Brain drain is the emigration of people with great skills and knowledge, by and large as a result of lack of opportunities, conflict or health concerns, risk factors, and political volatility (UNESCO, 2010). It is skill draining for the source country and de-skilling for the host country which is why it is ‘human capital flight’. But this does not mean that it is all about skills and knowledge since it encompasses cultural behaviors or attributes too. In present COVID-19 times, brain drain has resurfaced or reemerged as a vital conflict of interest between recipient and source countries especially in areas of information, science, and technology (Khadria, 2020). The nexus between brain drain and COVID-19 cannot be dealt with in isolation and requires a holistic framework to enable international collaboration and consortiums. It requires a good coordination among the trio (information, science, and technology) for a bad mix will only intensify malfunctioned illogicality of migration policy on development and welfare post pandemic.
COVID-19 no doubt is predominantly a health shock but it has affected all sectors of the economy in multifarious ways. The Global Research Forum on Diaspora and Transnationalism through a webinar deliberated upon whether there will be brain drain post-COVID-19. Economists and panelists argued that brain drain will continue its march to the developed parts of the world even after pandemic shock since the conditions in the countries of origin (developing countries in particular) are not good. In south Asia institutions fail to adjust an educated and highly skilled labour force. The conditions of workers during lockdown was worst as their needs were neglected by the government and bosses or owners. Endowments and talent attract people and places that provide better opportunities and a good path towards economic welfare. The main carter of brain drain is skill accessibility and development gaps demanding dependence on skilled migrants. The impact of COVID-19 on brain drain and labour markets is subjective in the sense that it varies from country to country based upon the nature and significance of skills involved. If the essential sectors are concerned like education and health then more mobility and job insecurity will not be so prominent.
The accelerative march of brain drain seems to stem or halt with every passing day of pandemic and economists argue that the conflict of interest shall float up with new strength. A general drop in the flows of international migration coupled with cross-border mobility restrictions post-pandemic is going to have serious consequences which are supposed to be worse than major migration and displacement events during the past few years. These events include displacements of millions of people as a result of conflict from and within the Yemen, Syrian Arabic Republic, Central African Republic, and South Sudan. In addition, the world has witnessed the worst kind of violence inflicted upon Rohingya which left them with no option but to take refuge in Bangladesh. The literature on migration and COVID-19 interconnection alongside many empirical studies and reports on migration validate that COVID-19 will continue to affect internal migration, international migration, urbanization, and mobility.
According to World Migration Report 2020, published by International Organization for Migration, there is a dynamic and complex relationship between migration and health that spread out well beyond crunch and emergency events and pandemic is no such exception. Migration can lead to greater exposure to health risks but that does not signify it will be incapable to improve our health especially when we aim at seeking security from danger or uncertainty. Flexible and good immigration and Visa policy make it possible for migrants to keep themselves safe and face the challenge of shocks and disturbances. It helps in getting better from the negative impact of crisis and pandemics. It has been found that countries with flexible migration laws have cooped up well in pandemic and are continuing same with the adoption of a better quality of life, management, and health tips. Canada is a classic example that always showed open arms to all immigrants with their good laws and hospitable behavior and hence it is the preferred immigration destination for one and all. In this difficult health shockwave when the whole world is worried and everyone is at risk, it is very important for policymakers to switch to flexible laws, health and migration laws in particular. It is but natural that such laws will for sure reduce the negative impacts of COVID-19.
The unparalleled stride of change in the political economy of migration and social, environmental and technological circles made researchers coin expressions like “age of technology”, “age of accelerations”, and the “age of change”. With COVID-19 such changes resulted in unforeseen and undesirable effects. In the words of World Migration Report 2020 ‘‘We are living through an era of intense turbulence, disillusionment and bewilderment. Deepening geopolitical tensions are transforming international relations, and political tribalism is revealing deep fissures within countries. The spread of exponential technologies is upending long-held assumptions about security, politics, economics and so much more’’. It is therefore high time to resolve our geopolitical tensions and mend our international relations if we aim at better nexus between brain drain and shocks like COVID-19.
Binish Qadri ICSSR Doctoral Fellow pursuing Ph.D. in Economics at Department of Economics, Central University of Kashmir; Quarterly Franklin Member, London Journals Press.