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My question is about countries such as:

  • EU countries like Bulgaria, Romania or Poland and
  • non-EU countries like Russian Federation, Ukraine or Belarus.

A PostDoc fellow might earn at most US$ 2500, say, in Poland, while they can earn $4000 at minimum, say, in Spain. The same argument is applicable to university professors.

Why do highly educated/competent/qualified scientists and engineers still work in these lower income countries?

Why do poorer countries in the EU and the neighboring countries not suffer a complete and decisive brain drain?

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    Comments are not for extended discussion nor for answers; this conversation has been moved to chat. Please see this FAQ before posting another comment; additional answers-in-comments will be deleted without warning.
    – cag51
    Sep 9 at 5:15
  • This question has an unstated assumption: there are brain people and no-brain people. Everyone is different and unique and everyone has a brain. "Complete brain drain" would occur when every single person has left the country.
    – emory
    Sep 9 at 18:10
  • 3
    @emory Right. If we all worked hard enough, we could all be like Feynman! Sep 9 at 18:30

16 Answers 16

51

Since no one has said it yet... They kind of do.

I live and work in Russia and A LOT of people graduating from top universities either land a position in top management outside of academia locally or move abroad. It is still not quite as noticeable as the fact one keeps encountering Russian surnames under research produced elsewhere; a good bunch of labs in the US and Europe has gotten a huge influx of ex-USSR researchers during the '90s. Talking to some of these people reveals that they either don't feel a particular tie to any country and go after higher quality of life or would rather stay, but given poor funding it starts impacting their research they are passionate about way too much. @Allure points to political/ethical issues which are also definitely a thing.

I'd say in most departments around me from those who stay in academia well over half move abroad (at times, going to whopping 70-80%); with these numbers being lower but still significant in "lower end" universities. If this is not a brain drain, I don't know what is.

As to why the remaining stay... They either can't move, don't care or actually don't really have a reason to (like Oganov!*). Academia has adjusted - instead of keeping 10 people on staff with none of them able to do science because they have to earn a living elsewhere, sometimes living wages are kept okay and positions very restricted, immediately making it competitive with similar positions abroad. If you don't do military research (or your ethical/political stance allows for it), still get funded (which is admittedly somewhat rare) and can get equipment/pay people to do research... Doesn't have to be making great money, just enough to actually do research and live an agreeable life. Those who don't get it, move or quit academia. Those who can, commonly stay. Simple as that.

*EDIT: as @Allure has pointed out, Oganov first moved abroad and then returned to Russia. I'd still argue it's one example of having very decent and competitive working conditions; these are, of course, rare.

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    I actually have & had lots of colleagues from Russia and Ukraine but I don't think they necessarily emigrated because of money. The other conditions are usually much more important, e.g. cost of living, work conditions, crime rate, health insurance, better education. Many of them come here as students.
    – Sulthan
    Sep 7 at 18:22
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    @sulthan, where'er is here Sep 7 at 19:00
  • 4
    @Sulthan Money is essentially never more than just a proxy for the quality of life one could expect. Crime rate for one is a very major factor; no one likes to worry about their life and wellbeing constantly. However, it is interesting to me you list education among other factors: it was traditionally perceived as strong if not far superior (vs say US public schools) until very recently, and to people who wanted to move the "perfect" track was to get up to sophomore or so locally and then transfer abroad to get education here and job opportunities elsewhere. Many do come as students indeed.
    – Lodinn
    Sep 7 at 19:14
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    Oganov didn't stay in Russia, he moved there from the US. Check the article I linked or his biography on Wikipedia. To quote, "Artem Oganov, a Moscow-born computational materials designer formerly at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, relocated to the Russian capital this month."
    – Allure
    Sep 7 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Allure Oh, fair enough, my bad on that one. I kind of assumed that based on some passing familiarity with the present state of affairs; his lab gets quite a lot of PR in my institution, largely spearheading megagrants coverage.
    – Lodinn
    Sep 7 at 22:44
113

The question seems to assume that people move to where their salary is highest. This is not true; people have lots of different reasons to live where they live.

