Reversing the brain drain? Skilled return migration and the global movement of expert knowledge

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My dissertation explores how skilled return migrants adapt the expertise they gained working abroad to workplaces in their home countries. To study this, I conducted a survey of 4,183 skilled returnees from 81 countries, who had worked abroad in the U.S., as well as 161 interviews with skilled returnees from 25 countries. The respondent pool came from U.S.'s largest organizational sponsor of J1 Visas for professionals. As the largest survey of skilled return migrants ever compiled, the dataset includes information on the respondents' career histories, attitudes, and work activity. My data analysis generated three main findings. One, less than half of the respondents report implementing some aspect of their professional knowledge gained overseas in the workplaces of their home countries. Whether returnees are successful channels of cross-border knowledge depends less on their ability to demonstrate or articulate novel ideas and more on the normative conditions of the professional environments in their home countries. Two, returnees who are effective brokers of knowledge bring back ideas about organizational and management practices, such as new methods of training, more than they do technical knowledge. Three, returnees are more likely to venture into self-employment if they have strong local ties to their home countries; moreover, the effect of these local ties on entrepreneurial transitions is stronger for returnees in home countries with high rates of self-employment. Finally, I show that the very returnees who are most successful as knowledge brokers are also most likely to venture abroad again. Thus, the returnees who could benefit their home countries the most are also the least like to stay. These findings challenge the conventional notion of return migrants as agents of economic transformation, suggesting that many institutional and cultural challenges stand in the way of their ability to broker knowledge and resources across country borders. This work also ties contributes to theoretical perspectives on international migration, organizational learning, social networks, and the sociology of knowledge.


Type of resource text
Form electronic; electronic resource; remote
Extent 1 online resource.
Publication date 2013
Issuance monographic
Language English


Associated with Wang, Dan
Associated with Stanford University, Department of Sociology.
Primary advisor Granovetter, Mark S
Thesis advisor Granovetter, Mark S
Thesis advisor Powell, Walter W
Thesis advisor Walder, Andrew G. (Andrew George), 1953-
Advisor Powell, Walter W
Advisor Walder, Andrew G. (Andrew George), 1953-


Genre Theses

Bibliographic information

Statement of responsibility Dan Wang.
Note Submitted to the Department of Sociology.
Thesis Ph.D. Stanford University 2013
Location electronic resource

Access conditions

© 2013 by Dan Jun Wang
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial 3.0 Unported license (CC BY-NC).

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