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Diasporas scientifiques

Rémi Barré
Valeria Hernández
Jean-Baptiste Meyer
et al.

English Version

Synopsis – point one. S&T diasporas: at the nexus between international shells circulation and international S&T co-operation

Texte intégral

1In this first part, we look at the emergence of the scientific and technical diasporas (S&T diasporas) in their context and examine the idea of an S&T diaspora support policy as an aspect of government policy in North and South alike.

2The two determining features of the situation are:

  • the now massive presence of highly skilled Southern expatriates in the countries of the North (see section entitled South-to-North expatriation and circulation of skills ...);
  • the strategic nature, for Southern countries, of integration into the “knowledge economy” via appropriate S&T and development cooperation policies (see section For the countries of the South ...).

3In France, there are three key aspects to the situation:

  • France is still the favourite destination of expatriate students from French-speaking countries;
  • Many of these students stay in France and integrate French society once their post-graduate studies are completed;
  • The situation in the ZSP countries creates particular difficulties for introducing a public policy on S&T diasporas.

4Broadly speaking, it has been realised for some time now that skilled expatriation must be properly managed to maximise its usefulness to the country of origin. This led some countries to introduce policies to regulate skilled migration flows. These policies soon revealed their limitations (see section Policies that seek to regulate migration...).

5For a major player has emerged that cannot be ignored: the S&T diasporas, defined as self-organised communities expatriates concerned for the development of their home countries. The two determining features listed above are part of the reason for this. A third is the emergence of a civil society with aims that concern society as a whole – in this case contributing to S&T development on the basis of numerous independent initiatives that are nonetheless connected with the realities of nation States (see section Scientific and technical diasporas...).

6This leads us to consider the idea of a policy of supporting the S&T diasporas, i.e. Designing a new type of official action geared to the existence of the S&T diasporas (see section Intermediate conclusion ...).


7The problem of measuring international skills mobility is an important issue that has been resurfacing regularly for the last 40 years. Experts agree that the data is still totally insufficient, and little has been done so far to remedy this, although recent attempts to harmonise national statistics (e.g. By the OECD) suggest that improvement may be on the way. In this section, the most recent figures available have been used to quantify, with due caution, the extent of South-to-North expatriation and circulation of skills.

Expatriates: a major part of the South's S&T capacities

8An estimated one-third of the S&T potential of Southern countries is living in the North.

9The only source supplying complete, useable, detailed information on S&T personnel, including foreigners, is the SESTAT (Scientists and Engineers Statistical data system) database, which the USA's National Science Foundation (NSF) has been compiling since the mid-90s. It gives a breakdown of the numbers of highly qualified foreigners in the USA by business branch, country of origin (i.e. Country of birth, whatever the nationality of the respondent at the time of the survey), discipline, qualification obtained, residence status etc. A breakdown by country of origin provides shows, year by year, the number of people born in the dcs and working in the USA.

10The more limited information in the European Union's Eurostat database is unfortunately not comparable with the NSF data, since expatriates in European countries are defined by nationality at the time of the survey, not by country of birth. And not all foreign-born scientists and engineers retain their original nationality long after integrating into the host country. In this way European statistics leave a part of the expatriate population out of their calculations.

  • 1 The South: all countries other than North America, Eastern and Western Europe and Japan.

11In 1999, 372,800 scientists and engineers working in R&D in the USA came from Southern countries1; they account for nearly three quarters (72 %) of foreign R&D scientists and engineers resident in the USA and 18 % of the USA's total R&D workforce. This remarkable phenomenon is corroborated by partial observations in France, where the research sector has a relatively high percentage of foreign-born workers. A majority come from developing countries, and these are mainly concentrated in the academic sector, whereas most foreigners born in OECD countries work in other sectors (trade, finance, management etc). This reveals a division of highly skilled immigrant labour in France that is probably similar in other countries.

12First observation: highly skilled Southern immigrant populations tend to work in R&D.

13We can take the assumption that in the USA the proportion of scientists and research engineers from Southern countries is double that in Europe and Japan. Given that the USA represents 45 % of the Triad's R&D activities, the number of Southern-born scientists and research engineers who have emigrated to Triad countries can then be estimated at around 600,000. And we know that the total S&T workforce in developing countries amounts to 1,224,000 people (UNESCO statistics from the mid-1990s). Consequently we can estimate the number of Southern-born scientists and research engineers working in the North at around 50 % of the number working in Southern countries.

14This is doubtless an overestimate, since the S&T workforce in developing countries is bound to be bigger today than in the mid-1990s. So a prudent rough estimate would assess the number of Southern-born scientists and engineers working in Northern countries at approximately one-third of the S&T community in the countries of origin.