It also makes little sense to compare salaries without also considering cost of living. There are lots of ways to calculate cost of living, but just relying on one data source, the cost of living in Spain is about 160% the cost of living in Poland. Said another way, if you have US$2500 to spend in Poland, it goes about as far as 2500 * 1.6 = US$4000 in Spain - in other words, as long as you spend the money locally, it's exactly the same salary.

People may also prefer to stay in their home country to be near family and childhood friends, to be near a spouse or their job or their family, to live in a place where people speak the language they are most familiar with. They may have a sense of national pride. And crucially, for academia, there are a very limited number of positions, period. There are more qualified applicants than there are jobs. If you are offered an academic position in Bulgaria, there is no marketplace where you can take this offer and exchange it for one in another country.

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    A lot of university professors migrated from Russia, Turkey, etc to UK, USA, and Canada.
    – user366312
    Sep 6 at 20:43
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    @user366312 I don't know what salaries are for academic positions in India, but I would assume that they are at least relatively consistent with the cost of living there compared to elsewhere in the world. I won't claim that there is no "brain drain", but that isn't what your question asked. Many of the reasons for historical academic "brain drain" migration in the second half of the 20th century involved academic freedom and ethnic/political/religious persecution; these reasons still apply today, of course, but perhaps in different places.
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 6 at 20:45
  • 38
    "in other words, as long as you spend the money locally, it's exactly the same salary." except that some things vary in price around the world more than others and some things can actually cost more in poor countries. If you crave for tech toys you are probably better off in a rich country, if you crave for domestic servants on the other hand you may be better off in a poor country. Sep 7 at 0:21
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    @RobinClower From brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/… as of 2015 there were about 2.4 million Indian immigrants in the US, and in the same year India's population was 1.3 billion. 0.18%. Certainly not all immigrants are part of the "brain drain" (I did not look at how many are H1Bs, though certainly Indian immigrants to the US are on average more educated than immigrants to the US as a whole), but even if they were it doesn't seem to approach "complete brain drain" levels, or "lose 100 keep 1".
    – Bryan Krause
    Sep 7 at 14:56
  • 3
    @user366312 For one thing, India has (had) a big medical tourism industry, so it's not like it's impossible to get medical care there. As far as day-to-day living goes, you're really underestimating how nice a nice neighborhood can be even in a country where most people can't live that way. Sep 7 at 21:58
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There are as many reasons as there are people, I'd suppose. But don't forget that salary isn't the entire financial consideration. Other places with higher salary also have higher living expenses. "Poor" may be true relative to the global economy, but not the local one. But some other reasons are:

  1. Language

  2. Culture (and food)

  3. Family

  4. A sense of service to the place you grew up in.

  5. Patriotism

  6. Lack of acceptance/friendliness by some in other places.

  7. Sense of comfort where you are.

  8. Being highly respected in the local academic culture.

I'm sure there are many more.

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    I think another important factor: Effort. Moving to a different country (or even continent) requires serious effort. I also think a lot of people never seriously consider it.
    – Michael
    Sep 7 at 9:04
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    +1 Also add to your list the contractual obligation to serve X years in the home country after returning from overseas postgraduate work. Bolashak scholarships from Kazakhstan apply this to their otherwise generous PG burses. True they can re-emigrate after the X years in the home country but by then they will likely have children of their own and may have elderly relatives to see after too.
    – Trunk
    Sep 7 at 13:29
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    @Trunk, I think family obligations is a big factor, generally. Even "family regard" if not obligations.
    – Buffy
    Sep 7 at 14:06
  • @Trunk: this also exists the other way round, at least some western countries have scholarships for students from poorer countries that also have a contractual obligation to return afterwards (or pay a fine so part of the scholarship becomes a loan in hindsight) Sep 8 at 21:34
  • A very good list of reasons. I'd like to add: education may not be fully accepted in the new country. I've seen this mostly in health care related professions. E.g. a fully approbated physician in country A may need to retake a whole lot of courses and exams in country B. Research where they won't ever treat a patient may be OK, but it severely limits the positions they can apply for. And if they're without research position (if only temporarily) they cannot fall back on working in their profession, they are immediately down to "taxi driver"-type of work. Sep 12 at 9:52
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In addition to the points brought up in the other answers, not everyone is motivated by money.

