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

Although Western Europe faces a loss of brains to the United States, the situation that Latin American countries face, and in particular Mexico, is even more difficult. However, it is not impossible for them to redefine the imperialist relationship, if they can definitively adopt a State policy in the same way that China did a few decades ago with favorable results for economic growth by increasing investments in science and technology.

Thus, by examining the efforts undertaken by countries like China and India, we can understand why the United States and Europe have been losing ground in terms of competitiveness, absorbing the labor force and the talent war. Now China can retain its sharpest minds through rigorous selection processes for its universities, and does not always send the best brains abroad. In the words of Van (2008: 117): “Undoubtedly, it must then be asked to what extent the emigration of these students that do not enroll in Chinese universities represents a brain drain, because it also means that those who emigrate are not necessarily the best students.” In this way, they combine quality with the growth of coverage. According to Brown, Lauder and Ashton (2011: 32-33 and 38): “China had over 7 million more students than the United States and 10 times as many students as Great Britain. But perhaps the most extraordinary statistic on education in China was enrollment in high school, which witnessed an increase from 26 percent to almost 60 percent since 1990 [...] Equally, participation in higher education increased from a little over 3 percent in 1990 to 22 percent in 2006.” Moreover, they have concentrated efforts in the area of engineering. According to figures from the same authors (2011: 38): “In China, around 37% of students are studying engineering, compared to 27 percent in South Korea, 22 percent in Germany, 7 percent in the United Kingdom and 5 percent in the United States.”

The experiences of these Asian countries demonstrate that underdevelopment is not destiny. It can be overcome through political arrangements and long-term State policies. Mexico is losing development opportunities with the migration of its highly qualified personnel. According to Aragonés and Salgado (2011: 59): “If Mexico does not begin to definitively change its economic, political, social and educational project, migration will keep responding to the needs of its neighboring country and the possibility of development will be restricted as a substantial part of its population is lost.” To clarify, this would only hold true as long as Mexico drives a State policy to overcome underdevelopment and imperialism. In reality the emigration of qualified workers and those with a lower education level represents a decrease in social pressure for employment and better living conditions, and in this sense, an immediate benefit for the class in power, which has found that migration is of great help to the economy, especially for what it has represented in terms of increased remittances. Still, the surplus population does not disappear by any means, and its large size is revealing of unemployment figures, precarious and informal employment, which affect the country in practically all sectors of the working class and at all levels of education.


This text has discussed an interpretation of the international migration of qualified workers from underdeveloped to developed countries. Although the majority of qualified migration goes from underdeveloped to developed nations, this study shows that this can be explained by the theory of accumulation based on its own assumptions, as it indicates that the former have a surplus population while the latter have difficulties to form a reserve army. The reason is found in the establishment of the law of population from capital and how this differs between the two types of countries; underdeveloped countries have absolute surpluses of workers and developed countries lack them, due to the fact that in the former, capital operates with technology and science produced in the latter, and transfers investment capacity and job creation. The law of population, discovered by Marx, functions on a global level through migration to countries in an expulsion-attraction dynamic of labor. Still, as it is a law of capital that saves up a labor force, it appears that developed countries have already managed to build up their own reserve armies, making the State apply more selective immigration policies to specifically acquire the profiles required for the accumulation process.

In reality, the participation of the State through the transfer of resources to the private sector, either directly or indirectly, where spending is directed for specific professional specializations, foreign recruitment and individual international agreements, among other measures, demonstrate the central role that personnel management plays in scientific and technological development.

As such, it is understandable that in the framework of a different capital relationship and the dependency of countries like Mexico on the products of scientific work made in developed countries, cooperation between Mexico and the United States can only exist with the former being subordinated to the latter. In terms of qualified work, this relationship is a loss for Mexico, assuming that their abilities could have been put to use here. Still, their departure does provide advantages for the political class, especially in terms of reduced pressure on the demand for employment and the remittances obtained.3 However, migration is favorable for the United States. Even so, given that the majority of migrants have knowledge and ability that can be taken advantage of in Mexico, in reality, these migrants are not so different from those with a lower level of education.

If a country wants to play a different role in the global capitalist scene, subordination must be redefined by changing the capital relationship, where Mexico, as an underdeveloped country, would take on a broad-ranging, long-term State-led project to drive their own technological research and development, in a framework of international cooperation. Although this is difficult, it is not impossible, as various Asian countries have demonstrated in recent years.

3 Of course, the benefit of all of the remittances is mainly for the families that receive them. In economic terms, remittances also have an impact on making the branches destined to the production of salary goods more dynamic.

Published in Mexico, 2012-2017 © D.R. Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM).
PROBLEMAS DEL DESARROLLO. REVISTA LATINOAMERICANA DE ECONOMÍA, Volume 49, Number 192, January-March 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: Alicia Girón González. 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: Feb 23th, 2018.
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