15In addition, since S&T productivity (calculated by number of publications and patents per scientist/engineer) is noticeably higher in Triad countries than in developing countries (where working conditions are far less favourable), output by the Southern S&T workforce expatriated to the North would be approximately equal to that of the S&T workforce in the countries of origin.

16At all events these trends demonstrate the considerable capacities of S&T expatriates. Mobilising a fraction of these expatriate skills should therefore significantly improve the potential of Southern countries.

17We must not jump to hasty conclusions, however, since there are vast differences between countries. In those of a continental size (India, China), the emigration rate is relatively low: around 10 % for China and probably a little less for India. The same goes for some other countries with intermediate revenue levels and an outflow of highly skilled people, e.g. South Africa, where rates are below 10 % because there is a large national science community. Conversely, in large countries suffering from recession, such as Nigeria and Argentina, much higher percentages of the academic workforce work abroad, as is also the case in some emerging or intermediate countries due to massive (mainly student) emigration, e.g. The Philippines, Malaysia, Turkey and Maghreb/Mashreq countries. Lastly, some small and less developed countries, especially African and Caribbean ones, have very high levels of S&T workforce emigration.

18For Africa as a whole, we can estimate that over one-third of its highly skilled human resources are now working abroad and the flow data available for the 1990s for the USA and France show that this rate is accelerating.

19The percentage of expatriate Southern students who remain in and integrate into their host country is variable (depending on the country) but always significant.

20Some two-thirds of qualified immigrants, especially those working in R&D, entered their host country as students, although the figure varies from country to country. The higher the qualification obtained, the lower the rate of return, and the rate of non-return has increased over the last decade.

21In 1990, 45 % of foreign doctoral students in the USA intended to remain in the country and 32 % already had employment possibilities there; in 1999 these percentages had risen to 72 % and 50 % respectively. The situation varies considerably from region to region and country to country, with a lower return rate for students from large Asian countries (China, India) than for those from South Korea or Taiwan.

22A specific survey of African doctorate students trained in North America (USA and Canada) during the decade 1986-96 shows that most of them (63 %) returned to Africa, with the likelihood of returning being directly linked to S&T career prospects in the country of origin. Likewise, partial figures from the UK's higher education statistics agency show that a majority of foreign doctorate graduates produced by the country in 1998 returned home. Again there are considerable variations between countries.

23Information on France issued by the education ministry reveals lower return rates than the UK and USA figures. Breakdown by country of origin is not available, but breakdown by discipline shows that only 28 % and 20 % of foreigners obtaining doctorates in natural sciences and engineering sciences respectively return to their countries of origin within a few years of obtaining their degree.

24Whatever the variations by host country and country of origin, a significant proportion of advanced students do not return home after completing their education (see Part 2 two of the report on CD-ROM, chapter 1, J. Johnson). But contrary to one widespread idea, the presence of skilled foreigners in Northern countries cannot rightly be called a brain drain. In fact what happens is a gradual intellectual and social integration in which the host country's higher education system plays a key role in training and integrating migrants into the skilled employment market. This situation has direct implications for policy on skills circulation: flows of qualified people cannot be regulated without taking higher education into consideration – which, it is important to note, means introducing ways of enumerating and monitoring expatriates.

International student flows: the Franco-African exception

25Africa has a noticeably higher proportion of expatriate students than other regions in the world (about 10 %). A third of these go to France, where they account for 75 % of students from developing countries and 12 % of the total number of doctorates awarded in France.

26Of the 102 million students in the world today, approximately 2 million are studying outside their countries of origin. Because the number of higher education places available in developing countries has grown extremely fast over the last two decades, the proportion of students from developing countries studying abroad is tending to drop in most regions in the world, although absolute figures are still increasing. However, this is not the case in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding southern Africa), where the rate of student expatriation remains exceptionally high and has been increasing over the last few years: 7 % for West Africa and East Africa and 12 % for Central Africa. Of these expatriate students, 78 % go to a developed country, the rest mainly to Arab countries. The higher education and research crisis in sub-Saharan Africa over the last decade has prevented it from following a path similar to other developing regions.

27Analysis of student exchanges reveals strong ties between Africa and Europe. By far the most popular host country is France, which receives 34 % of African students whereas the USA receives only 13 % and few go to the UK or Germany. This situation is particularly marked in doctoral studies, whose graduates very often remain in the host country, forming the most highly qualified expatriate population.

