The Migration of Qualified Workers
as an Obstacle to Development
José Luis Hernández *
PARADOXES OF THE QUALIFIED LABOR FORCE IN UNDERDEVELOPED COUNTRIES

At this point, capitalism seems to have reached a phase in which part of the qualified labor force is already outside of the relative population, and is part of the surplus population. In other words, the labor force with high knowledge and abilities. Recently, Lozano and Gandini (2009: 5) found that:

...when considering immigrants originating from Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), that found employment or those that are considering looking for employment, they are in fields that do not necessarily match their training. The total level of waste in the United States was 60.9%. So, almost two thirds of qualified immigrants coming from LAC and residents in the United States between 2005-2007 were in labor market segments that did not allow them to use their abilities.

This has to do with the fact that capitalism saves the labor force. In Marx’s words: “ there is also an extension of the scale on which greater attraction of labourers by capital is accompanied by their greater repulsion; the rapidity of the change in the organic composition of capital, and in its technical form increases, and an increasing number of spheres of production becomes involved in this change, now simultaneously, now alternately” (Marx, 1887: 437-38).

Capitalism proceeds on the basis of separation between manual and intellectual labor, plus the “repulsion” of labor to which Marx alludes and which operates for both types of labor. In accordance with how capital is organized in an underdeveloped nation, this repulsion can operate with more force than in the developed world. This explains the emigration of qualified workers to developed countries.

But the current phase of knowledge concentration has resulted in thousands of highly qualified workers in the surplus population in their own developed countries, which does not present an obstacle for persons with those same characteristics to emigrate from underdeveloped countries. They may be recruited by universities or companies sponsored by the State, or arrive by their own initiative and effort. As long as underdeveloped countries continue to lack scientific innovation and technology applicable to production, these workers will go to developed countries in search of better salaries, even when they end up working outside of the specific area or field in which they were trained.

From here, it is relevant to keep in mind the different types of qualified workers. Solimano (2008: 22) classifies them as: a) technicians or engineers, b) scientists or academics, c) health sector professionals (doctors and nurses), d) businessmen and managers, e) professionals from international organizations and f) professionals from cultural fields. Although it would not be an exaggeration to include professional athletes, the previous classification also leaves out another sector of qualified migrants, likely the most numerous group, at least in the case of Mexico. These are professionals of the social sciences, humanities and administrative areas.

Now, Mexico has seen two conflicting phenomena: an increase in students in institutes of higher education, and the inability for the economy to provide jobs for all of these people in the areas in which they were trained (Hernández, 2002). This reinforces the conditions for the international migration of professionals, mainly to the United States, and principally to earn better salaries. The occupation they hold in the target country is of secondary concern. This is supported by the fact that an important percentage of qualified immigrants in the United States do not have a mastery of English. For example, Gónzalez (2005: 97) indicates that: “data from the United States census sample from 1990 and 2000 show that among qualified Mexican immigrants in the United States, a key and growing percentage did not speak English (21.48% in 1990 and 25.46% in 2000), compared with 1.65% and 2.04% of immigrants from India, respectively.” This demonstrates, to some extent, that they are going into activities that require lower qualifications, because higher specializations require a mastery of the language. Among the contingents, there are professionals that would have difficulty applying their knowledge and abilities in a society to which the profession they studied was not oriented.

As a consequence, workers with university education who emigrate from Mexico to the United States to work in fields that have nothing to do with their training end up as non-qualified migrants for the destination society. They are qualified workers in Mexico, but not in the United States. In part, the predominant education model in Mexico has a lot to do with this, because it is not highly linked to the sectors for which students are preparing. But this is understandable if we consider that the predominant capital relationship in underdeveloped countries is characterized by the absence of technology and knowledge applicable to production. According to Brown, Lauder and Ashton (2011: 46), “Diana Farrell and her team at McKinsey’s have argued that only 13 percent of the university graduates from the 28 low-wage nations they studied were suitable for jobs in mainly American and European companies due to what hr managers perceived as poor team-working skills, too much emphasis on theory, lack of cultural fit and poor grasp of English.”

In Mexico, the phenomenon is the result of the absence of scientific and technological knowledge generated by the bourgeoisie and their resistance to a link with institutes of higher education in the country, as well as the clear lack of a State policy to drive technological development and research that could reduce the losses of value resulting from the purchase of products of scientific work. This would have to go beyond efforts from the National Science and Technology Council, which have not been enough. There must be a country project with a long-term vision, because it is impossible for the bourgeoisie to take this initiative on its own, as long as the dominant sector keeps benefiting from the lack of State policy regarding scientific and technological development.