Special Report

The Countries Attracting the Most Highly Educated Migrants

Students who have completed post-secondary education are five times more likely to move abroad as those with only a primary education, according to the 2019 UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report. Often referred to as “brain drain,” the phenomenon of highly educated workers emigrating to other countries can be caused by political or economic turmoil, as well as a desire for better career opportunities or a higher standard of living. (These are the best countries to move to.)

Rich countries tend to welcome highly skilled immigrants. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the number of migrants with tertiary education in G20 countries increased by over 60% between 2001 and 2010, and continues to increase rapidly, with one in five coming from India, China, or the Philippines.

It isn’t only G20 countries that are attracting educated people, however. 

To identify the countries attracting the most highly educated migrants, 24/7 Tempo reviewed the Potential Net Migration Index from the analytics and international polling company Gallup. The index measures how much a country’s population would change if everyone who wanted to move to another country actually were able to do so. Population statistics for 2011 and 2021 are from the World Bank.

If all those who desired to permanently relocate were able to do so, the regional populations in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia would decline, while the populations in North America, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand would increase.

There are exceptions, however. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates are outliers in the Middle East as popular target destinations for college-educated adults. In Asia, Bhutan and Singapore would see significant influxes in the highly-educated population.

The majority of the target destinations, however, are European nations, both EU and non-EU. Luxembourg, Northern Cyprus, and Switzerland would see increases of over 200% in the population of adults with postsecondary degrees, while Iceland would potentially see gains over 450%.

Click here to see the countries attracting the most highly educated migrants
Click here to see our detailed methodology

While an influx of immigrants can cause overcrowding and resource scarcity in target nations, brain drain can impact developing nations more severely. One major implication is that the economies of developing countries who invest in education may not see corresponding growth if a high percentage of their students choose to leave after graduation. (These are the countries where the most young people want to leave.)

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