The Asian brain drain (1965- ) is the flow of highly educated people from Asia to the US: doctors from India, nurses from the Philippines, engineers from China, and so on. It is the “truth” behind the Model Minority stereotype, which racializes a false correlation.
People have been coming to the US from Asia for hundreds of years for all kinds of reasons. But most Asians came as part of three main waves:
- 1849 to 1934: mostly field workers, especially from China, Japan and the Philippines.
- 1965 to present: the brain drain, especially from Taiwan, Hong Kong, China, India, the Philippines and South Korea.
- 1970s to 1980s: refugees, especially from Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
Of the three, the brain drain is the one that middle-class White Americans most frequently come across.
Each of these waves is a creature of US law: who the US was willing to let in when and why, based on the country’s needs and its level of racism. Asia, unlike Mexico, is separated from the US by an ocean. That makes it much easier to control who gets in.
The brain drain itself was created by the 1965 Immigration Act. It overturned the racist immigration act of 1924 and favoured those with skills the US needed, like in medicine and engineering. Almost by definition, such people will be better at school, science and mathematics than most Americans. It has nothing to do with being “Asian” and everything to do with who the US lets in and why.
The Model Minority stereotype was created in 1966 in the pages of the New York Times. It was based on the first wave, which truly did pull itself up by its bootstraps. Yet the stereotype did not catch on till the 1980s when the children of the brain drain started applying to top universities in large numbers and getting in.
The brain drain did not pull itself up by its bootstraps: it bought a plane ticket. Anyone who comes to the US as a doctor, nurse, engineer or even a foreign university student is already better educated than most White Americans. And their children are bound to do better too. Whites with the same sort of background in terms of education or parents’s education do just as well if not better.
The US also drains brains from:
- Latin America,
- the Caribbean,
- Africa, and
Most Americans do not notice that, partly because of racial stereotypes, partly because the numbers are lower. They overlook the fact that Nigerian Americans, for example, are just as much of a “model minority” as Asian Americans.
Other places that receive brain drains: Canada, Australia, Singapore, Western Europe and the Persian Gulf states.
Brain drains generally flow from poorer or less stable regions to richer and more stable ones. The Caribbean is the worst hit: countries like Jamaica and Haiti lose over 80% of their people with university educations. But Asia, because of its size, produces a far larger brain drain.
– Abagond, 2016.
- Welcome to Asian American History Month 2016
- Asian Americans
- Model Minority stereotype
- Bootstrap Myth
- Amy Chua
- The Asian quota
- The Asian Supremacy argument