The Invisibility of Family in Studies of Skilled Migration and Brain Drain

Yvonne Riaño

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Despite being the dominant mode of legal entry for the past two decades in the European Union, few studies of skilled migration and brain drain have focused on the so-called 'family migration'. Yet, recent studies suggest that many skilled immigrants, particularly women, are part of this category. This lack of interest for the family migration (and its economic impact) has also overshadowed the high-skilled profile (and potential) of many women who enter destination countries as family migrants. This paper examines the characteristics of the labour market participation of 50 skilled immigrant women from countries outside the European Union, including Latin America, the Middle East and South-eastern Europe, who have migrated to Switzerland in the context of family reunification. The author argues that if skilled women are able to achieve a professional integration equivalent to their skills, and develop networks of cooperation with other professionals in their countries of origin, the problem of 'brain drain' may be avoided and channelled towards 'brain gain'. The empirical results of the qualitative study show that the majority of skilled women face the undervaluing of their credentials and work experience, which results in their underemployment. The question is thus raised if the debate around 'brain drain' should be in such cases reformulated in terms of 'brain waste', a phenomenon that not only affects the countries of origin but also the countries of destination. Finally, the paper examines the strategies that skilled migrant women develop to improve their integration into the Swizz labour market, which can ultimately lead to networks of cooperation with their countries of origin.

Suggested bibliographic reference for this article:

Riaño, Y. The Invisibility of Family in Studies of Skilled Migration and Brain Drain. Diversities. 2012, vol. 14, no. 1, pp. 25-44, UNESCO. ISSN 2079-6595. 
www.unesco.org/shs/diversities/vol14/issue1/art3

About the author:

Yvonne Riaño is a senior lecturer at the Institute of Geography, University of Bern, Switzerland, and a research project leader at the Maison d'analyse des processus sociaux at the University of Neuchâtel. She has carried out extensive research on migration in Latin American and European cities, from the perspective of gender and ethnicity. Her work focuses on issues of social inequality, transnational families, undocumented migrants, return migration and participatory research.

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