But what about high-skilled migrants starving their home economies of vital human capital needed for development? Actually, Rapoport and Docquier conclude that the more high-skilled people leave low-income countries, the higher educational enrollments there climb. The opportunities presented by moving abroad spur people to stay in school and learn more. Surveying the brightest students in Tonga and Papua New Guinea, Gibson and McKenzie find that nearly all of them contemplated migration, and it led them to take on additional classes.
Similarly, Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development finds no evidence that medical brain drain from developing countries leads to shortages of medical staff back home, probably because the opportunity to migrate is one of the things that attracts people to medical school in the first place. For years, nurses have left the Philippines in huge numbers to work abroad, but the country still has more nurses per person than Britain.
And finally, of course, lots of migrants return with valuable skills and contacts -- including many of those now working in the Indian IT industry. Economists William Easterly of New York University and Ariell Reshef of the University of Virginia carried out an informal survey of the entrepreneurs behind African global export successes and suggested that one factor many had in common was experience living abroad -- usually in the country they subsequently exported to.
All of this suggests those well-meaning folk in rich countries keen to put a travel ban on anyone from a developing country with a degree might want to reconsider their position. But it also contains a lesson for American economic policy. The United States benefits immensely from its talent imports -- immigrants account for over 60 percent of Ph. D. software engineers and more than half of its medical scientists, suggest McKenzie and Gibson. The country should do all that it can to ensure that inflow continues. And it could also do considerably better when it comes to talent exports. The most recent data suggest the United States had less than a third the number of high-skilled emigrants that Britain had -- despite having a population five times larger -- and half the number of Germany. If having a large high-skilled emigrant base in other countries is a powerful source of trade and investment links, the United States ought to be finding ways to encourage more of its best and brightest to spend some time elsewhere.
But in fact, the United States is heading in the opposite direction, on both sides of the trading equation. International applications to U.S. graduate schools only last year returned to their levels in the 2002-2003 academic year after a post-9/11 slump, a function of the stagnant economy and toughened immigration procedures. And at the other end of the degree process, there is growing concern about a "reverse brain drain," as more foreign graduates from U.S. schools decide to return home rather than find jobs in America -- again, often on account of byzantine immigration rules. Meanwhile, the U.S. House Appropriations Committee has proposed deep cuts to State Department international exchange program budgets that support the Fulbright program, among others. This shortsightedness regarding a program that promotes the talent trade in both directions isn't just bad news for the development prospects in Africa or Asia; it's likely to convert into a further erosion of America's long-term productivity.