Volume 44, Number 172,
January-March 2013
The Migration of Qualified Workers
as an Obstacle to Development
José Luis Hernández

The way an underdeveloped country cooperates with a developed country depends on the organization of the capital relationship, where developed countries have managed to separate immediate labor from scientific work applicable to production, and moreover, they have monopolized this. On the international stage, underdeveloped countries were incorporated without having achieved this separation, and were merely supported by what was being done in developed countries. The monopoly on productive scientific work is the base of unequal development and explains why, in the words of Figueroa (2009: 16): “Latin America continues to be trapped in the backyard of imperialism.”

The relationship between Mexico and the United States leaves no room for doubt concerning the enormous inequalities between the two that place the former in a subordinate position. An example of this is the Free Trade Agreement that came into effect in 1994, where the United States government did not allow for the free circulation of labor, although they did allow for that of highly qualified personnel to serve their own strategy and that of United States corporations. As an example, while protected by the Treaty, 1,269 Mexicans went to the United States in 2003, while 282,533 persons from the United States arrived in Mexico that same year (Alarcón, 2007: 253-254).

In this way, Americans could mobilize workers from the highest levels of qualification within their own companies with no issues or inconveniences. This type of privilege has been reserved in international commercial treaties. It is not exclusive to the Americans, but rather is applicable to all countries that apply this type of agreement (Escalante, 2002). However, developed countries have received the most benefits, given, for example, the restricted mobility of Latin American workers (Martínez, 2005: 19-20).

In the last decades, Latin America and the Caribbean have lost the most workers, and among them, Mexico stands out for its higher growth rate, going from 366,783 migrants in 1990 to 1,357,120 in 2007. This represents a growth of 270% (Lozano and Gandini, 2009: 16). It is no surprise that on the international stage, developed countries are the destination for qualified workers from underdeveloped countries. In reality, this represents a unilateral transfer of the labor force as well as resources.

However, in the case of Mexico, many of them have special knowledge and abilities that could be taken advantage of here, but not in the United States, specifically because they were not prepared to perform in the United States economy.


It is possible to overcome underdevelopment. This involves modifying the capital relationship in such a way that countries like Mexico can take a leap and produce their own technology and capital goods and design their own organizational and administrative processes and systems. This could not occur in the framework of a closed economy, because that is impossible in the current phase. Instead, it would involve renegotiating its role on the international stage. Various Asian countries have shown that this is possible using a clear State policy and determination from the bourgeoisie to reach those levels. This implies that the Latin American bourgeoisie needs to decide to invest in technology and development and be creative and innovative.

As an analysis of the way in which the European Union could benefit from this war for talent, Straubhaar (2000: 13) concluded that: “...the data makes clear that the United States is winning the brains, while there is a loss in Eastern Europe and an exchange of brains in the European Union with an unclear strategy.” But on the other hand, it has also been recognized that in recent years the United States has been losing ground in high technology sectors to China and India and has been experiencing both brain drain and brain circulation with these countries. In the words of Solimano (2008: 24), based on other sources:

The number of international students is large: According to Freeman (2006), in 2004 there were approximately two million foreign students. The United States is the largest single destination, receiving around 573,000 overseas students, one-fourth from China and India. Some of these students return back home after graduating abroad while others remain in the host country to work in universities, research centres and industry. Empirical evidence on foreign students studying and working after graduation in the US, provided by the us National Science Foundation (nsf 1998) and Regets (2001) seems to show a pattern that combines elements of ‘brain circulation’ and ‘brain drain.’ In a recent study Freeman (2005) shows that changes in global job markets for science and engineering have started to erode the traditional dominance of the us in high-tech sectors; part of it is shifting now to large-size, low-income developing countries such as India and China.

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Published in Mexico, 2012-2018 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 195 October-December 2018 is a quarterly publication by the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México, D.F. by Instituto de Investigaciones Económicas, Circuito Mario de la Cueva, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán,
CP 04510, México, D.F. Tel (52 55) 56 23 01 05 and (52 55) 56 24 23 39, fax (52 55) 56 23 00 97, www.probdes.iiec.unam.mx, revprode@unam.mx. Journal Editor: Moritz Cruz. Reservation of rights to exclusive use of the title: 04-2012-070613560300-203, ISSN: pending. Person responsible for the latest update of this issue: Minerva García, Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n, Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, CP 04510, México D.F., latest update: January 9th, 2019.
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