Brain drain from a high income country? the German experience of selective out- and return-migration of its citizens

Andreas Ette, Federal Institute for Population Research, Germany
Lenore Sauer, Federal Institute for Population Research, Germany

During the last four decades the “brain drain” debate has played an important role in the study of international migration. Recently, in the context of growing pressures on national economies to “compete for global talent” this debate has lost its preoccupation with the migration-development nexus. Whereas in earlier times immigration from Southern to Northern countries has been the focus of this debate, recent years have seen an increasing interest towards studying migration flows between industrialized countries. Now the most developed countries also fear that highly skilled nationals might leave the country in significant numbers resulting in serious economic disadvantages. So far, empirical data on the phenomenon as well as theoretical reasoning is still inadequate. The paper contributes to the “brain drain” debate in highly developed countries by focusing on the German experience. By making innovative use of the European Union Labour Force Survey, the paper analyses the numbers and key characteristics of German citizens emigrating from Germany to its European neighbouring countries as well as Germans returning to Germany from EU member states. The paper addresses in particular two so far neglected aspects: First, it provides a comprehensive analysis of the recent German experience of its “brain drain” by analysing the size, structure and dynamics of emigration and return migration flows. Second, it contributes to the theoretical debate on understanding emigration from high income countries. Starting with a simple neo-classical economic model the multivariate analysis in this paper investigates the impact of human capital characteristics on emigration by using comparative data on actual migration decisions instead of information on intentions only. Overall, the paper contributes to our empirical knowledge as well as theoretical understanding of recent migration flows and provides necessary information to assist policy-making in Germany.

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Presented in Session 99: The European Brain Drain