28Among students obtaining post-graduate vocational qualifications in France, 9 % come from developing countries, with 77 % of these from Africa, 14 % from Asia and 9 % from Latin America. With doctoral studies the percentage of developing country nationals rises to 16 % (representing 1500 people per year), of whom 75 % are Africans, 11 % Asians and 14 % Latin Americans. These figures show the special ties that exist between France and Africa as regards student flows. A considerable proportion of African students go abroad rather than study at home, and they go mainly to France, where they form the majority of Southern students. This is an exceptional situation. A much smaller proportion of Asian students go abroad, for example, and those that do prefer to go to the USA (see Part 2 two of the report on CD-ROM,, chapter 2, Ph. Bocquier).

29There are three things to be said about the Franco-African link. The first is that despite the talk of a re-directed flow of African students to North America over the past decade, this has not involved a large proportion and has not, or not yet, altered the traditional pattern. The second is that the scale of migration flows from Africa to France gives that country not only special responsibilities, but also a major potential impact on the home countries by virtue of the major input their skilled expatriates can give them. The third is that for the African countries themselves, this concentration of highly skilled expatriates in France can help build relationships because of the very dense network of links with French universities. These factors indicate the potential that can, in principle, be mobilised in the S&T diasporas.

Considerable uncertainty regarding trends in international skills flows

30The USA's national security policy since 11 September 2001 and Europe's inconsistent stop-go attitude makes it difficult to predict flow trends, given that growing S&T capacity in China and India could entice many migrants back to these countries. This last point could be the most important one in the future.

31Over the last decade the USA has established itself as the global magnet for highly qualified workers. However, analysts are now wondering about the medium-term impact on these flows of US security policy trends since the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. The idea that a terrorist threat could come from top-level immigrants, particularly scientists, is making inroads and there is evidence of foreign students and professionals in the USA (mainly, but not only, those from Arab countries) encountering increasing problems. The USA's future policy on accepting students and young scientists from Southern countries is therefore uncertain; at the same time, Europe's sixth framework programme on research and technological development (FPRTD) is introducing incentive policies to attract skills from outside. Could these inverse trends in Europe and the USA modify the situation and permanently redirect flows to Europe?

32This is far from certain. Xenophobia is on the increase in Europe and xenophobic groups more visible, while European policy on migration wavers been hard-line and softer versions. All in all, and even though entry procedures to the skilled employment market are easier for the moment, these trends hardly reflect a medium-term desire to attract large numbers of Southern-born expatriates, even highly skilled ones.

33The most important point about a possible redirection of migration flow seems to be the increased capacity of large Southern countries to absorb their expatriate scientists and engineers. This is the trend forecast by observers in India and China, which may follow the example of Taiwan and South Korea where expatriates are beginning to return systematically, attracted by career prospects in new and ambitious R&D hubs and industrial development. The role of the diasporas should be emphasised in these hubs, which are often created through investment, skills and financing derived largely from the expatriate community itself.

34Medium-term trends in expatriation flows of advanced students and young professionals is therefore uncertain, which makes precise information and monitoring all the more crucial.

35In any case, the figures quoted show that it is reasonable to ask how, and under what conditions, the Southern countries can utilise this expatriate social capital to gain entry to the global knowledge society.

Compensating for lack of information

36Our insufficient knowledge of African flows is a handicap; it is up to the French statistics and indicators system to make up for this.

37The American NSF data, the most relevant to our subject, does not cover Africa to any great extent since as we have seen, African migrants go mainly to France. This is a major gap that needs to be filled. To do this, it is preferable to use the French statistics and harmonise them rather than work from Eurostat and OECD data, which require harmonisation between countries. France therefore needs to compile a database using sources such as INSEE employment surveys, education ministry statistics and personnel department registers in major higher education and research institutions. Once this database is compiled and the parameters for data gathering tools are set, the information can be regularly updated from sample surveys, as with the NSFs SESTAT database.

38To start this work, some institution with the necessary competences and authority could request information from the administrative bodies concerned and handle updating, management, circulation and utilisation. For efficient data gathering, unification and statistical analysis, this institution will need the services of S&T indicator specialists.

39France possesses such an institution in the shape of the Observatoire des Sciences et des Techniques, part of whose mission is to meet this type of need.


40It is increasingly clear that integration into the "knowledge economy" is of strategic importance for the countries of the South. To achieve this, a system of research and innovation suited to current circumstances must be built, and this will necessarily involve appropriate S&T and development cooperation policies with human resources as their central focus. In this respect, countries fall into several categories.

Strategies for integrating countries of the South in the knowledge economy: a variety of situations.

41In the North, science is clearly perceived as a strategic resource, both military and industrial. Scientific resources and capabilities are being concentrated in a small number of centres -Silicon Valley, the Basle-Strasbourg-Freiburg triangle, the Boston, Oxford and Cambridge areas, the Paris region, etc. – to such an extent that no other type of resource is now as concentrated as science and technology.

