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11 Countries With Highest Brain Drain

When a human capital flight is mentioned, it would be expected that the list of 11 countries with highest brain drain contains what we like to call 3rd world countries or poorly developed nations. But the truth is, not even the richest countries in the world are safe from it. As it turns out, there’s always a place where the grass is greener.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain


The European Union, a collection of some of the most developed nations in the world, is experiencing a net loss of skilled workers due to extensive brain drain to the United States. Despite the fact that lots of immigrants are trying to get hold of EU promise land, these are mostly unskilled laborers from North Africa, Middle East and Eastern Europe, although in recent years brain drain from India has become a significant influx. The problem has reached a point where European Commission was forced to design a program similar to the US Green Card, called Blue Card (yes, we all admire the endless imagination of Brussels’s bureaucracy) in order to attract skilled migrants.

But the problems poor countries face are much worse when it comes to the brain drain. They don’t have the possibility to lure migrants from other countries to replace their high-skilled workers who went abroad in pursuit of a better life. As more of them leave, the economic situation gradually gets worse, forcing even more people to abandon their country. This creates a vicious downward spiral with very grim prospects, exposing devastating consequences of brain drain.

Although economic reasons are main incentive behind one’s decision to uproot one’s life, there are other motives as well. Iranian migrants have stated, among other things, that socially oppressive and very strict religious laws in their homeland have been a major contributor to their decision to leave. For instance, it is illegal to listen to pop music in your car or wear Western clothes. When all of these are piles up, it is easy to understand why Iran is among countries with highest brain drain in the world.

It is no wonder that neither of the countries on or list are among the smartest countries in the world. It is pretty much impossible to be, if best and brightest from every generation leave in search for better life in foreign lands. Let’s see which nations had the misfortune to be among countries with highest brain drain.

11. UK

In the last 10 years, more than 1.1 million people with university degrees have left the United Kingdom. The number, although by far the largest among OECD countries, hasn’t seriously affected Britain due to a large influx of foreign skilled migrants.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

10. Malaysia

Malaysia is facing growing problems due to brain drain, as highly educated workers are finding much better-paying jobs in nearby Singapore.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

9. Jamaica

As all Caribbean nation, Jamaican brain drain has been significantly affecting this small country. Although it may seem like a paradise on Earth to outsiders (especially to us unfortunate enough to live in colder climates) lack of economic and educational opportunities have been steadily driving people towards abandoning their homeland.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

8. Mexico

Mexican immigration has been a topic of every US presidential campaign in the last two decades. Even though the majority of immigrants are unskilled and seasonal workers, in the last few years more and more Mexicans with tertiary education are leaving the country. The vast majority of them is headed north.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

7. China

In 2009 421,000 Chinese students decided to continue their education abroad. In itself, this is, in fact, a good news, as people gain new knowledge they can pass to others back home. Unfortunately, the passing part isn’t really working, as young Chinese tend to remain in their host countries and continue their lives there.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

6. Iran

Years of political oppression and religious dictatorship have forced some 4 million Iranians into living in foreign countries. Some studies on Iranian brain drain suggest that 150,000 university educated migrants leave the country every year, which placed Iran on the 6th place among countries with highest brain drain. That level of migration rate is simple unsustainable in the long run.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

5. Greece

A recent addition to the list of countries facing a brain drain problem, Greece has always had its share of people leaving to work abroad. Ever since the debt crisis exploded in 2008, the situation has become alarming. Some 350,000 people have left Greece between 2010 and 2013. That’s 3% of the entire population gone abroad in just 3 years. 35,000 Greek doctors are working Germany alone. Considering that university education is free in Greece, it seems that at least some of the aid money Germany provided in debt relief has been paid off.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

4. India

Almost one-third of high skill workers’ visas and 10% of researchers’ visa issued in EU in 2010 went to Indians. India is one of few countries that is taking some strong measures to curb devastating brain drain, by requiring student going abroad to study to sign a bond, promising that, once their studies are finished, they’ll return home and work in India.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

3. Kenya

Despite being the strongest economy in East and Central Africa, Kenya is still ranked as poor country worldwide, with 30% of students studying abroad returning home.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

2. Nigeria

There are 2 million Nigerians currently in the US alone. 30,000 of them hold university degrees, 20,000 of them being doctors. The civil war that have raged for years has left little hope in people’s hearts that bright future can be expected here.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain

1. Ethiopia

With 75% of skilled workers leaving the country in the last 10 years, Ethiopia is first on our list of countries with highest brain drain. The country is struggling to cope with the lack of highly educated professionals in almost every field.

Countries With Highest Brain Drain