Here's an article from 2014 about political disagreements among Russian scientists. Note some people approve of what the Russian government have done (like annexing Crimea), while others disapprove. Hence we get quotes such as:

“Any discussion about the future of Russian science is pretty much pointless when this country behaves like a bull,” said Kondrashov shortly after he stormed out of the meeting. “I love Russia, but the outlook for science here is gloomy and I’m very concerned about where that country is going.”

This implies Kondrashov will not work in Russia regardless of financial incentives as long as the country "behaves like a bull". Going the other way, there is:

“I’m not a refugee, nobody treated me badly, and I am perfectly at peace with my country,” [Artem Oganov] says. “I do worry about the sanctions and the growing economic problems here, but I could never forgive myself if Russia needed me and I was not there.”

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    Yes, indeed, this is an explanation... but, in some ways, it does reveal the sort of endemic problem that goes forward into the future ... about people finding a (relatively good) reason to support, if only passively, a very bad larger regime. Sep 7 at 1:38
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    @paulgarrett That point is relatively easy to make about Russia given that it has largely flouted international norms in recent years. But I'm sure this is much more difficult to make unambiguously for other countries. Are American scientists complicit with Trump's policies regarding immigration, climate, the ICC, etc., for staying in the US? What if that quote by the Russian scientist was intended to say that he feels compelled to stay because he thinks that its government will change in the near future? I think it is quite difficult to condemn people who want to stay in their country. Sep 7 at 2:35
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    Without the young, urban, educated and cosmopolitan population leaving Hungary in droves, sending remittances home and leaving the less-educated, national-chauvinist, elderly and rent-dependent population behind, Orban's autocracy would have a much harder time to sustain itself. See tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/…
    – henning
    Sep 7 at 11:24
  • IMO, what Kondrashov and Oganov say is not important. They just tried to pose some argument in favor of their career decisions. I guess, if Oganov could not secure a mega-funding from the government to build his own lab, he wouldn't have stayed in Russia.
    – user366312
    Sep 7 at 16:47
  • @user366312 Oganov didn't stay in Russia, he moved there from the US. Check the article or his biography on Wikipedia. To quote, "Artem Oganov, a Moscow-born computational materials designer formerly at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, relocated to the Russian capital this month."
    – Allure
    Sep 7 at 20:14
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The question may be rephrased as:

Why don't ALL people from poorer countries migrate into rich ones?

The income difference is not limited to academia, most jobs in a poor country make less money than in a rich one.

A poor country sometimes offers worse security, worse medical services, worse social services, worse education for children, etc, etc, ... for academics and plumbers alike.

And the common answer is that the income and the expenses are not everything someone takes into account. Culture (including, but not limited to, language, food, mating partners availability, acceptable work/life balance, recreational activities available), personal ties, patriotism (in the broadest sense), reluctance to change, availability of different carrer path - all these things play a role.


Edit: the people drain may not be complete, but it is still quite possible to be decisive. The migration is rarely representative in the political spectrum.

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    “A poor country offers worse security, worse medical services, worse social services, worse education for children, etc, etc, ... for academics and plumbers alike.” This is not necessarily true.
    – Carsten S
    Sep 7 at 11:34
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    @CarstenS I can talk from personal experience (I am Bulgarian). And when this is not "necessarily true", the academic people are in worse position than those in the industry.
    – fraxinus
    Sep 7 at 13:41
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    @VladimirF: Oppressive regimes, for historically valid reasons, fear academics more than they fear street food sellers. (But see the Arab Spring). Income isn't everything, as noted in the question. Being followed by secret police also causes brain drain
    – MSalters
    Sep 9 at 11:45
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    @MSalters Are we still talking about the EU??? Fraxinus explicitly mentioned Bulgaria, what has the Arab Spring have to do with that? I do actually have some friends in academia in Bulgaria. No, they did mnetion being followed by the secret police.Of course the tech and IT industry pays more, but that is the case everywhere.
    – Vladimir F
    Sep 9 at 12:01
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    Yes, Bulgaria. De jure in EU, de facto a small-scale Russia. The police (be it secret or not) is pretty much a thing here. Especially if you are somewhat politically active.
    – fraxinus
    Sep 9 at 12:50
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I am a drained person in the West. Many of my friends remained home, while they could have gone with me. I think the reasons to remain, in decreasing order of probability:

  1. Lack of language skills. Actually talking with native speakers of a foreign language, and understanding eachother enough well to work together effectively, it is f*g hard. Particularly if your first language is out of the indogerman language family. (Resulting that all the grammar and all the words are totally different). Today this is compansated by learning English from the early childhood, but it is only today. As I was a child, lesser than 1% of the population could speak on it.
  2. Family wants/needs them at home. Like wife who can divorce, resulting that she gets away your children. If this wife does not want to go with you, you will remain home. (Or the evolution will vote you down.)
  3. Lucky or particularly useful people sometimes can get a salary close to what they can earn on the West.
  4. Many people actually tried the West. Now emmigration into a foreign country results that the first years are f*g hard. It is absolutely not the way that you simply continue your previous life on a foreign language. The most important problem is that at home we were typically on the top of the job market. A foreign country uses different indicators to measure the usefulness of an applicant, and the language barrier will be always a huge disadvantage. People collecting too much negative experiences will likely go back, and don't try the West again.
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  • Indo-German family? Sep 8 at 10:48
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    @RodrigodeAzevedo, Indo-Germanic is an older name for Indo-European, mostly still in use in German ;) german.stackexchange.com/q/65646/3237
    – Carsten S
    Sep 8 at 11:11
  • The Slavic languages are part of the Indo-European language family. The question was about countries where Slavic languages are spoken, except Romania (Romance language, also Indo-European).
    – idspispopd
    Sep 9 at 7:26
  • @idspispopd I'd say 'EU countries like Bulgaria, Romania or Poland' where 'A PostDoc fellow might earn at most US$ 2500 [per month]' includes Hungary, whose national language is not in the Indo-European family. Sep 9 at 15:55
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Limited demand

Brain drainage is about attracting people that are above the average in the given discipline, no those average or anybody.

In academia, professor posts are already a very scarce resource, and are highly competitive. An university in a rich country will certainly be interested to fill some posts with the champions from the abroad, but not all posts. They need to fill them with their own postdocs.

Don't underestimate the language barrier. While you could reasonably expect a postdoc to be fluent in at least one vehicular language, in many cases it's fluency in reading and aided writing, not speaking. And you can't fill too many places with people not knowing the national language, because only a part of lectures are taught in a vehicular language. This limited the demand even more.

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Brains themselves are a stronger attractor than money

IMHO academics are less motivated by money than other job hunters. Access to the right lab, the right colleagues, the right competences, the right professor can easily outweigh the monetary gain you get abroad.

I have seen though, that given other kinds of resistances (racism, sexism, "class"-ism) there is a significant brain drain. Example: Women emigrating from oppressive religious regimes to further their academic progress.

Also, interestingly enough, many top notch research groups are located in rather low salary countries. I would suspect that to a certain extent money can distort research. Application of research is usually the great money maker, and if you want to work theoretically, or with a different application or different idea - you might want to be somewhere else.

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    This is actually a "con". There are many situations where, to meet the relevant people and work with the appropriate equipment, you need to travel. Typically, travel from a first world country to a third world country is easier than the other way around. People from poor countries face numerous difficulties travelling as compared with those from richer countries.
    – Kapil
    Sep 9 at 2:16
  • @kapil the whole third world country thing is utterly confusing to me. Like Sweden? Japan? Singapore? Cold War definitions aren't useful anymore. Sep 9 at 5:25
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  1. Cost of living. As a Pole I can attest that 2500 EUR can go a long way in Poland. This is especially relevant when your funding comes from abroad (e.g. a European funding agency). Even if better money abroad is tempting, it's probably not as tempting as you think.

