Sunday, April 07, 2013

Talent Geopolitics: Returning To Vietnam

More than a few developing countries have an official talent export strategy. Count Vietnam among them. The policy:

Young Vietnamese academics have a number of options for studying abroad. The '322' programme, for instance, has been administered by the Ministry of Education since 2000. Some 500 talented students and young faculty are sent to the US, UK, Australia, Japan, Europe, Korea and other countries every year. So far, several thousand Vietnamese have benefited.

Emphasis added. Yes, many Vietnamese have benefited. But what about Vietnam? The government is struggling to get talent to return:

According to the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese, there are nearly 4.5 million Vietnamese living around the world, including 400,000 who have bachelor and higher degrees – a huge brain drain for the country.

In March 2004, Vietnam’s Communist Party enacted Resolution 36 on Overseas Vietnamese. Its objective was to persuade Vietnamese abroad to come back to support development in every sector, including in the economy, science and culture.

The resolution had a positive impact on remittances to Vietnam and foreign direct investment from overseas Vietnamese, but was less successful in luring academics back to the country. And those who did return often left again, complaining of red tape, lack of autonomy and unsatisfactory working environments.

According to the Ho Chi Minh City Statistics Bureau, some 400 overseas Vietnamese returned to the city, over half of them to work in universities, colleges, technology parks and hospitals. But many did not stay long.

The Ho Chi Minh City Centre for Biotechnology lost 22 researchers in 2012 alone, according to a recently published official report, which added that the loss of returnees had affected the operation of sophisticated equipment and technology at universities and technology parks.

Emphasis added. Vietnam is exporting human capital and getting financial capital in return. The benefits of trade are reciprocal. I'd say the policy is a resounding success. But the Vietnamese government doesn't understand that people develop, not places.

Vietnam is benefiting from native born talent regardless of residential location. Whether or not return migrants stay is irrelevant. Bottom line, they are returning and opening up new avenues of prosperity.

Talent migration is not a zero-sum game. When a person moves, two places are connected. Knowledge and money flow along these pathways in both directions. Sending and receiving countries benefit. The migrant amasses human capital. It's an economic development success story.

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