Intellectual Migration: The China-Canada-US Dynamics

Principal Investigator: Lucia Lo (Geography)
Funding: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Description: With a case study showcasing China, Canada and the United States, this internationally-based, comparative project on intellectual migration aims to understand the dynamics underlying global knowledge and human capital flows and the significant role of Canada as a nexus in these flows. Arguing that migration is a means to upgrade and/or utilize intellectual capital for career advancement, this project studies, for the first time, a cross-section of domestic university students in China, China-born international graduate students and faculty in Canada and the United States, and overseas-trained China-born faculty and professional working in China’s knowledge and technology sectors, whose mobility can be facilitated or constrained by individual, institutional and structural factors. It explores who among the highly educated China-born population are likely to migrate, why they migrate, where they migrate to, and specifically, to what extent country-specific migrant attraction, retention, and/or recruitment policies affect their migration, and what policies Canada can pursue to enhance its competitiveness in the global race for talent.

Informed by the literatures on (i) mobility which looks at the forces that affect one’s capability to move at a specific time, to a specific place, and by a specific means, (ii) transnationalism which considers migration as a series of cross-border movements accompanied by knowledge circulation in situations of highly educated migration, and (iii) highly skilled migration the discourse on which has recently changed from brain drain / brain gain to brain circulation, this innovative project will advance our knowledge of the complex dynamics of highly educated migration and contributes to a new theory on intellectual migration.

China is currently the largest source of international students to Canada and the United States which often compete for the same pool of migrant talents to fuel their economic needs. Understanding the achievements and challenges faced by established and emerging Chinese talent in Canada and the US and comparing the talent recruitment programs in the three countries will provide us with better information on who study where, who stay where they are trained, who move to a third country, and who return to the home country. The findings of this project shall inform policies that aim to facilitate mutually beneficial intellectual migration. In particular, they will help national, local and institutional leaders to better understand and train international students; advance transnational education, research and collaboration; promote intercultural exchange; and build a diverse workforce of different backgrounds that enhances local, regional and national economic development. The tools developed in this project will be useful for a larger multi-national study that encompasses south-north, north-south and south-south migrations.

Apart from Geography, Sociology, and Development Studies, this interdisciplinary research will be of interest to Education and Public Policy. It is potentially transformative for international education and immigration policy making. For example, analyses of university policies and student/scholar migration choices and plans regarding intellectual nodes will enhance international exchange and support positive education outcome as well as generating recommendations for joint educational programs. Analyses of talent attraction policies will provide insights into bilateral benefits at multiple levels, including how intellectual migration can benefit both origin and destination countries and how policies can enhance connections between intellectual gateways and intellectual peripheries.