Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 1337–1354 | Cite as

Ability drain: size, impact, and comparison with brain drain under alternative immigration policies

  • Maurice Schiff
Original Paper


Ability drain’s (AD) impact seems economically significant, with 30% of US Nobel laureates since 1906 being immigrants, and immigrants or their children founding 40% of Fortune 500 companies. Nonetheless, while brain drain (BD) and gain (BG) have been studied extensively, AD has not. I examine migration’s impact on ability (a), education (h), and productive human capital or “skill” s =s(a, h), for source country residents and migrants under (a) the points system (PS) which accounts for h and (b) the “vetting” system (VS) which accounts for s (e.g., US H-1B program). The findings are as follows: (i) Migration reduces (raises) residents’ (migrants’) average ability, with an ambiguous (positive) impact on average education and skill, and net skill drain, SD, likelier than net BD; (ii) these effects increase with ability’s inequality or variance, are greater under VS than PS, and hurt source countries; (iii) the model and two empirical studies suggest average AD ≥ BD for educated US immigrants, with real income about twice the home country income; and (iv) SD holds for any BD and for a very small AD (7.4% of our estimate). Policy implications are provided.


Migration Points system Vetting system Ability drain Brain drain Brain gain 

JEL code

F22 J24 J61 O15 



Thanks are due to Lant Pritchett, Hillel Rapoport, two anonymous referees, and participants at the 2016 Western Economic Association International meetings, the 2016 Conference of the Society of Government Economists, and a World Bank seminar for their comments.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA)WashingtonUSA

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