Human capital flight, more commonly referred to as “brain drain”, is the large-scale emigration of a large group of individuals with technical skills or knowledge. The reasons usually include two aspects which respectively come from countries and individuals. In terms of countries, the reasons may be social environment such as in source countries: lack of opportunities, political instability, economic depression, health risks. In host countries: rich opportunities, political stability and freedom, developed economy, better living conditions.
In terms of individual reasons, there are family influence such as overseas relatives, and personal preference as preference for exploring, ambition for an improved career, etc. Although the term originally referred to technology workers leaving a nation, the meaning has broadened into: “the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another, usually for better pay or living conditions”. Brain drain is usually regarded as an economic cost, since emigrants usually take with them the fraction of value of their training sponsored by the government or other organizations.
It is a parallel of capital flight, which refers to the same movement of financial capital. Brain drain is often associated with de-skilling of emigrants in their country of destination, while their country of emigration experiences the draining of skilled individuals. The term brain drain was coined by the Royal Society to describe the emigration of “scientists and technologists” to North America from post-war Europe. Another source indicates that this term was first used in the United Kingdom to describe the influx of Indian scientist and engineers.
The converse phenomenon is “brain gain”, which occurs when there is a large-scale immigration of technically qualified persons. There are also relevant phrases called “brain circulation” and “brain waste”. Brain drain is common amongst developing nations, such as the former colonies of Africa, the island nations of the Caribbean, and particularly in centralized economies such as former East Germany and the Soviet Union, where marketable skills were not financially rewarded.