42The scientific and technical gap between North and South is generally widening: the investment needed is so great that it is beyond the means of most countries, and the poorer ones can at best find small windows of opportunity. In response to globalisation, market liberalisation and polarisation. Southern countries have adopted a wide range of scientific, technological and innovation strategies. Three categories may be distinguished: emerging, intermediate and least developed (see Part 2 of the report on CD-ROM, Chapters 4 and 5, R. Waast).

Emerging countries: institutional reform and ambitious policies

43Emerging countries have proactive research and innovation policies, requiring higher standards of quality and industrial usefulness from publicly-funded research; scientific and technical human resources are perceived as being of strategic importance.

44The emerging countries (industrialised or with large markets) place a high priority on their technical innovation capabilities. They have consequently embarked upon major reforms of their scientific institutions and legal systems.

45China has pursued a policy of intensive training at the world's best universities for young researchers in leading-edge science and technology. The country then integrates them into its teaching and research facilities and encourages them to work in production part-time, in small firms they have helped set up. China also uses them to cultivate cooperation with their training institutions, and encourages exchanges with the many emigrants who have remained abroad, often working with Chinese firms.

46On a smaller scale, Singapore began in the early 1990s to press for and handsomely finance the return of some of its expatriates in the United States who had become specialists in fields regarded as priorities for restructuring the country's industry (such as medical biotechnology). South Korea is revising its already well-established policy of research-industry links: the stress is now more on basic research (again in “strategic” fields), always related to the development needs of the country's production system.

47India encourages multinationals to install subsidiaries in India and enter into joint ventures with local high technology firms. The latter have often been set up by returning expatriate scientists in fields such as IT and biotechnology. The government has also begun to reform its research agencies, making it easier for them to work on a contractual basis and rewarding researchers on merit.

48In Latin America, budget restrictions have forced a number of larger States to re-examine their science policies. State funding now goes more to laboratories with proven academic success (publication in international journals), while other teams are invited to raise their own funds by obtaining national or international contracts, usually from private enterprise. The results of this type of policy, tried out in countries such as Venezuela, Mexico and Argentina, have yet to be analysed. In Brazil, some promising initiatives have promoted links between universities, municipal authorities and representatives of local users (Porto Alegre), and greater contractualisation of research training (Rio, São Paulo, etc.).

49In all these countries, evaluation of results and usefulness has become stricter; the culture of the traditional research management circles and of generations of researchers has been shaken up; funding methods and rules have been modified. States continue to seek national scientific development (know-how, equipment, institutions), perceived as a potential source of wealth. What is new is the clear recognition that there is world competition for highly skilled human resources, and that attempts must be made to attract and retain them and benefit from their work (cooperation policy, attracting foreigners, collaboration with the diaspora, etc.).

Intermediate countries: between desire for co-operation and laisser-faire

50Countries with intermediate levels of scientific development are now trying to modernise their production systems and join in world trade. To achieve this they are undertaking institutional reform of their research systems. They are increasing their research budgets and have made cooperation a part of their research policy – these are the countries that seek co-operation most actively. However, their advanced students are still leaving to study abroad and their research institutions are still fragile.

51Intermediate countries such as Costa Rica, Thailand, Chile, South Africa react in various ways. Much depends on their degree and type of industrialisation and their scientific capabilities. A few examples from Africa:

  • Some countries, such as South Africa, are increasing their support for a high-quality science sector that covers the full range and has well-developed institutions. They are trying to take full advantage of it to restructure and internationalise their outdated production systems. Major sums of public (and private) money go into funds for research, support for industrial R&D (including joint ventures with multinationals), S&T culture and access to technical education for the very poor;
  • Countries with oil revenue generally consider that they have no need for innovative industry, since they can buy in the required engineering expertise on the world market. This restricts any ambitions for a national S&T policy, and the chances that their expatriates will return home;
  • Some countries provide sporadic support, relying at other times on the energies of their highly skilled expatriates. This includes the countries of North Africa, whose strategic concern is to upgrade their industrial systems in the hopes of trade agreements with the nearby European market.

52All these countries have effective educational resources but as yet little scientific employment. Consequently they are characterised by high emigration rates among their qualified workers; indeed some, such as Egypt, even organise skilled emigration.

53A common feature of these countries is their governments' inconsistent approach to science and technological innovation. They move from periods of reduced involvement to periods of re-investment: Morocco has had a science policy for the past five years; Nigeria has just reinvested vigorously in a national science system it had allowed to decay for twenty years.

54However, a distinction should be made between "interested" countries such as Chile, Argentina, Morocco, Tunisia, where significant scientific communities (at least in certain fields) and other highly skilled social groups provide successful long-term support for the S&T cause, and "uninterested" countries, where such social forces have long been silent: these are rapidly becoming "scientifically least developed countries".

