Foreign Policy / Immigration

Mexico’s Brain Drain: A Different Side to the Story of Immigration.

For most Mexican immigrants the American Dream means “opportunity.” It represents the opportunity to work, earn money, and grow accordingly to your efforts and skills.  It also means “promise”. America promises that if you work hard, you’ll be rewarded, and if you have the willingness, you’ll earn it.

From the low-skill workers to the bilingual professionals with Masters Degrees and even PhDs., Mexican immigrants believe in the American Dream.

As they say, “There are two sides to every story” and when it comes to immigration there are even more. This is the story about a particular type of immigrant, the ones that don’t cover the newspaper headlines and that did not risk their lives smuggling across the border. This is the story about Mexican legal immigrants that happen to be qualified, educated, bilingual and brilliant.

Ranked as the 4th major brain exporter in the world in 2012, Mexico has demonstrated that its rising middle class has a greater access to tertiary education and a complex set of opportunities to develop skills and become internationally competitive.  However, being ranked only behind Great Britain, Philippines and India should not be a flattering commemoration for the country, but a big warning sign calling for the urgent revision of a greater question: Why are these Mexicans leaving?

In the first place, Mexico is facing a “qualified employment deficit”. While every year the amount of young adults graduating from outstanding universities grows, the country is not generating enough highly qualified, well-paid and satisfactory jobs for this population. College, Masters and PhDs graduates are more often finding themselves overqualified for the few openings they spot. According to the Migration Policy Institute: “Mexico’s supply of educated people is growing five times faster than the population, but job opportunities for professionals are not expanding as fast”.

The lack of opportunities, the low wages, and the small amount of spaces available for young adults to work in their specialized fields have led to a great frustration among the new generations. Becoming a “Nini[1] in Mexico is a major issue and one of the greatest concerns for any student about to graduate.

Although recently appointed President Enrique Peña Nieto has launched a project to reduce the “Mexican brain drain,” the 15% increase in the federal budget designated to science and technology and the 70,395 million pesos investment for this matter might not be enough to keep an important part of the “highly qualified migration” in the country. Why? Mexicans feel they deserve better.

The climate of insecurity and violence that has affected the country in the last years has become one of the greatest incentives for the wealthy and the educated to emigrate. Those adequately prepared are the most informed and sensitive ones to the insecurity issue in Mexico. Young adults feel disappointed, scared, frustrated, and tired. They are losing hope and they feel betrayed by their country.  They feel that their country cannot provide them with what they deserve and that they have the right to feel safe.

For these Mexicans, the American Dream is just next-door and, unfortunately, the Mexican State is failing to keep them from knocking on that door.  Out of the 73,000 Mexicans with a Doctorate in 2010, approximately 20,000 were residing in the U.S., according to the U.S Current Population Survey. The “talent magnet” right across the border has become the greatest destination for Mexico’s brainpower, and promises to be so for the following decades.

More alarming for Mexico should be President Obama’s intentions to significantly increase the number of student visas granted every year for the fields of science and engineering. Such incentives stimulate the brain drain and threaten the development of Mexico in a highly globalized and competitive world.

Today, Mexico is trapped in a vicious cycle: The lack of opportunities and the insecurity naturally expel prepared citizens, generating a brain drain that, at the same time, restricts the country’s development and progress in every field, making it unattractive for the more than 500,000 brilliant Mexicans to stay. Mexico needs to understand the implications this brain drain will have in the following years and address the problem with a comprehensive and structural solution, as opposed to the short-term projects that have characterized the country throughout history.

[1] Nini: Slang in Mexico for a young person that ‘ni estudia, ni trabaja’ … in other words, someone that doesn’t study, and doesn’t work and lives off their parents’ money.”

2 thoughts on “Mexico’s Brain Drain: A Different Side to the Story of Immigration.

  1. A stimulus about $6 millions USDollars for a pop. of 112 million? If a $700 BILLION only slightly remedied the Great Recession in the U.S. of A, what’s maybe less than 2-cents per person going to do in the U.S. of Mexico?

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