The Educational Level of the Emigrant Population of the Americas

Emigration of highly-skilled people is often perceived by countries of origin as a brain drain, a loss of skills needed to promote the economic growth and development of their countries. However, there are factors that can compensate to some extent for this fact, if people return or transfer money and skills to their homes (OECD, 2012b). Although the prospect of migration may motivate a larger portion of the resident population to invest in education (Beine, Docquier, and Rapoport 2008), this is conditional on emigration not exceeding certain limits.

In 2010-2011, one in three emigrants from the Americas had a low level of education (less than upper secondary), compared to 15% who had a high level (tertiary). Emigrants from Central American countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras had the lowest proportion of people with high levels of education (an average of 7%). Emigrants from the Americas in the United States had much lower educational levels than the native population or other migrants. However, this was not the case for Spain, where the percentage of people with a low level of education was higher for other migrants (+6) and for those born in the country (+14) than for migrants from the Americas.

(Table 7: Distribution of educational attainment of emigrants from the Americas by level, sex, and country of origin, 2010-2011)

The north-south divide with respect to the destinations of immigrants from the Americas12 is accompanied by parallel differences in the educational levels of the migrant populations of the two regions. In 2010-2011, there were fewer immigrants in the United States at both the high and low ends of the educational attainment distribution compared to those living in Spain.

In most countries, the share of emigrants with tertiary education from the Americas is greater than the population residing in the countries of origin (Graph 8). This is generally typical of migrant populations, where those with more education are better trained.

(Graph 8: Proportion of people with tertiary education among emigrants from the Americas in the United States and Europe and the population residing in the countries of origin, 2010-2011)

to benefit from job opportunities and finance migration than people with little education. However, the relative returns to migration may be higher for those with low education than high education, which allows them to overcome the cost barrier of migration when it is financed through loans, for example.

In their emigrant populations, the United States, Canada, and Venezuela have the highest proportion of people with tertiary education, with up to 60% in the case of the United States and approximately 45% for the other two countries.

However, there are important exceptions to this pattern, the most notable being Mexico, where the common border with the United States, in addition to existing migration networks, have undoubtedly played a role in driving the migration of people with less education. Other exceptions are the Dominican Republic and Ecuador, where bilateral agreements with Spain have facilitated the migration of workers for low-skill jobs.

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