Least developed countries: exodus of personnel and collapse of scientific institutions

55In the least developed countries, State withdrawal has brought about the collapse of national science systems constructed at great expense during the first thirty years of independence. Civil service salaries, including those of teachers and researchers, have been frozen and eroded by inflation and are no longer enough to support a family. Many scientists have left their professions or their countries. Of those who remain, most spend much of their time on activities that have nothing to do with their qualifications (agriculture, trade, etc.).

56The 20 % to 30 % who are still active live off contract research, commissioned from outside the country, and carried out outside institutions that are now little more than names. Science policies are based on pure "laisser faire" and the leading bodies of the scientific community have abandoned any consistent line. They no longer set standards or enforce a professional ethic. Here we find the most advanced examples of scientists working as commissioned service providers within global networks, they research regulated by the market rather than by their peers. This practice keeps local intellectual resources alive and directs them towards “useful” activities. However, it diverts this potential and allocates it to activities that do not arise from the local community; it does not help the local scientific community develop strong collective roots. This is true for many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly the English-speaking ones: Nigeria, for example, has in ten years lost half of its capability to contribute to world science.

S&T cooperation with the North: key element in strategies for building national innovation systems

57The emerging countries generally have precise, ambitious objectives for their S&T cooperation, as they have for their national research and innovation policies: these include participation in major international technology programmes and industrial cooperation in high technology sectors. "Interested" intermediate countries focus their public research and industrial knowledge transfer demand more closely. In the least developed countries, there is a huge need to rebuild public research institutions and organise regional cooperation in liaison with international organisations.

58In each case, S&T cooperation has a specific, essential role in developing the innovation system.

59Scientific cooperation is vital for science in the countries of the South. In Africa, 50 % to 80 % of the articles published by influential scientific journals are co-signed by researchers in the North. In small countries, production depends even more on the vagaries of cooperation. Since their scientific communities do not achieve sufficient size and regional cooperation is inadequate, any updating of knowledge depends on long-term cooperation with overseas countries. Access to high quality equipment and new experimental methods also depends on this cooperation.

60The emerging countries are those that have most opportunities for industrial or public cooperation. Companies and public authorities seek to build scientific and technical capabilities over a wide range of disciplines, oriented towards developing high technology sectors. They negotiate to achieve precise objectives:

  • Some express the need for cooperation in basic research (South Korea currently);
  • Some take part in major international technology programmes (such as European programmes), although as potential competitors they may find it hard to gain access;
  • Others seek know-how via industrial research relations (India): they are interested in processes for developing innovative small firms linked to research centres, and the development of appropriate technologies (initiatives by associations and municipal authorities in India and Brazil).

61The problem is generally solved by forming knowledge networks capable of directing strong, well-defined demand towards the places most suitable for a given collaboration. This requires considerable familiarity with places and scientific circles in the North, and therefore the use of "liaison agents" whose tacit knowledge is irreplaceable.

62"Interested" intermediate countries also express high demand for cooperation: they see it as a strategic element in S&T policy and an essential tool for updating their production systems. These countries generally have institutional research, with a number of centres of initiative (government, universities and university departments, research centres and ngos, regions and municipal authorities, small firms, etc.). Their demand is focused as follows:

  • development of research sectors below a critical volume threshold (South Africa: small-scale farming);
  • reorientation of academic research towards operational needs (in applied mathematics, for example, from physics calculations to modelling for research in environmental sciences, epidemiology, etc.);
  • development of leading-edge scientific capabilities in order to enter a high technology sector (ICT in Tunisia and Morocco).

63The demand may be highly specific (Thailand: experience in bird breeding), but the science system is often in advance of demand from national industries unconcerned with technological innovation. Demand from the production sector remains to be developed.

64The least advanced countries (and those with a ready source of wealth) are usually sub-contractors for international programmes organised in the North, for work outsourced to the South. There is virtually no other opportunity for cooperation, since here the scientific community has practically disappeared. Governments do not include research in their priority aid requests. At best they are neutral towards any research aid proposals, adopting a laisser faire policy: if the North is interested, let it act and pay. Some countries may even be suspicious of arrangements that they believe harness "their" potential (even though it may be underemployed) and may "poach" it through regional or international operations.

65Demand here comes mainly from private actors (associations, ngos, etc.). The few active scientists feel the need for a reform that would be both intellectual (beyond the routine subjects the major international programmes ask of them) and institutional.

