Why is it that we don’t focus on Brain Gain?

We always seem to focus on those leaving the country, and the potential loss of skills and resources we collectively lose as a country.  But we never really look at them coming back with very valuable experience, contacts and ideas that haven’t been tried here.

Tracey Lee - via massey.ac.nz

Tracey Lee – via massey.ac.nz

New Zealand needs to do more to harness the creative, economic potential offered by successful Kiwis returning home after long periods overseas, says a Massey sociologist.

Tracey Lee, a brand strategist who spent 12 years in New York and Shanghai where she worked for Absolut, Diageo, Unilever and The Coca-Cola Company before returning to New Zealand two years ago, says her Masters research highlights a missing key element in New Zealand’s migration policy.

Result? The country is losing out on valuable entrepreneurial skills, and the international experience and networks of dynamic, ambitious Kiwis keen to settle in their Pacific paradise homeland.

Titled Welcome Home? New Zealanders’ Experiences of Return Migration, her thesis combines personal stories behind return migration trends with fascinating insights on the re-integration process from highly skilled Kiwis. From this, she has developed tips to help others contemplating a return in the hope of minimising the hurdles and hitches they might face, and maximising “smooth landings”.  

While the ‘brain drain’ to more lucrative offshore destinations has captured headlines in the past decade, politicians have paid scant attention to the experiences of those who return – an “unwritten story” Ms Lee was prompted to explore as a returning migrant herself.

Unfortunately, it seems those that never left are too intimidated by this  

She says return migrants have been written off as unambitious life-stylers, with little interest in driving the economy forward. “The fact is, we don’t know enough about those who come home. Information that does exist is generally on new arrivals or those returning from an OE (Overseas Experience). What becomes of the returned? And what of the significant number who are returning from something much more substantive than an OE – what I define as extended OR (Overseas Residence) of five or more years?”

Those she interviewed experienced “re-entry shock” that can take years to navigate. “They are ill-prepared for re-entry challenges, and don’t necessarily have the networks to slip back in to a nation that can feel to them like it is ambivalent to their return,” she says.

As one participant put it; “The international experience is prized, but then there’s the contradiction that ‘we’re not really interested in your fancy foreign ways’.”

Another struggled with “not being allowed to talk about your overseas [professional] experience, it gets shut down, and it shuts down your willingness to have those conversations and your willingness to share or impart your experience”.

Her findings suggest return migrants want to give back, share their learning, and act as pivotal “return scouts” for those who follow. “They’re the ones who are going to either recommend or advise against return migration.”

Another reason she says the issue deserves more attention is that New Zealand, like other developed countries, is likely to face a talent shortage in coming years.

She says her study highlights the hopes, passion and desire of many returning Kiwis to be a part of New Zealand’s success. “They have ambition and drive. The fact they do place value on lifestyle and family makes them quintessential New Zealanders, not ‘lifestylers’.”

Pretty sad to think you are even more qualified than before, but you return to a country that won’t see the value in your skillset.  Unless we fix this, some very good people won’t return, and that way everyone loses.


Source:  massey.ac.nz


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  • Whafe

    Just have to be accepting to cut your salary in half when returning. Once that is sorted, you can move forward…
    Does take a little time to get back into it.. Been back near 5 years now…
    People are afraid of the skill set in many ways, that is a given

  • FredFrog

    Not only that, but what about the skilled immigrants who come in?

    And why is it so difficult for a skilled immigrant to gain entry (The number of hoops to jump through boggles the mind!), yet some useless somali scumbag “refugee” bludger sails in? It should be the other way round.

    • Dick Brown

      People are only useless if you view them as useless. That scumbag useless Somali refugee may well be a qualified heart surgeon or certified butcher or famous indigenous artist we just don’t know because he is a useless Somali scumbag refugee bludger who doesn’t deserve to be here.

      Immigrants have to ability to strengthen any given country; be it skills, ideas, cultural exchange, paying tax etc the list goes on and on.

      This isn’t a new phenomena that’s sprouted out of nowhere; people have been fleeing insane homeland conditions since the year dot.

      The Bible, if I’m not mistaken, is pretty big on it.

      • Whafe

        I take your point, however I feel the 2 useless somali scumbags that robbed a good friends 12 year old sons scooter in Christchurch is nothing by SCUM….. Am sure there are well skilled somali people, but the above 2 are SCUM

        • Dick Brown

          Well yes they probably are; but not wholly unredeemable surely.

          Otherwise we may as well right off every young person who commits crime.

      • FredFrog

        a useless somali scumbag bludger “refugee” is hardly likely to be an asset to the country or the economy, and certainly not along the lines of a legitimate immigrant who has to jump through hoops to get in here.

        Apply the same criteria to them as are applied to legitimate immigrants – then we’d see how many of the useless scum actually get in.

        • Dick Brown


          Refugees are legal?

          • FredFrog

            Please point out exactly where I said refugees are not legal.

            You’ll also find that the whole framework of treaties governing refugees, which we are signatories to, particularly the 1951 Geneva convention relating to the status of refugees, as amended by the 1967 protocol to the convention defines a refugee as a person who:

            “… owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence … is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

            While there is also an article specifically preventing refoulement (look it up) of refugees, there is also a longstanding “first country of asylum” principle in international law by which countries are expected to take refugees fleeing from persecution in a neighbouring state. This principle has developed so that, in practice, an asylum seeker who had the opportunity to claim asylum in another country is liable to be returned there in order for his or her claim to be determined.

            NZ is hardly a neighbour of Somalia. In fact, it’s bloody difficult to get here. So why are they here?

