Of Emigration, Brain Drain & Brain Gain: Some Reflections

Over the years, I’ve known and helped many young Vietnamese who have studied overseas.  Some I knew in passing; others became friends.  Quite a few made the decision to remain overseas either in the country in which they studied or a third country.  By doing so, they slowly but surely began the transformation from Vietnamese national to Việt kiều (overseas Vietnamese).


I think of the implications of this more now that I am living in their (home) country, some in mine and others elsewhere.  I have the gnawing feeling that another country’s (brain) gain is Vietnam’s loss and on glass is half empty days I can’t help feeling that Vietnam would be a better place in some ways, if some had remained.

On the other hand (and perhaps from a more rational perspective), I know that many would not be where they are now, academically, personally and professionally, were it not for the opportunities afforded them by U.S. and other foreign institutions of higher education and economies, opportunities not yet available in Vietnam.  I also know that many of them contribute to Vietnam as cultural ambassadors, and through a sharing of expertise and remittances, which reached a record $11 billion last year.  Some lose touch with their home country network, find their niche, including a great job opportunity, fall in love, or all of the above.  These are a few of the reasons they choose to remain.

[Interestingly, Vietnam is a “top ten” country in three interrelated categories in 2013:  number of students in the U.S. (#8), number of immigrants to the U.S. (#5 after China – PDF download) and remittances (#9), according to the World Bank.  About 45% of all overseas Vietnamese live in the U.S.]

Contrary to the third pillar of U.S. student visa policy (i.e., plans to return to one’s home country after graduation or an OPT experience), emigration is a personal decision and indeed a universal human right.  As a side note, the U.S. and other countries with graying populations desperately need a certain percentage of international students to remain and make important contributions to the economy and society-at-large.  (Of course, many do; it’s just not policy yet.  We’re is still at the wink-and-nod stage.)  Political and business leaders at the highest levels, including President Obama, are finally coming to this realization.  My prediction:  there will be some fundamental changes in U.S. student visa policy in the not too distant future.

The encouraging reality is there are many young Vietnamese who have had neither the desire nor the opportunity to study overseas who are taking up the slack.  They are smart, ambitious, connected, proficient in key foreign languages and determined.  Some of them are better qualified on a number of levels than some of their foreign-educated peers.  They give me hope for the future of Vietnam.

departure-signAnother hopeful reality is that a growing number of Vietnamese are returning home after graduation or a work experience.  (This is based on my observations and anecdotal evidence; unfortunately, there is no official source for this information.)  In addition, many overseas Vietnamese are “coming home” and a growing number of foreigners have decided to make Vietnam their home for the long-term.  (Follow this link to read a relevant blog post written by a young Vietnamese-American who has been living in HCMC for seven years.)  Both groups are part of a phenomenon known as brain circulation, defined as “the circular movement of skilled labor across nations.”  They are working in collaboration with foreign- and domestically-educated Vietnamese and in a variety of sectors and fields to create a better Vietnam.

Your thoughts?


3 thoughts on “Of Emigration, Brain Drain & Brain Gain: Some Reflections

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