66The desire for intellectual reform leads to the spontaneous development of learned societies, think tanks, and regional coordination by discipline (supporting joint research, training and publication, as with political science in East and Southern Africa). The need for some degree of re-institutionalisation of scientific activity is a concern shared by international cooperation donors: Scandinavian countries, US foundations (Ford, Rockefeller, Carnegie, etc.) And now even the World Bank. One line of action by these organisations is to promote regional programmes addressing local problems other than those strictly related to the security or environmental agendas: agriculture, healthcare, basic industrialisation, social sciences, etc.

67Despite the considerable differences between countries in the South, the construction of S&T capabilities in cooperation with countries of the North remains a major issue. In every case, human resources are central.


68It has become clear that some management of qualified expatriate skills is needed in order to maximise utility for the home countries. A number of public policies have been introduced to regulate migration flows, but soon showed their limitations.

69Expatriation and the international circulation of skills in not a new phenomenon –the first studies date from the 1950s– but their scale today and the forms they now take are unprecedented. Globalisation brings more cultural, economic, technical and financial exchange; and the "knowledge society" requires more specialised knowledge as a factor of production. Together these two factors imply circulation: the possessors of skills are called upon to move because the areas where the skills can be applied and those who possess them can achieve recognition are less and less restricted by national borders and physical distance.

Expatriation and the circulation of skills: possible negative consequences for the home countries

  • 2 See the forthcoming Brain Drain dossier on the Nature, Science and Third-World Academy of Sciences (...)

70Skill migration is increasingly a condition for intellectual exchange, technology transfer, innovation spread, effective training and the transmission of tacit knowledge. It is widely perceived as an extension of the academic values that have prevailed since the beginnings of institutionalised science, with its drive towards universality. So international skill migration is no longer criticised as such, as it was in the 1960s to '80s. It is no longer opposed in principle, especially since it is generally seen as a component of the free movement of persons, a fundamental human right2.

71However, although the benefits of the mobility of qualified people are no longer contested, specialists agree that its effects are not the same for all countries and may in some cases be negative. If the expatriates stay on in the host country (in France and the United States these are mainly post-graduate students and young post-doctoral researchers) and the link with the home country withers, it is clear that the cooperation policy will have had no utility for the home country, even if some of its nationals may have gained individually. The investment is thus lost, for international cooperation and the home country alike.

Maximising the utility of international skills circulation by regulating migration flows: policies and limitations

72The Conseil économique et social (France), the Department for International Development (UK), the International Labour Office, the International Organisation for Migration, the UN Economic Mission for Africa, the International Development Research Centre (Canada) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development have all, separately or jointly, suggested policy options in this area. They are broadly the following:

  • Retaining local skills: this policy may be unilateral (Chinese and Brazilian scholarship programmes) or bilateral (UK-South Africa for medical personnel); it may be a temporary solution, but it may not be viable in the long term if local conditions for career development compare unfavourably with other countries;
  • Incentives to return: incentives for people trained abroad may be effective as long as the home country offers conditions for them to express their talents and job opportunities that meet their expectations. South Korea and Taiwan are well-known examples of success with these policies; similarly, the IOM has instituted the RQAN (Return of Qualified African Nationals) programme, supported during the 1990s by the European Commission. Despite the reintegration of several hundred top-level African professionals, the continent's "knowledge crisis" has virtually eliminated its effects, since many more have left;
  • Financial compensation: indemnifying the home country has never been implemented in practice. The idea was suggested twenty years ago and resurfaces periodically: it suggests an attractive equivalence between transfers of human and financial resources, but the methods of calculation, examined in depth in the 1970s and 1980s, face theoretical, methodological and practical obstacles;
  • Restrictions on the exit or entrance of highly qualified migrants via migration policy: this direct lever for regulating flows is now increasingly unrealistic. Exit restrictions contravene the principle of free circulation mentioned above (also true for low-skill labour); and entrance restrictions are against the interests of the host country, whose labour market expresses the demand for skills.

73Naturally, for a given country, capacity building in its academic, scientific and technical environment is a sine qua non for retaining or retrieving its national researchers and engineers: it is the sole long-term solution for avoiding a massive loss of skills. But this option begs the question: waiting for the asymmetry of working conditions underlying the brain drain to disappear amounts to failing to address the problem. All these policies for acting directly on flows are at best partial solutions, and their limitations are now well known.

74Faced with massive global phenomena that attract skills towards the countries of the North and create conditions favourable to the international mobility of persons, any government attempts by countries of the South to regulate flows can have only limited effects. It is against this background that S&T diaspora initiatives have emerged since the 1990s.

Scientific and technical diasporas: sign of an emerging global civil society

75The emergence of S&T diasporas is that of a civil society whose aims concern society as a whole – in this case contributing to S&T development on the basis of numerous independent initiatives that are nonetheless linked to the reality of nation States.

