Canada Wins in Brain Drains and Brain Gains

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"TEXT 1753.","Canadian Speeches: Volume 14, #06, January/February 2001.","Director General, Social and Institutional Division, Statistics Canada.","Canada wins in brain drains and brain gains.","SCOTT MURRAY. ","Immigration and emigration.","In brain drains and gains through emigration and immigration, Canada gains more than it loses; but in some sectors the losses will be difficult to replace. The number of professional and other highly qualified people who leave for the United States is small. They are more than offset by highly-qualified immigrants, who may initially face difficult adjustments but wind up in their chosen fields, earning more than equally-qualified native-born Canadians. In addition to emigration, there has also been a large flow of temporary workers to the United States -- but at least half of these return to Canada, bringing back with them added experience, knowledge and skills. Despite this, the brain drain is still a loss to the Canadian economy and society. A large loss of very qualified people in the academic and healthcare sectors will be difficult to replace. Speech to the "Brain Drain, Brain Gain" seminar sponsored by The Maytree Foundation and The St. Lawrence Centre Forum, Toronto, May 25, 2000."," The issue of the brain drain crawled back onto the federal policy agenda a couple of years ago, after being quiescent since the early 1960s. The fact that it did so, we think, is tied to changes that are happening in the global economy. Giant forces are converting our economies in the OECD [Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries and in many developing countries into economies that are much more integrated, more reliant on information technology, and where competition is, in fact, global. These forces have placed great strain on Canadian companies competing in those sectors where the changes are the greatest.

Part of my job at StatsCan has been to mine existing sources of data to try to see what we can do to characterize the magnitude and nature of the brain drain and any compensating brain gain. We are developing new data sources with our federal colleagues from Citizenship and Immigration, HRDC (Human Resources Development Canada) and Industry Canada to try to help nuance this discussion.

What I am going to try to do is tell you what we know and what we do not know. Overall, the message is complex. Yes, Mabel, there is a brain drain. It is something we have been saying, despite some of our critics, for years now, ever since the Association of Universities and Colleges asked us to look at the issue. We suffer a loss of workers in a range of occupations thought to be important to future economic success. However, the numbers are small by almost any standard.

First, they are small in absolute terms. We are losing roughly 25,000 individuals to the U.S. annually, and 8,000 to 10,000 of those are university educated. So it is a small number of people, something like 0.1% of the Canadian population. In historical terms, the flows are the smallest they have been since 1851. So if we have a problem, we have had a problem for a very long time.

The numbers are also small in relative terms, whether expressed in terms of the total number of workers who are available in the labour force in those occupations, or in terms of the flow of graduates coming out of our post-secondary educational institutions. Even in the most affected occupations -- doctors and nurses -- the proportions being lost are quite small.

At the same time, we are gaining a huge influx of very highly-qualified immigrants, who seem to be enjoying economic success. In the highly qualified sector, we are gaining four university-qualified people from around the world for every one lost to the U.S.; in fact, the total number of masters and doctoral graduates we attract annually exceeds the total number of university-educated lost to the U.S.

In the 1990s, though, we have seen some deterioration in how successfully immigrants have integrated into the Canadian economy. …