          • Dick Brown

            Yeah look I suggest you re-read the wording of the quote because the key word there is the ‘or’ between country and who.

            So the NZ hardly the neighbour of Somalia reasoning is a moot point.

            Also you mentioned that I was to point out where exactly you said refugees are not legal:

            your quote: “a useless somali scumbag bludger “refugee” is hardly likely to be an asset to the country or the economy, and certainly not along the lines of a legitimate immigrant who has to jump through hoops to get in here.”

            So in all likelihood the Somali person is here legally and has jumped through quite a few hoops to get residency; as a refugee.

            So… yeah, there you go.

          • FredFrog

            You really do talk a load of twaddle.

            The first country of asylum principle means they should never have made it here in the first place. They have had to pass through safe countries in order to get here, because we’re not conveniently just over the border (So not a moot point). The “or” is a moot point though. They would have had to have had valid documentation in order to pass through these countries. In fact, they would not be able to board a flight into NZ without valid documentation, i.e they would not be considered to not have a nationality, and therefore would not fit the right hand side of the “or”.

            It’s a simple matter to destroy documentation and then claim statelessness, funny how it’s always done on the final leg of the journey, the one coming into NZ, rather than at any point inbetween in another safe country. It’s also a damn sight easier to destroy documentation, then claim asylum, than it is to jump through the hoops a legitimate immigrant has to. Seeing as there are no direct flights between somalia and NZ, the these bludging scumbags would have had to have come here from another country where they would have been safe – yeah, maybe they wouldn’t have been able to bludge (The real reason they’re here), but they would be safe.

            You still haven’t pointed out where I have said refugees are not legal. Please point to the exact sentence (bar this one, of course), where I have used the phrase “illegal refuge”

          • Dick Brown

            Yeah ok whatever enjoy your viewpoint.

      • FredFrog

        a useless somali scumbag bludger “refugee” is hardly likely to be an asset to the country or the economy, and certainly not along the lines of a legitimate immigrant who has to jump through hoops to get in here.

        Apply the same criteria to them as are applied to legitimate immigrants – then we’d see how many of the useless scum actually get in.

      • sheppy

        No matter how qualified the Somali is you can bet there is a huge barrier here to prevent them using their expertise

        • Dick Brown

          There are probably numerous additional road blocks for all immigrants when they integrate into a new country but I am of the opinion that the country accepting these people have a definite moral and probable legal obligation to progressively acknowledge them and work to remove them.

          It’s a work in progress is what I am suggesting and so it should be.

          • FredFrog

            The biggest roadblock to integration is the attitude of a lot of the bludging scumbag “refugees”. They want to build a little miniature version of the shithole they come from, and they don’t want to integrate.

            Legitimate IMMIGRANTS work a lot harder at integrating.

  • Col

    This statement is so true, the knowledge gained overseas, you don’t get that at home.

  • JeffDaRef

    NZ as a whole is a little too “know-it-all”, and we don’t respect people who don’t look/talk like us – and/or those of us who have done great things overseas.
    While plenty in NZ have done great things, there is plenty we could learn but choose not to through our own collective ego.

  • cows4me

    Yeah that’s all fine and dandy but perhaps Tracy Lee should also acknowledge the many thousands that have kept the country going will they were on the big OE. Why does she think so many want to return, a stable, well run ( at present ), safe, clean country is probably the reason. Yeah they bring money and skills but if we had all chucked it in there wouldn’t be much of a country for them to return too.

    • EXCELLENT point c4me. /applause

  • kiwiinamerica

    I meet a number of expat kiwis here in the US – at a BBQ in Washington DC once where I met some who were very successful and we all talked about why we left New Zealand and would we ever go back home. A couple of the attendees remarked that they had gone home and were treated the way that is detailed in this study and returned to the US. I am lucky as business interests in NZ being me back regularly. Every trip I am asked when I am coming back and I say that I’m not but that I love NZ and that I love my regular visits but that it will likely never be my permanent base. Some are content to leave it at that, a few venture further wanting to know why but the only ones who do that tend to be either those who travel frequently and widely or who have lived overseas for some period of time before returning. They tend to agree with my assessment of NZ.

    The tall poppy syndrome is so pervasive that I’ve given up speaking about it and tend to only say the things I like about NZ and leave off the push factors that keep expats from returning. It’s sad because we have lost some enormous talent and yet almost all kiwis no matter how long they have lived elsewhere have a big part of them that yearns for New Zealand and it’s many virtues but they, like me, wish that there was some way to change the anti business government handout anti American attitudes of so many.

  • Shazza

    Interesting. My experience of moving to a new county is that the initial culture shock turns you into a whiney little blighter, as you continually make comparisons and piss off everyone around you. Eventually, you suck it up and gain some perspective. However, that is more of a cultural insight, rather than professional.

    In terms of professional experience being undervalued, if that is true, that is a real loss to NZ and I guess I get to look forward to the same when I head to NZ with my husband next year. Frankly, as a business person if somebody doesn’t value my input, where ever it comes from (international experience, academic experience etc etc), then I’m inclined to write them off as not being very personnel resource savvy. Their loss and I would work around it.

    Personally, I don’t think I would immediately assume someone with international travel experience is significantly more experienced and capable than someone that doesn’t have that experience – I have friends that stayed at home and friends that have done their OR, and success for each of us has been determined by our individual hard work, grit, and being above-competent at our jobs.

  • philbest

    Are we ready to build houses for them, like Houston built houses for the 1 million extra people that added to their 4 million population in 2000 in the next ten years? Without the prices inflating at all?


    Fuggedabahtit, then.