direct investment to their countries of origin climbs 25 percent. William Kerr, an economist at Harvard Business School's Entrepreneurial Management Unit, even finds that migrants transfer back knowledge about increasing manufacturing efficiency -- so productivity increases in the home country as a result. Economists Hillel Rapoport at Bar-Ilan University and Frédéric Docquier at the Catholic University at Louvain report that about half of the Indian diaspora in Silicon Valley, which ran nearly one in 10 start-ups in the late 1990s, traveled back to India on business at least once a year. They were central to the creation of India's booming IT industry, which now employs around 2.5 million people. Another idea that appears to travel along with migration is democracy -- an International Monetary Fund study found that the more students a country sent for schooling in democratic countries, the more likely the home country was to become or remain a democracy.