Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Youth brain drain continues in the Maghreb

Written by Christiane Navas on Tuesday, October 16th 2012 à 14:40 | Read 1178 times

These new, better-trained migrants enrich their country of origin but not enough to compensate for the loss their departure causes. They contribute to this loss by relocating and by the hope given to those looking to develop their skills. Only their return, however, could change this.

University of Tunis El Manara (photo DR)
University of Tunis El Manara (photo DR)
MAGHREB. Over the last three decades, the proportion of migrants in the population of industrialised countries has doubled and the volume of people relocating now exceeds international development assistance.  There is an increasing number of highly skilled people among these migrants.  Does the brain drain from poor countries to richer countries only have negative effects?  Studies carried out to date in different parts of the world have led to conclusions that are often contradictory.  What’s the situation in the Maghreb, and more particularly, in Tunisia?  A FEMISE  report tries to answer this question.  The issue is important because despite increasingly restrictive policies in terms of receiving emigrant workers, the exodus continues.

More than a million Tunisians, or one tenth of the population, live and work abroad, especially in Europe, half of them in France.  “Every year around 25,000 Tunisians leave their country because of structural unemployment which prevents them from finding work" says Mongi Boughzala, Professor of Economics and Management at Tunis University. 

The unemployment rate in Tunisia reached 14% in 2010 (18% in 2011 with the decline in business because of the Arab Spring).  It is even higher for younger people, over 30%, sometimes even 40% in some areas. Graduates are not spared, in 2008, 21.6% of them had not found employment.   80% of Tunisian emigrants may have no training, but among new migrants, the proportion of the better educated is increasing.  Between 2003 and 2008, the number of Tunisian students in Europe doubled, and the percentage of those staying to work is even higher, especially as these young people are extremely bright.

Despite this brain drain, “does human capital accumulation benefit the country and does it contribute to growth?  There are undeniable positive elements; more qualified, better trained young people and increasing relocation represent 11% of Tunisia’s foreign earnings – but “if you think of it in terms of net income, it doesn’t add up, the losses are greater than the gains” is the only conclusion Mongi Boughzala came to from data he analysed.

There can only be a net benefit when qualified migrants decide to come back to their country of origin”, suggests the economist. This is the case for Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria.  However, the more skills these migrants have, the greater their degree of integration in the host country and the more settled they are, the less likely they are to return. Will the Arab Spring change anything?  “There are still many obstacles to overcome, it will take time”, Mongi Boughzala cautiously warns. For that to happen, there would need to be employment opportunities in their own country that do not exist at the moment.

French version


About is an independent media that deals with the daily economic news of the countries bordering the Mediterranean. Economic cooperation, business news by sector (Industry, Services, Transport, Environment, Society/Institutions), thematic files, airport news, airlines and shipping companies (new destinations)... are treated and analysed by a team of journalists present in the Mediterranean basin. Subscribe to To be the first to know, with unlimited access to all articles. To receive the weekly newsletters and special newsletters sent as soon as our files are published. Automatically renewable subscription, but the reader keeps control of it or yearly subscription. For individuals or professionals...