Maybe we Need to Bring the Issue of ‘Brain Drain’ Back to the Immigration Debate

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By Maria Fotopoulos

Maria is a CAPS Senior Writing Fellow who focuses on the impacts of growth on biodiversity. Find her on Twitter | in | FB.

The writer’s views are her own.


April 19, 2017

Skilled immigrants often struggle to put degrees, credentials to use in U.S.” was a recent lament in the Chicago Tribune on how skilled immigrants from Albania, Iraq, Guatemala and elsewhere have to work as babysitters, cabdrivers, janitors, valets and factory laborers.

“Lengthy recertification processes, language barriers and employers’ unfamiliarity with foreign credentials hobble immigrants’ efforts to find work in their fields,” Tribune reporters Alison Bowen and Alexia Elejalde-Ruiz wrote. Reading between the lines is the implication that foreign workers perhaps shouldn’t have to be held to American standards and credentials. If it were good enough for their home country, it should be good enough for the U.S.

Now living in Chicago, Aleksandra Dimo came to the U.S. in 2015 knowing no English. A psychologist in Albania, she now works in a deli and volunteers.
Photo: Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune

The reporters also noted that in Illinois there are “334,000 college-educated immigrants older than 25” and that “a quarter of them are in low-skilled jobs or unemployed,” a situation described as “demoralizing for immigrants” and one that “robs communities of scarce skills,” because “ethnic communities are in particular need of professionals who can speak the language and understand cultural nuances in key fields like health care.”

Those lines begged a couple of questions that weren’t answered in the article. Why has the U.S. imported so much labor it doesn’t need? Why has the U.S. admitted so many people who don’t speak English and who apparently have so many “cultural nuances” to overcome that they can only deal with people from their own countries?

And, what does importing high-skilled labor from foreign countries do to those countries? The term “brain drain” isn’t heard much anymore, but as we debate the many problems we’ve sown through mass immigration, we should add it to the discussion.

As defined by Merriam Webster,” brain drain is “the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions.” (That definition perhaps should be revised to: “… based on the belief, often myth, that they will receive better pay or living conditions.” The streets in America today aren’t paved with gold any more than they were a hundred years ago when many incoming immigrants expected such.)

If the U.S. is taking the skilled people from many economically challenged, war-torn or otherwise beleaguered countries, it seems we’re culpable in hindering the progress of these countries.

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