Global talent, local careers: Circular migration of top Indian engineers and professionals

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23 Citations (SciVal)


Despite heightened interests from policy makers in the notion of brain circulation, the discussion around the issue has remained largely theoretical. Drawing upon unique data of the alumni of a leading Indian university, this study examines how migration dynamics unfold within a highly-educated population whose emigration is considered as a classic example of brain drain. We adopt an integrative framework, bringing together macro-level push and pull influences and individual-level selectivity. We find that disparity in economic development between countries drives migration flows in both directions, while host-country demand has a stronger impact on out-migration than on return migration. We also detect significant selection effects at the individual level: top students are more likely to emigrate and less likely to return. In out-migration, flowing out of the country appear to be the best and the brightest amongst the highly educated talent pool. In return migration, negative selection is manifested in multiple aspects - including ability, post-migration human capital investment, and income. We also find that the influences of macro forces vary amongst individuals: higher-ability individuals appear to be less affected by demand changes. The findings have important policy implications for both source countries and receiving countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)405-420
Number of pages16
JournalResearch Policy
Issue number2
Early online date23 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Brain drain
  • Career
  • Circular migration
  • Engineers and professionals
  • Selectivity in migration

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Engineering(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management Science and Operations Research
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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