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In Search of the Diaspora Effect: Lessons from Taiwanese and Indian ‘brain gain’ for Jamaican ‘brain drain’

By Jason Jackson | October 27, 2005

The movement of highly skilled persons - scientists, engineers as well as entrepreneurs - has been one of the key features of the current wave of globalisation. However, the bulk of the much-lauded factor mobility associated with globalisation has been one-sided, with capital moving with increased freedom from North to South and skilled (but critically, less so unskilled) labour from developing countries being welcomed in the North. Much of the recent influx of the highly skilled migrants has been directed towards the high technology poles in the advanced industrialised countries, such as Silicon Valley and Route 128 in the United States. However, an increasingly important trend currently being observed sees developing country migrants returning to their home countries after participating in high technology sectors overseas. Many of these returning migrants play important roles in technology-intensive ventures back home, both as employees recruited by existing firms as well as entrepreneurs, leading traditional discussions of ‘brain drain’ to increasingly include reference to ‘brain gain’ and ‘brain circulation’.

This dynamic has perhaps been most evident in the pharmaceuticals and software sectors in India and in the electronics manufacturing sector in China (both mainland and Taiwan). It has allowed these countries to benefit from the skill base of its overseas nationals and has been an important contributing factor in the transfer of technology, knowledge and skills necessary for the development of the technological capabilities which have marked these countries’ recent rapid industrial development. Most policymakers in developing countries (as well as increasingly in the OECD countries such as the UK) recognise the value of their highly-skilled diasporas but few have enjoyed success in enticing them back home to participate in the development of domestic high technology sectors.

This paper seeks to examine the ‘brain gain’ or ‘brain circulation’ dynamic that has been observed between India and Taiwan and the United States. It seeks to understand the influence of the Taiwanese and Indian diasporas on the development of their burgeoning domestic technology- and knowledge-intensive sectors to see if there are lessons to be learned for technology and innovation policy in other developing countries, particularly those in the Caribbean with large US-based diasporas. Relative to other regions, the Caribbean has the largest overseas diaspora in the world – including both skilled and unskilled persons – and so their potential contribution to domestic development is great. However, this paper will argue that market forces cannot be relied upon for developing the capabilities necessary for technological upgrading. There is a clear role for innovative policymaking, including efforts aimed at tapping overseas-based skills.

The paper takes a comparative institutional approach in assessing the contribution of the Indian and Chinese diasporas in the development of technological capabilities and the growth of domestic technology-intensive entrepreneurial activities. The paper hopes to contribute to growing interest in technology and innovation policy in the Caribbean, particularly at time when rapid trade liberalization and economic integration are impressing upon regional policymakers and private sector actors the need to rapidly development the capabilities required to shift towards high value-added, skill- and technology-intensive economic activities needed to boost dynamism in the industrial sector. These efforts are viewed as components of a broader long-term development strategy aimed at raising incomes and employment across society in order to protect and build on the development gains made since decolonisation. It also written in light increased interest in the development potential of the diaspora beyond remittances, as illustrated by the Jamaican government’s hosting of a diaspora conference and creating a Jamaica Diaspora Institute.

Download: In Search of the Diaspora Effect (374.88 K)

Read More: Development, Globalization, Migration, Technology, Trade, India, Jamaica, Taiwan, Americas, Asia

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