• A
  • A
  • A
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • ABC
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
  • А
Regular version of the site
  • HSE University
  • News
  • Europe to Face a Reverse Brain Drain: Up to 3.5 Million Highly Skilled Professionals Could Return Home

Europe to Face a Reverse Brain Drain: Up to 3.5 Million Highly Skilled Professionals Could Return Home

Europe to Face a Reverse Brain Drain: Up to 3.5 Million Highly Skilled Professionals Could Return Home

© iStock

As the pandemic continues and working from home becomes the norm in some industries, professionals who once left to work in other countries are beginning to return home. Researchers from HSE University, the Catholic University of Louvain and the University of Lille have found out how strong this movement could be and what economic, social and political implications it might bring. The preprint of the study was published in the GLO Discussion Papers.

In the year and a half since the pandemic began, researchers have investigated how the rising loss of human life, reduced business activity and limited social interaction are affecting the economy, as well as the demand for offices and expats. Economists were interested in answering a question that would clarify the future of the labour market: what share of people will continue working from home and how many people might return to their home countries without changing their jobs. This ‘reverse brain drain’ may lead to additional capital outflows from the countries where employers are located: mainly qualified specialists with relatively high salaries who work remotely will spend their money in their home countries.

The basis for calculations was the European Union Labour Force Survey (EU LFS) conducted in 2016. Respondents reported, inter alia, their place of birth and nationality, which made it possible to identify migrants and their countries of origin, as well as the position and industry in which they work. The most suitable positions for remote working are managers, professionals, junior specialists and office workers, so the authors looked at these groups.

To estimate the proportion of white collar staff who would be able to continue working remotely on a permanent basis, outside of emergency circumstances, economists have used two approaches. The first takes as a potential future 'norm' the situation that prevailed in the countries where remote working was most widespread before the pandemic — Denmark, the Netherlands, and Sweden. It is assumed that the number of remote workers in them is close to what is potentially possible with the current level of technology. The second approach relies on calculations published after the pandemic began and verified by survey results.

By comparing the data collected, researchers calculated the proportion of European workers in jobs suitable for remote work. It was highest in Switzerland (16.6%), high in Austria, Belgium, Ireland and Sweden (more than 5%), and markedly lower in Southern and Eastern Europe (less than 1% in Hungary, Greece, Poland and Spain). The calculated figure depends both on the total number of migrants in the economy and on the distribution of migrants by position (if they are mainly engaged in low-skilled work, the above results will have little impact).

The difference between the figures calculated using the first and second approaches is almost one million potential emigrants for 16 countries (3.6 million for the second approach versus 2.7 for the first). This difference reflects how opportunities for telecommuting have expanded over the last four pre-pandemic years and also as a consequence of increased confidence in telecommuting following the massive forced shift to this format in spring 2020.

These estimates should be seen as an upper boundary for possible migration — this number of workers may return to their home countries, but some of them will not do so (the decision may be influenced by economic considerations as well as social, cultural motivations and personal reasons). The bulk of potential returnees would be in European countries (both EU and non-EU), while the number of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa, who might move to remote work, is much smaller in Europe (300-400 thousand).

Irina Bakalova, co-author of the paper and Research Fellow at the Faculty of Economic Sciences at HSE University

‘We are talking here specifically about qualified specialists who have the opportunity to work remotely. Such workers are not only high wage earners, but also possess competencies and human capital. They increase consumer demand in the region where they live and also contribute to the socio-cultural environment. When we are talking about hundreds of thousands of specialists who may consider moving back to their counties of origin, this is a reason for the regions concerned to discuss additional measures to attract them.’

The return of highly skilled specialists with good education and work experience to their home countries can bring significant benefits to these countries, even if people continue to work in their previous jobs. In addition to economic benefits (increased consumption due to the influx of wealthy residents), they can bring new social and political life to the country, contribute to positive change, and invest money, knowledge and time in the development of their city or region.