  2. Stability / availability of jobs. It's generally much easier to get a job in Poland than in Spain. When I finished my doctorate, I could have gone back to Poland and have a near-guarantee permanent position. Such opportunities didn't exist Western Europe.

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  • It is US$2500, not EUR.
    – user366312
    Sep 7 at 16:43
  • Yeah, fair. I suppose in an European context I automatically switched to EUR. At the end of the day, what matters is the ratio between the salary in the two places. Sep 7 at 19:14
  • In Poland you have permanent possitions in academia? How competitive they are?
    – looktook
    Sep 10 at 16:20
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After seeing the excellent accepted answer by Lodinn I wasn't sure whether I should just leave a comment on his, as I have found some sources which confirm what his answer mentions anecdotally.

However, I think mentioning the source materials confirming the claim that there in fact exists a very decisive brain drain deserves it's own answer.

I am talking about the World Banks "Europe and Central Asia Economic Update, Fall 2019: Migration and Brain Drain".

The most relevant information is summarised in Map 2.1 (on page 27) and Table 2.1 (on page 29). To pull out some data specifically relating to some of the examples you inquired about:

  • Out of EU countries, Bulgaria and Romania both have around 20% emigrant share (precent of emigrants of their total population) together with Latvia and Lithuania. Croatia (22%) and Malta top the charts (24%).
  • Among non-EU countries we can see stats such as Kazakhstan with 22%, Armenia with 32%, Moldova 24% and then a whooping 40% for Albania and 49% for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

This effect then further disproportionately affects rural areas and areas further from the countries capital cities (where the life standards tend to be higher and the Universities situated), with e.g. certain municipalities in Croatia losing up to 40% of their population in 5 years (as found here).

All of this is happening in spite of all the possible reasons for staying many other answers mention: language barriers, family obligations, sense of national pride or a wish to give back to the community. In addition to all of these reasons, moving has a high financial cost which is an additional barrier posed to (even highly educated) workforce from low-income countries because the difference in cost of living as well as the immigration documentation required, and a high social cost to any person. In short, the ability to be mobile is a luxury some can not afford.

The fact that anywhere between 20 and 50% of the population of some of the countries mentioned in your question and my answer now lives outside of their country of origin, despite the high cost of mobility, is a very strong argument that this brain drain is decisive, if not complete.

Note: I've rounded the percentages from the report to the closest full percentage point.

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The premise of this question appears to be that because some countries rank lower on certain statistics of income, nobody in their right mind would live in them if they could help it. The question is then expressing confusion about why reality is not quite so.

Of course, the premise is hopelessly wrong:

  • Money is not the only nor the most important thing for many people. Even if they would genuinely be wealthier in other countries, they may stay for other reasons that are more significant to them than wealth.
  • Just because a country is apparently "poor" based on some contrived statistic, such as average income, doesn't mean people are poorer. You have to adjust for purchasing power, taxes, cost of living, government services, quality of life... You are also not considering the income of the spouse, which can easily come from a non-technical field.
  • Immigrating is easier said than done. Presumably, for truly brilliant people it's easier, but there are still many general (eg. cumbersome immigration law) and special (eg. having a significant other that doesn't want to leave) barriers.
  • It's not like the best places in the "rich" countries are just letting anyone walk in. Everybody has heard they're rich, everybody wants to be there. Hiring is very competitive. Even after being hired, you are surrounded by and must now compete with other brilliant people. The natives are already very competitive, and the foreigner must deal with the additional handicap of immigration, so they are fighting a very uphill battle. Whereas as an alternative, one could stay home and be the big fish in a little pond.
  • Many of these so-called poor countries have also seen the Wikipedia article on "brain drain", and they offer various incentives to convince their citizens to stay. These may be in the form of rapid career advancements, more prestige, other non-monetary benefits... Stuff that won't show up in your comparison of average postdoc salaries.

I think that in sum, you are confusing aggregate differences (poor vs. rich countries) with individual situations (having a good career opportunity here vs. there). This fallacy is known as Simpson's paradox - you are seeing a trend of smart people finding it desirable to stay in "poorer" countries, while overall it seems like the "richer" countries are much more desirable. The linked page has more details.