Emergence of diasporas: a recent development

76Preconditions for the emergence of S&T diasporas are a large expatriate population, better integrated into the host countries and with an increasing proportion of highly skilled people. But communication technology has greatly increased expatriates' capacity to organise. All this implies that the current development of these diasporas is neither marginal nor temporary.

77Why are scientific and technical (S&T) diasporas expanding now? First of all, because of recent history: current expatriate populations are largely the result of 20th-century migration and have now reached a critical size, as we have seen. Ethiopia, for example, has no fewer than 1.5 million expatriates, India 20 million, and China 60 million (see Part 2 of the report on CD-ROM, Chapter 6, D. Teferra). In the host countries, the immigrant population has not only grown; it now includes a higher proportion of qualified and highly qualified people.

78The French situation provides an illustration. In less than 20 years, the working population of foreign origin has risen from 2.2 to 2.65 million – from 9.4 % to 10.2 % of the total working population. Over the same period, there has been a relative decline in proportion of new foreign nationals and an increase in naturalisations (see Part 2 of the report on CD-ROM, Chapter 3, J.-B. Meyer).

79These two phenomena (general increase in the number of immigrants and shift towards French naturalisation) illustrate the density and stability of the presence of foreign-born people in France. This is likely to encourage more lasting relations both within the expatriate community and with the host country.

80The socio-professional structure of this immigrant population altered radically in the last two decades of the 20th century. The "executives and higher intellectual professions" category is expanding fast, much faster than in the general French population. It has risen by a factor of 2.4 in 20 years, from 4.7 % of the foreign population in France to 9.5 %. Clearly, this population is becoming more socially diverse and its most highly skilled elements less marginal. This has an immediate impact on its ability to interact with host and home countries alike.

81To this must be added the vastly greater possibilities now offered by the information, communication and transport technologies. The frequent, immediate and multilateral relations that were traditionally the hallmarks of proximity are now to be found at much greater distance. Often it is ICT that structures a diaspora. This modern environment does more than express an existing diaspora identity; it is now a crucial element of a diaspora and makes its very existence possible.

Towards an activist vision of the diaspora

82The diaspora as a forum for collective action mobilising beyond the connection with the home country, is the reality observed in such networks. This definition is a useful one, although not totally precise and stable.

83Various authors have examined the bases for a diaspora and often refer to the group's spontaneous organisation. The definition of an S&T diaspora adopted by the panel of experts is close to this idea, in which joint action is the crucible for the creation and expression of new identities. Some expatriate groups, for example, form around a practical, albeit temporary, project. The project and the work towards an objective motivate the members, unite them and shape their identities. Sometimes this identity goes beyond the nationality of birth.

  • 3 This variety of origins may counteract the real risk of inwardly turned communities and define the (...)

84A number of nationally defined diaspora networks identified during this survey include members belonging to the host country alongside those from the home country. The host country members choose to work for the development of the other country, of which they are not nationals other than in spirit. They are a minority of network members but they reflect a form of chosen citizenship, an identification made by decision and mutual consent3. Note that this variety of origin may itself be a mechanism for integration, protecting a group from the temptation to turn in on itself.

85Given the widening North-South gap in science, African diasporas in France, for example, have moved from their earlier critical and ideological attitude and adopted a pragmatic, technical approach towards the problems to be solved. This new attitude expresses civil society's capacity for initiative and demonstrates that to counter the crisis of scientific communities and the failure of the State to advance development, intellectual diasporas have become aware of their independent role. They have substituted a "civil" approach for the earlier "institutional" one and take direct action within their possibilities (see Part 2 of the report on CD-ROM, Chapter 7, B. Sall).

S&T diasporas as a collective agent in S&T cooperation working to build a system of innovation for development

86With expatriates staying on in host countries, networking with each other and directing their remittances more towards development objectives, and with co-development becoming a stated policy, the scientific and technical diasporas are becoming new actors in development cooperation. Since this new collective agent increasingly comprises highly skilled individuals and groups, it greatly expands the potential for scientific and technical cooperation. The emergence of S&T diasporas is linked to this combination of favourable conditions.

87The alternating, cyclical migration of the mid-20th century has been replaced by the permanent settlement of a specific labour force regulated first by immigration policy (1960s and 1970s), then by collective integration policy (1980s) often involving dual nationality, and finally by a policy with co-development as its purpose (last ten years). In part, these developments reflect changes in, and internationalisation of, labour markets.

88Meanwhile, migrants' associations, once limited in range, have increased in number and become more organised as expatriates have settled in greater numbers. They form the real basis of the African diaspora in France. There, the structuring and institutionalisation of diaspora associations is confirmed by the emergence of OSIM (Organisations Solidaires Issues de la Migration) in the 1990s, many of which are coordinated in federations and now (since March 2002) belong to the FORIM (Forum des OSIM) which covers the whole of France.

