Skilled Migration: Who should pay for what?

Diversities 14 (1):8-23 (2012)
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Brain drain critiques and human rights advocates have conflicting views on emigration. From a brain drain perspective, the emigration harms a country when emigrants are skilled and the source country is poor. From the human rights perspective, the right "to leave any country, including one's own" is a fundamental right, protected for all, whatever their skills. Is the concern with poverty and social justice at odds with the right to emigrate? At the beginning of the l970s, the economist Jagdish Bhagwati replied in the negative. He imagined a tax on the income earned by the skilled migrants in the destination country, to the benefit of the source country. He thus sought to reconcile the right to emigration and the brain drain effects. This article argues that there is no need to tax skilled migrants in order to reconcile the right to emigration and social justice. Social justice is not incompatible with the right to emigration but rather with restrictions on mobility. If it is both the case that equal opportunities are a minimal requisite for social justice, and that access to opportunities implies freedom of movement, as I shall argue, then the brain drain criticism doesn't satisfy the minimal requirements of social justice. The article is divided into three parts. Each part rejects one of the possible justifications of the Bhagwati tax, that is, as a way, for skilled migrants, (i.) to compensate the welfare loss occasioned to their country of origin; (ii.) to discharge for their obligation to the national community when it publicly financed their education; and (iii.) to compensate for the resulting inequality of opportunities between themselves and their non-migrant compatriots.
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