When home comes calling...

Published 2019-08-26 13:11

Programa regressar or the return program has recently been put in place in Portugal to encourage skilled expats who have left the country to get back. Indeed, with the creation of the European Union and other agreement of this kind and the loosening of visa restrictions in bilateral agreements between many nations, people are able to travel to other countries whether for work or leisure purposes. International emigration translates to the movements of millions of people who move to other countries for any of a number of reasons. However, emigration can easily result in a ‘brain drain’ as a country begins to lose its skilled workforce. What are other countries doing to counteract this phenomenon?

Portugal already has generous initiatives to draw skilled migrants and investors. Now they have upped the stakes and taken the lead in bringing home human capital by launching the Programa Regressar, or return program. Portugese citizens who have lived outside of the country for a minimum of three years are being offered up to 50% less tax for the next five years, in addition to benefits such as relocation assistance. 

The brain drain problem is apparent – the solution, less so. While creating job and research opportunities is a good place to start, vast amounts of resources may be required to draw back expats who have happily settled abroad. However, some countries have gotten creative in an attempt to bring back their diaspora.

Why do people move abroad? 

A brain drain occurs when the skilled workforce of a country begin to emigrate. The skilled workforce typically comprises highly educated individuals who are sought-after professionals in their industry. Generally, brain drains are more likely to occur in developing countries. Below are just some of the reasons that skilled workers may leave their home country for another. 

To search for: 

  • Competitive salaries
  • Better tax rates
  • Career advancement
  • A better work environment
  • Job availability and options
  • Benefits such as housing, spousal support, and free education for kids

To get away from:

  • Political instability and war in their home country
  • Health risks in their home country
  • High tax rates
  • Financial crises

The brain drain pain

Why is the brain drain bad? Basically, the departure of skilled workers from their home country has negative roll-on effects in several areas. Development and research efforts often slow to a trickle, while economic losses are felt as many professionals leave lucrative industries where their departure has a significant impact. The loss of knowledge also means that carrying over skills and education between generations becomes more difficult. 

A recent survey for the European Council on Foreign Relations indicates that the flight of human capital is a major concern for many European nations. 

Practical brain drain examples

Within the EU, the young working force of Greece continues to leave the country at an alarming rate. Since Greek citizens are able to work in other EU countries without additional visa permits, skilled graduates take the opportunity to work abroad without going too far from home. 

In China, strong competition for vacancies – even amongst skilled workers and industry professionals – sends people packing. Educational opportunities abroad for educated undergraduates are enticing and often rewarding if professor and associate professor positions can be attained. 

Still curious? Read our article about the countries with the biggest brain drain.

Here are some ways that countries have tried to reverse the brain drain phenomenon:

China: Chinese students have spread across the world in attempts to gain access to prestigious higher education systems. To bring these highly educated students home, China has implemented the ‘Thousand Talents Plan.’ Chinese citizens with an international doctoral degree who are under 40 years old may benefit from enormous research grants and yearly housing allowances if they return to China for full-time work. 

Ireland: In 2017 alone, more than 30,000 Irish people moved abroad – that’s roughly five hundred a week, many of whom are skilled graduates. In an attempt to bring its diaspora home, Ireland has launched the ConnectIreland development initiative. The program hopes to strengthen connections with the Irish global network by financially rewarding companies create sustainable job opportunities in Ireland. 

Nepal: In May of 2019, the Nepalese government started the Brain Gain Center. The program aims to create a channel of communication between Nepali expats and locals back home in order to promote and reward skilled professionals who contribute to domestic socio-economic development initiatives. 

South Africa: Although there is no current government initiative to bring back its diaspora, companies have made attempts to do so by starting headhunting firms like the Homecoming Revolution that draws skilled African professionals back to the continent.