Voting with Their Feet: The Lure of Migration

  • August 10, 2023
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The exodus of human capital is a primary concern for developing countries wishing to stem the tide of emigration. Some believe that emigration prevents poor countries from capitalizing on the talents of their best people. Critics suggest that poor countries would excel if the smartest minds did not emigrate. Theoretically, this sounds plausible; however, it obscures the inspiration for emigration.

If underperforming countries could equip their citizens with superior alternatives, then they would not migrate. Richer countries lure quality immigrants because of their infrastructure. Immigrants are attracted to their universities, institutions, and commercial excellence. Working in a developed country provides greater scope for professional enrichment.

Exposure to first-rate training and cutting-edge technology means that people can create greater value in a developed country. Immigrants would be less impactful had they remained in the developing world. Choosing to remain in an unproductive country only limits the ability of competent people to make a global contribution. Quite often, the genius of the smartest minds is constrained by the limitations of poor countries.

In successful countries, more options exist for people to thrive. Due to economic diversification, opportunities for employment are more plentiful. Further, in richer countries, the private sector plays an instrumental role in development. Therefore, there is less reliance on government employment.

Government has a political agenda, whereas the private sector has an economic agenda, so the growth of government can sap the dynamism of the private sector. Promoting economic freedom in the developing world would curb the level of emigration by unleashing the entrepreneurial talents of citizens. Richer countries exhibit higher levels of economic freedom; therefore, it’s easier for their citizens to become wealthy. For instance, Rwanda is perceived as a rising economic star in Africa, and economists attribute its prosperity to economic freedom.

Unlike Rwanda, some developing countries use the state as a bludgeon to badger citizens. Not only are economic activities severely regulated but corrupt politicians also employ government resources as a tool to elevate cronies. Corruption is another major reason for emigrating. There is a strong perception in developing countries that success is linked to political networks.

Hence, people who are disconnected from positions of influence feel that success is only possible if they emigrate. The perception is that in countries like the United Kingdom and America, no one is above the law. People truly believe that if you work hard in these countries then you will succeed. In rich countries, there are also critiques of meritocracy, but in the developing world it’s the norm for even low-level positions to be politicized, so the credibility of a meritocratic state is seriously doubted.

Additionally, because of the reputation of some countries, citizens encounter discrimination when traveling or doing business. Some countries in the Caribbean do not need a visa to enter America, Canada, or the United Kingdom. Yet Jamaica is not one due to its reputation for criminality. As such, traveling can really be a hassle for Jamaica.

Doing business online is equally arduous for countries known for financial scams. Ambitious people will travel and do more business than the average person; so if their country’s reputation is a barrier to success, then emigration will become a feasible option. Changing a country’s culture is hard and the political establishment might not possess the will to do so. So to secure their future, citizens migrate to better places.

Apart from structural drivers, emigration is fueled by sociocultural factors. In some poor countries it is widely believed that affluence earns people the ire of unscrupulous persons; therefore, to escape the wrath of envious personalities, people emigrate. Jamaicans refer to envious people as being “bad mind,” whereas others talk about the evil eye. A study even shows that Jamaicans cite envy as a reason for emigrating. Clearly, people are emigrating to access better opportunities and to benefit from higher quality social relationships.

Emigrating to a superior country leads to social mobility, so citizens should not be discouraged from doing so. The world gains nothing when talented people are trapped in unproductive places.

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