Uncertainty concerning the current extent of the S&T diaspora phenomenon

89The phenomenon of S&T diasporas as strictly defined, namely networks of expatriates involved in S&T development projects in their home countries, is likely to expand. So far, however, it is small compared with the increasing number of S&T qualified expatriates. In practice, little is known of its size.

90If an S&T diaspora is defined, as we have, by the fact that the network's objectives include the advancement of S&T development in the home country, then the individuals involved are only a small fraction of the expatriates who could potentially contribute. Where the ratio can be estimated (as for Colombia and South Africa), it is somewhere between 8 % and 15 %. Of the 54 countries in France's "priority solidarity zone" (ZSP), only 12 have S&T diasporas with websites.

  • 4 Of the S&T diaspora websites found during our investigation, 20 % present support for the developm (...)
  • 5 As found in our survey of websites (ibid., Chapter 11, idem).

91Most such networks are more concerned with helping their members in the host country, and only secondarily with projects for their home country. Only a minority explicitly state that working towards the development of their home countries is their priority4. Among ZSP networks however, this objective is found much more frequently; 60 % of the zone's S&T diaspora networks5 use their websites to mobilise support for their home countries.

92These figures show that S&T diasporas mobilise relatively few expatriates. The limited extent of their initiatives is far from exhausting the potential. This raises the question of whether a policy towards them would be useful, and if so, what kind. With a minority placing a priority on activities to help develop their home countries, it is important to examine closely the objectives and methods of any suitable action: the risk is that S&T diasporas might, even involuntarily, use policies for cooperation to their sole advantage.


93Two points may be made: policies to regulate the circulation of skilled people between North and South in order to benefit from it have only a limited impact; and diasporas are emerging, including S&T ones, whose objectives include development cooperation for their home countries.

94Consequently, it is worth considering the idea of a policy of support for S&T diasporas, i.e. A new type of public action linked to the S&T diaspora phenomenon.

95The hypothesis on a policy of support for S&T diasporas is as follows: the S&T diasporas are now in a favourable situation for their growth and structuring; it would therefore be useful to examine how far they may be used as links in development cooperation policies. Indeed in recent years a number of bodies have expressed great interest in exploring the use of highly qualified diasporas for the purposes of development (see expert panel specifications, in appendix).

96A policy of support for S&T diasporas would recognise the mobile nature of scientific and technical human resources. Using the diaspora of researchers and engineers would be a new option complementing the traditional policies for regulating migration flows described above in the section "Maximising the utility of international skills circulation..." It would enable the home country to recover its human resources without removing them from the host country, and would offer the host country new opportunities for relations and influence. Expatriate human capital can be partially recovered, providing a "social capital" of professional contacts that can be used to the advantage of the home country. The diaspora also builds the capacity of the academic and intellectual community of the home country and acts as an intermediary for deploying the appropriate international cooperation.

97Collective action by highly qualified expatriates is developing in a promising environment, and many diasporas are emerging as intermediary social entities between home and host countries. This emergence reflects a grassroots movement that analysts are examining in its many dimensions.

98For France, with respect to its European and other partners, this is an important challenge: the relations between migration, cooperation and co-development and the use of the diaspora as a major element for implementing policy offer innovative and promising prospects. However, there are often doubts as to the feasibility of a policy to support S&T diasporas. The ways and means for implementing such a policy therefore need to be carefully explored and identified.

99The purpose of the rest of this report is to examine the dimensions of the S&T diaspora movement, and identify ways and means for an S&T diaspora support policy and the conditions under which it would be valid.

100In this first part we have identified and described a number of current developments in the migration of highly qualified people, their increasing momentum towards networking, and the variety of situations according to host country policies and home country situations. These developments are a help in understanding the recent emergence of S&T diasporas.

101To understand the value of a policy of supporting S&T diasporas, we must characterise the existing diasporas and examine what they do, how they operate and how they might effectively contribute to development. This is the purpose of the second part of this synopsis.


1 The South: all countries other than North America, Eastern and Western Europe and Japan.

2 See the forthcoming Brain Drain dossier on the Nature, Science and Third-World Academy of Sciences joint website, Scidev:

3 This variety of origins may counteract the real risk of inwardly turned communities and define the basis of diaspora initiatives more as a projection into the future through collective action.

4 Of the S&T diaspora websites found during our investigation, 20 % present support for the development of their home countries as their prime objective (see Part 2 of the report on CD-ROM, Chapter 11, C. Herny, B. Turner and Mamadou Gueye).

5 As found in our survey of websites (ibid., Chapter 11, idem).

© IRD Éditions, 2003

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