AUSTRALIA: Brain gain not drain

Far from losing its brightest minds to better-paying places on the other side of the globe, Australia is attracting a greater number of skilled people than leave the country, especially those with PhDs.

In fact, Australia continues to enjoy a substantial ‘brain gain’ from migration, with the intake of skilled and professional migrants greatly outnumbering those Australians who leave the country more or less permanently each year.

Federal Immigration Department figures show that in 2005-06, Australia experienced a net inflow of 31,600 professionals. Another 13,700 former overseas students with professional qualifications gained permanent residency – almost all of whom would have undertaken their degrees in Australia.

But, according to researchers at Monash University, Australia's dependence on skilled migration is unwise. The researchers note that the days when the nation could rely on a large flow of European migrants have long passed and that most are now drawn from developing countries.

"Many of these degree-qualified migrants have struggled to find employment at the professional level," the researchers say. "[They] often lack the training and work experience Australian employers are looking for, as well as adequate communication skills. Even if people from overseas with the requisite skills were readily available, there would still be strong ethical case for expanding opportunities for young domestic residents."

The researchers admit that it is difficult to assess the ‘quality’ of migrants coming into Australia as there are no data on educational levels in the overseas arrivals and departures database.

"It is obvious that the value to Australian employers of movers such as doctors, university lecturers, engineers and so on will vary sharply according to the qualifications and experience these persons bring with them," they say.

"Those selected under the government's ‘independent' programme are far more likely to be able to enter the Australian labour market productively than those arriving under family reunion or humanitarian programmes. In these latter categories there is no consideration of qualifications or English language skills in the selection process."

Although more Australian residents leave for what they say is long term or permanently, the Monash team says some loss is inevitable in the contemporary world – especially of university-trained people who traditionally want to explore other countries, sometimes for years on end.

Overall, though, while there is a net loss of Australian residents this is covered by the net gains of overseas-born people coming to Australia for a long term stay.

"There is no net brain drain of skilled people from Australia. Australia is experiencing a very substantial brain gain from overseas sources," the researchers note. "Though some Australian residents are moving overseas much larger numbers of settlers and visitors from overseas are moving to Australia. The legacy of this brain gain is manifested in the significant proportion of overseas-born people at the managerial and professional level."