That's not to say there aren't people that do leave. There are certainly plenty. But there are quite a few who don't, and no - they aren't crazy, not all of them anyhow - they can easily have quite sensible reasons.

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Adding one more argument I haven't seen here yet...

Not everyone is good enough

As an example, Russia's education system (both on the school level and the university level) has been falling apart for three decades now with government funding drying up or getting embezzled ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union. So unfortunately for Russian citizens, its becoming harder and harder to become a highly educated/competent/qualified scientist or engineer when measured by Western standards. And if you're not highly qualified, moving abroad is exceedingly difficult unless you're willing to settle down for menial labor.

Some Russian citizens take a somewhat easier path of going for a degree in a foreign university but this is likewise difficult: you need money, know-how on immigration, solid language skills, willingness to learn extra material to get on the same page as local high school graduates, etc. If they do manage to obtain a foreign diploma, they usually end up staying abroad. Otherwise their odds of successful immigration become vanishingly low unless they're the best of the best in what they do.

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  • Do you have actual knowledge of the state of the education system in Russia, or are you speculating?
    – Buffy
    Sep 9 at 13:11
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    @Buffy I'm Russian and know a large number of Russians in academia Sep 9 at 13:22
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    @Buffy yes, the Soviet education system was top notch when it came to fundamental sciences and certain branches of engineering. Things started falling apart in 1991 and rapidly accelerated once professors started leaving en masse to work in the West. Sep 9 at 13:29
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    @Buffy: Russian-Jewish emigres typically came to the U.S. before even the USSR collapsed; given sizable antisemitism there, there was both a drive to leave and no particular desire to keep them. This is a huge part of what allowed places like Little Odessa in New York to form. Given the time frame mentioned in the answer, it so doesn’t contradict your experience (which I share). Sep 9 at 16:01
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    @gnometorule I'd of course note that Russia still has tens of thousands of world class academia members but getting to that position is a lot harder for smart Russian kids than for smart American/British/Polish kids. In the Soviet Union there was a government funded system of magnet schools and exceptional universities that helped bright kids maximize their potential but its been slowly rotting away. Jews have been particularly far-achieving because they weren't allowed to hold many otherwise lucrative jobs, so their only choices were engineering or medicine if they wanted to make a living. Sep 9 at 16:23
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This answer is based on my experience in industry and working on the recruiting platform for my current company for several years.

In any case, the mere fact that someone has a certain skillset doesn't automatically mean that it's easy to secure a position in another country. For example, maybe their skills in the target language aren't very good. I'm not terribly familiar with the job market in Spain, for example, but I imagine that if you don't speak good Spanish it could make it more difficult to secure a job there (regardless of how good your other skills are). It's also often an advantage to have good English, so you could potentially be expected to effectively be trilingual (if you come from a country whose primary language is something other than English or Spanish).

Many wealthier countries have highly restrictive immigration policies as well that deliberately make it difficult and expensive for employers to hire people from overseas; between that and potentially being expected to help out with relocation costs (and obviously the cost of flying someone in from a foreign country and putting them up in a hotel and providing them with meals), many companies have a strong incentive to hire local candidates where available. Obviously the immigration issues wouldn't apply to applicants moving between E.U. countries, but it would definitely apply to cases where either the candidate or the target company is outside of the E.U. Also, the relocation cost and interview cost issue would still apply.

If a flight costs, for example, $300, two days of a hotel costs an additional $250, and meals cost $50, it costs $600 to interview someone from a different country (vs. $0 to interview someone locally). Multiply that by 5 candidates and you've added $3000 to your recruiting cost for that position. That's not even including relocation costs, which according to this source at least costs, on average, $21,000 - $24,000 (in the U.S. at least). Again, the relocation cost of hiring a local candidate is $0. That being said, hiring an out-of-country candidate could cost an extra $27,000. These are obviously very rough numbers, but you get the point: it's a significant added expense.

