The Migration of Qualified Workers
as an Obstacle to Development
José Luis Hernández *

According to data from Goldin and Reinert (2006: 225 and 226), in recent years, the reception of international migrants “with abilities” has been concentrated in the United States (34%), the United Kingdom (14%), Canada (14%), Australia (7%) and Japan (4%). Likewise, a similar number of people who studied outside their country of origin went mainly to the United States (29%), the United Kingdom (14%), Germany (12%), France (9%) and Australia (7%). In other words, only seven countries account for more than 70% of qualified immigrants and students abroad. Although these two categories are not exactly the same, the figures presented here suggest that the two phenomena may be closely linked.

Why do these people go mainly to certain countries and not others? Enrique Oteiza proposed a “preference differential” hypothesis to explain the destination of these flows, where the most important factors are as follows: “ a) ‘income differential,’ b) ‘support in logistics differential’ (difference in the available means to perform the professional task), c) ‘professional recognition differential’ (refers to recognition and prestige associated with the intellectual or professional field) and d) a residual factor that includes the differences related to political situation, university, level of ideological repression or discrimination, etc.” (Pellegrino, 2001: 21). But supposing that these factors still exist, we could ask why certain countries are more attractive in all of these areas.

One explanation for the migration of students and qualified workers from underdeveloped countries to developed countries can be found in the fact that, as Figueroa writes (2001: 11): “The development of productive forces is located abroad.” Historically, developed countries have monopolized the development of technology and scientific knowledge applied to production, while underdeveloped countries have joined capitalist exploitation in a subordinated role. They cannot ignore industrialization, but they have entered industrialization based on the productive forces designed and created in developed countries (Figueroa, 1986). It is understandable that developed countries do not want to lose their monopoly, which is deployed in their universities, firms and industrial complex, because it is a guarantee of the transfer of value from underdeveloped countries.

In this way, we can explain why large companies jealously guard and exploit their inventions to their maximum potential with patent protection. More precisely, multinational companies whose headquarters are in developed countries engage in this behavior.

From this perspective the monopoly on scientific research and technology applied to production explains the migration of highly specialized workers and students that are recruited by multinational companies and universities in central countries.

The State plays a fundamental role in all of this: specific arrangements and tools are used to temporarily or permanently support the number of qualified migrants with the profiles required for accumulation. Special visas are part of this. For example, the European Union has the Blue Card and the United States has the H-1B. These are used to establish annual quotas for entry that vary according to economic needs. Directing state spending towards higher education is also part of the strategy, with greater attention given to some professions over others. For example, a study from the Pan-American Health Organization (OPS, 2006: 155) reminds us that:

Training human resources is a fundamental aspect. Between 1985 and 1994, the 27 countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) increased training in medical schools by 26% on average. However, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada only saw an increase of 14%, 10% and 18%, respectively. The deficit was filled by foreign medical graduates.

In this way, the State contributes to supplying a cheap labor force that is not found within the country or for which there is a deficit, favoring cost reduction for the economy as a whole and for companies in particular and improving levels of competitiveness. In some cases, these workers do not require higher costs of refresher training or extra specialization, but in others, these people have extraordinary capacities and abilities that can be developed in universities in central countries to meet specific demands. Students, doctors, nurses, professors, mathematicians, software engineers, system analysts, computer programmers, architects, chemists, accountants, physicists, etc. are recruited without taking into account the needs of the country of origin. For example, one World Bank Official (Leipziger, 2008: 1) recognizes that: “Global competition for technical talent has led to the creation of special visas to encourage the immigration of highly qualified professionals in Australia, Austria, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and other countries.”

The importance given to science and technology in these countries is unquestioned. For example, universities and multinational companies in developed countries have three types of employees, according to Brown, Lauder and Ashton (2011: 84):