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Project October 16, 2012

Brain Gain and Its New Beneficiaries

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The routes of migration from the developing to the developed world have been so constant and predictable that the Nigerian cab driver who was educated as a doctor back home is just as much a fixture of New York City's landscape as a fledgling Broadway actress or Wall Street banker. Academics and college-educated engineers from Brazil to China to Poland have long populated the world's wealthier nations, seeking better opportunities, sometimes in their own fields, often behind steering wheels or in restaurant kitchens.

The richer nations have always drawn the world across its borders. According to the United Nations Population Division, 75 percent of international migrants move to a more developed country. For the exporters of migrants, especially of the skilled, the brain drain has been debilitating.

Now a global back-track is underway.

The financial crisis that began in 2008 sparked uncomfortable questions about middle class America's sense of stability and the staying power of Europe's social welfare. But it also revealed a new economic order in which opportunity is no longer the exclusive domain of the richest countries. Emerging economies not only fared better than most of the developed world, they continue to grow, drawing back their expatriates and, in some cases, even attracting new highly skilled citizens of the U.S. and Europe to their borders.

It is what Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the nonprofit Migration Policy Institute in Washington, calls the "democratization of talent."