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Opening Pathways, Building Bridges: skilled migration and the case of Mexican scientists and engineers in the UK

Anzures Escandon, T; (2018) Opening Pathways, Building Bridges: skilled migration and the case of Mexican scientists and engineers in the UK. Doctoral thesis (Ph.D), UCL (University College London). Green open access

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This study explores contemporary skilled migration and the brain drain from a bottom-up approach, based on a case study of Mexican scientists and engineers working in the UK. The main interest is to provide a better understanding on how the phenomenon is shaped by the migrant’s personal and professional experience, from Mexico to the UK (‘opening pathways’), and from then on, to explore the extent of collaboration at a distance (from the UK back to Mexico) as a policy alternative to mitigate the negative effects of their departure (‘building bridges’). It is argued that these elements (personal and professional) of the migration experience are crucial for identifying key trends, characteristics, and effects of skilled migration, as well as to consolidate a more robust policy approach to long-distance collaboration. The research is based on an analysis of 36 semi-structured, qualitative interviews with Mexicans graduated in STEM fields, who currently work in academia or the private sector in the UK. A complementary set of four interviews was conducted with Mexican government officials, chosen because of their close relationship to Mexican policies on skilled migration and the brain drain. The empirical findings are organised into three topics: transnationalism, professional experience, and collaboration at a distance. On the one hand, the evidence shows that the migratory experience fosters new subjectivities, where a transnational identity is developed progressively, involving reflexive processes between past and actual life, personal and professional experiences, different rationalities and emotions. On the other hand, under the theme of professional experience, career-related motivations emerge as the main “pull” factor of skilled Mexicans to the UK, triggered in most cases by enrolling in post-graduate programmes at British universities, and followed thereafter by the pursuit of work opportunities. In this process, the interviewees identified important imbalances (or asymmetries) between the development of scientific/professional fields in Mexico and the UK, mainly regarding budgets, infrastructure, networks, R&D activities, triple-helix collaborative schemes, and working conditions. However, despite these complex imbalances, more than half of the émigrés were also immersed in relevant collaborative initiatives with Mexico from the UK, which contests, to an extent, the notions of loss within the brain drain debate. It is also notable that such collaborations have taken place because of the personal initiative of the émigrés, with no involvement of the Mexican Talent Network (MTN), the main diaspora-engagement initiative of the government to contact its skilled émigrés around the world. The thesis also investigates the relevance of these research findings for science policy. Without overlooking the negative implications of skilled migration at a massive scale, it argues that a more balanced exchange between Mexico and the UK can be achieved by building more bridges with the diaspora, through long-distance collaborative initiatives. For this to happen, it is important for policy-makers to understand the relevance of skilled individuals’ choices and preferences, the value of communities of interest, the existing imbalances between central and peripheral countries, the role of legitimacy and politicisation in state-led transnational policies, and the challenges posed by long-distance collaborative initiatives. Finally, some ideas and policy recommendations arising from the research are outlined, in order to better understand –and face— the challenges of skilled migration in future years.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Qualification: Ph.D
Title: Opening Pathways, Building Bridges: skilled migration and the case of Mexican scientists and engineers in the UK
Event: University College London
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://n/A
Language: English
Keywords: STS, Science and Technology Studies, Sociology, Brain Drain, Skilled migration, Fuga de cerebros, Migracion, Migration, Mexico, STEM
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10044826
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