This is particularly the case for academic fields that have an oversupply of people that have a terminal degree; for example, in the U.S. at least there's an oversupply of people with law degrees and the number of law schools is decreasing, so the remaining law schools could presumably afford to be quite picky about who they select. This also particularly applies to areas, such as certain arts, where it's common for a master's degree to be considered a de facto terminal degree. In these fields, there's little incentive to hire from overseas unless the applicant has a truly exceptional record.

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At least European scientific system has written and unwritten rules who can enter it, who can stay and who should go away. While it is relatively easy to enter it as a PhD student, or by getting the individual reasearch grant "without any possibility to prolong", this does not mean you will be able to stay for more than a few years. You must be smart enough to move into the industry ASAP. Depending on the area of expertise this may or may not be easy to do.

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    This is more of a hint at an answer than an answer. "European scientific system has written and unwritten rules who can enter it," you need to explain this a bit more. Also, short term research grants are common to all early career academics. To be clear, I think what you are hinting at is an important part of the picture, but you need to explain it, not drop hints.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 7 at 13:24
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    You just apply and do not get a position, even if you do have some articles in completely reputable, peer reviewed journals. I think this is an answer.
    – h22
    Sep 7 at 19:57
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    that's not really a written or unwritten rule. Why do you not get a position? When can you not get a position? My university has a majority of international staff, so it's clearly not always true.
    – Clumsy cat
    Sep 7 at 20:03
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    There is no such thing as a "European scientific system". For instance, to mention only three countries, there are various huge differences between the academic systems of the UK, France, and Germany. Sep 8 at 5:38
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Visas.

Depending on your nationality and the country you are moving to, you may need to expend considerable effort to get a visa, or it might take a long time to get an appropriate visa. You may not be allowed a visa (even with a job offer) depending on your history (maybe you have a criminal conviction, which can include even minor convictions ). I am not suggesting everyone is a criminal, just that visa decisions can hang on whether the visa-officer likes/or dislikes the paperwork and proof you provide. There are no guarantees in getting a visa. You may comply with all rules and regulations and then find that the destination country suddenly decided they don't want people from your country anymore (See Trump's attempted immigration bans). You may also find it difficult to bring partners or children with you as well.

Of course this is not just a consideration for academics but for all people emigrating to another country (especially for people outside the EU trying to get in or anyone trying to get to the USA).

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    The question asks specifically about moving from an EU country to another EU country. There is no need for a visa in that situation.
    – Stef
    Sep 7 at 11:36
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    Except the question includes non-EU countries like Russia, which does need a visa.
    – Rob
    Sep 7 at 11:40
  • 1
    Depending on the country, previous criminal convictions would be a showstopper for any applicant, rather than just for those that need a visa. That's especially the case because universities are public institutions. In Germany, professors are public servants, and previous convictions usually mean that you can't be employed as such anymore. Sep 7 at 12:46
  • Even suggesting that even a little sigificant portion of academics cannot go to the west because they are convicted criminals is just as absurd as it gets. But really, if can get the position in academia, you are most likely to get a visa. My colleague got a visa for a post-doc and for his pregnant wife in USA even when that meant that their children will be born there and become US citizens. Those countries are generally glad to accept really skilled people.
    – Vladimir F
    Sep 9 at 9:31
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    @Rob All those countries mentioned in the question are almost completely populated by whites, they are much more white than the western countries, so being white is no privilege here. The question was not about Africa or Asia.
    – Vladimir F
    Sep 9 at 11:58
-1

Why don't poorer countries suffer a complete brain-drain?

Reality.

There aren't enough positions to go around in the "good" countries. Also, immigration/emigration laws.

If a complete brain-drain occurred then they wouldn't have been able to even study in their home country to begin with. The brain-drain would simply be referred to as existence since the country no longer produces smart people.

People are motivated by more than salary, you know.

If you're smart and charismatic in your home country then you will quickly realize you can gain power over the masses and make your life quite comfortable. If your home-country superiority is considered average in the "good" country then why try to move exactly? It's quite noble to always try to challenge and improve yourself but stopping to take a look around can sometimes prove fruitful.

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