Similar processes may begin in Russia: Moscow, St. Petersburg and other big cities have traditionally become points of attraction for specialists from the regions. ‘Within Russia, such an outflow may be even more pronounced due to less significant legal barriers compared to cross-border migration. If favourable conditions for remote work are created (e.g. construction of co-working spaces, provision of stable internet connection), the regions can attract qualified specialists who went to work in Moscow or other major cities. In addition, companies have the opportunity to hire employees to work remotely from the regions without having to move to the metropolis. Many regions cannot offer high-level jobs to skilled workers but organising favourable conditions for remote work is feasible. Each region has to weigh up the respective benefits and costs, and we also continue to work on these issues,’ Irina Bakalova summed up.

See also:

Education and Employment in ‘Hard’ Science Provide no Salary Advantages Compared to ‘Soft’ Science at Any Career Stage

HSE University economists question whether Russian STEM specialists are better paid than non-STEM specialists. They compare wages of professionals with STEM and no STEM majors, and those working in STEM and no STEM jobs and explore how the gap evolves over the life cycle. They find that there is no advantage of STEM major and STEM job over their no STEM alternative. They present their findings in a paper published in the Voprosy Ekonomiki journal.

Why Women in Russia Earn Less Than Men

On average, women in Russia earn 30-35% less than men. According to this indicator, Russia is ahead of many developed countries. The difference in earnings is primarily associated with the uneven distribution of men and women in different industries and professions, but economists cannot explain a significant portion of the discrepancy. Aleksey Oshchepkov, Assistant Professor of the Faculty of Economic Sciences at HSE University, came to these conclusions after analyzing research materials and survey data. The results are published in a chapter of the volume, Gendering Post-Soviet Space, recently published by Springer.

Gender Asymmetry Affects Labour Market

According to Natalia Tikhonova, a social scientist with HSE University, gender asymmetry has been on the rise in Russia's labour market over the past 20 years. Gender asymmetry is reflected in the ‘feminisation’ of white-collar jobs and a disproportionate number of men among blue-collar workers. In addition to this, increasing automation in traditionally male industrial sectors is leading to fewer jobs available to men. In contrast, occupations with a growing demand for skills tend to be those which are mainly filled by women.

‘Cognitive Skills Are not Sufficient to Be Successful in Labour Market’

This September, HSE – St. Petersburg hosted the 3rd IZA/HSE University Workshop on Skills and Preferences and Labor Market Outcomes in Post-Transition and Emerging Economies. HSE News Service spoke with Professor Lehmann, co-organizer of the workshop, about human capital, the importance of cognitive and noncognitive skills, and the challenges empirical labour economists encounter when studying these issues in post-transition and emerging economies.

Relatively Unhappy: How Strict Labour Laws Reduce Workers’ Happiness

Temporary or informally employed people are less satisfied with their lives than those with a permanent job. The most apparent differences can be seen in countries with strict labour laws. Tatiana Karabchuk and Natalia Soboleva investigated the legislative impact on the social well-being of employed populations in European countries and Russia.

Trapped by a Flexible Schedule: The Pain and Price of Freelance Work

A flexible schedule is one of the main advantages of freelance work. But don’t rejoice in your freedom just yet: self-employment often disrupts the balance between life and work and takes up more time than traditional office work. HSE University researchers Denis Strebkov and Andrey Shevchuk investigated the downsides of independent work.

Work That Kills: The Danger of Nonstandard Working Schedules

More than 64% of employed Russians work evenings, nights or weekends, and this is one of the highest figures among European countries. Andrei Shevchuk and Anna Krasilnikova were the first to study the extent of nonstandard working hours in Russia and its impact on work-life balance.

Personality at Work

The way one thinks, feels and acts in certain circumstances can determine career opportunities in terms of employment and pay. For the first time in Russia, Ksenia Rozhkova has examined the effect of personality characteristics on employment.

Gender Inequality in Academia

In Russia, women earn about 70% of what men earn in wages. In the academic sector, this gap is smaller. However, although women make up a majority at universities, wage gaps between the two genders still persist. To find out why this is the case, IQ.HSE spoke with Victor Rudakov, Research Fellow at the Institute of Institutional Studies.

Graduate Salary Expectations in Russia

Students of engineering and economics, undergraduates of state universities, high performers, young people from wealthier families, and those working part-time while at university tend to expect higher salaries upon graduation.