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A capability view on migration: some theoretical

issues raised by the Southern Euro Zone highly
skilled mobility

Alessandra Cenci

To cite this article: Alessandra Cenci (2015) A capability view on migration: some theoretical
issues raised by the Southern Euro Zone highly skilled mobility, Innovation: The European
Journal of Social Science Research, 28:4, 443-463, DOI: 10.1080/13511610.2015.1024636

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Download by: [Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam] Date: 26 August 2016, At: 06:51
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 2015
Vol. 28, No. 4, 443463,

A capability view on migration: some theoretical issues raised by the

Southern Euro Zone highly skilled mobility
Alessandra Cenci*

Department of Society and Globalization, Roskilde University, Roskilde, Denmark

(Received 1 November 2013; final version received 26 February 2015)

The Southern Euro Zone countries show significant delays to adapt their social and
productive systems to the EU goal of creating knowledge-based societies. A signal can
be the increasingly higher level of skilled labor migration from these countries,
especially during the actual crisis. Recent literature on skilled migrations often rejects
the concept of brain drain (BD) arguing that circulation and exchange of people and
knowledge is expected in the era of globalization. Using both conceptual analysis and
secondary data, the paper attempts to highlight proportions of the intra-EU BD
phenomenon and show how they may challenge the assumptions of circular migration
models. It discusses that a BD problem likely exists in the Southern Euro Zone and
proposes an alternative framework for its analysis. The main hypothesis behind this
review is that the phenomenon relies on substantial lack of social opportunities for
high-skilled people in the countries of origin as provoked by multiple factors. In this
account, the several drivers of migrants choice will be conceptualized by adopting a
Capability Approach, and they will be further analyzed according to its foremost
hypotheses regarding rational behavior, human welfare, and development. The
resulting theoretical view has to be considered as an expansion of the neoclassical
economics standard view on high-skilled migrations.
Keywords: Capability Approach; Southern Euro Zone; brain drain; brain gain; brain
circulation; brain exchange

1. Introduction: the recent debate on high-skilled migrations (HSMs)

European regions are currently facing a mix of challenges associated with globalization
and the development target of achieving a knowledge-based economy (KBE). Their
circumstances are further affected by the increasing economic power in R&D of countries
such as Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (BRICS). Recovery from the
economic and financial crisis, as well as difficulties relating to the competitiveness of small
and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) within global markets, represents the main potential
risks for the future of the European Union (EU) and the related economic and social model.
All European countries are facing different levels of youth unemployment, as well as
environmental, ecological, energy, and demographic problems. Such demographic
problems, which are traditionally concerned with welfare issues, in certain countries
involve two interrelated factors: (1) the aging of the population and (2) the increasing
levels of labor migration. As the working-age population shrinks, there is an
understandable concern about who will fill the public coffers to sustain pensions, welfare


2015 Taylor & Francis

444 A. Cenci

benefits, and other public services that ensure the well-being of Europes citizens
(McLoughlin 2011, 21). Labor migration frequently affects active working population
aged 2545 and mostly in certain circumstances, that is, when local unemployment is
high. It may produce a trade-off between contributors and beneficiaries of welfare states
provision. Nonetheless, policy-makers at both national and EU levels have begun, in
recent years, to look at temporary migration and/or circular migration, also within
members states, as possible solutions to the continents demographic problems. In the era
of the knowledge economy, the configuration that labor mobility assumes is oriented
toward an increasing level of HSMs. According to previous definitions, high-skilled
people are individuals with tertiary education who have their education in one country
and then lives and works in another (Grubel 1994 in Beltrame 2007; Brandi 2001 in
Beltrame 2007). This is likely the case for the Southern Euro Zone countries such as Italy,
Spain, Portugal, and Greece on which this paper will focus on.
The HSM has been the object of intense scientific and policy debates for nearly five
decades, since it always implies important consequences for both sending and receiving
countries. Few issues display greater complexity. Skilled labor migration is marked by a
number of fundamental dilemmas, for example, conflicting rights to development,
education, emigration, and equality. It also opposes political to ethical imperatives such as
global justice and/or the tension between individual freedom and the control of peoples
mobility. It envisages the interests of different actors such as states, corporations and,
obviously, the migrants themselves (UNESCO 2012, 1). The most negative consequences
of HSM are regularly highlighted by the literature in terms of the inverted technology
transfer that it represents. Other negative effects traditionally associated with the
phenomenon include economic and financial losses, the decline of long-term productivity,
the generation of significant fiscal externalities, and the important tax burden imposed on
those highly qualified people who do not emigrate. Finally, there is evidence concerning
the deterioration, of certain public service sectors such as education, health, research, and
technology as a consequence of the migration of highly skilled individuals (UNESCO
2012, 3). Concerns traditionally connected to HSM can be grouped into three major
thematic blocks: the economic, social welfare, and social justice implications. Although
each segment deserves an explicit and detailed treatment, which cannot be fully addressed
here, in order to evaluate pros and cons of conceivable structure of analysis is important
to be aware of all of them.
The main objective of this paper is the outline of an analytical framework for
empirical research which should better not only identify the determinants of the
phenomenon but also clarify the connections among the multiple issues involved. Most
recent debates, especially in the EU, focused on whether in the era of globalization HSM
can still be conceptualized as brain drain (BD) or brain gain, that is, as stable,
unidirectional flows producing reverse transfer of technology (Salt 1997). The main
position held is that the nature of the migration flows can be more properly caught by
broader, more dynamic concepts such as brain circulation or brain exchange, namely
as on-going, temporary, polycentric migration cycles producing compensatory inflows
and/or returns (Meyer 2001). This approach to HSM emphasizes the positive role that
scientific communities, networks, and scientific diasporas may have in the process of
knowledge production, transmission, and application.
What it is argued here is that exploring the main features of the Southern Euro Zone
intra-EU mobility case may clarify and indicate alternative paths to solve this theoretical
dispute. Due to the tight interdependence of the EU nations, the evidence of the existence
of cases of intra-EU BD gives rise to controversial issues which risk being disregarded by
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 445

conventional interpretations. In order to define a suitable analytical framework for HSM,

and not only within the EU, detecting cases of intra-EU BD is a foundational concern.
There was some evidence of the existence of previous significant imbalances in the
geography of the intra-EU HSM (Ackers 2005; Gill 2005), and the economic crisis and
austerity policy in the analyzed sending countries could have had likely exacerbated
previous circumstances.
For this reason, the main research question that this paper aims answering can be
structured as follow: in the era of globalization, is it BD or instead, increasing of
circulation/exchange of people and knowledge as expected from the transformation of the
EU in a KBE?
The main underlying assumption of this study is that due to incompleteness of the
European integration process and certain empirical evidence is still adequate to
conceptualize HSM within the EU as BD. Therefore, this paper rejects the most recent
circular migration views and the consequent paradigm shift from Brain drain to
brain circulation as well as its related policy implications (Meyer 2001, 2003). As an
alternative, it proposes the broadening of the traditional economic approach, the so-called
standard view. The present standpoint adopts the notion of brain drain to describe the
movement of highly skilled people within the EU and does not advocate for a complete
rejection of the conventional configuration of the theory. Nonetheless, it is believed that
particular attention should be paid to the social welfare and social justice implications of
the intra-EU BD phenomenon. For this reasons, it recommends exploring the intra-EU
BD from a micro-level point of view through a Capability Approach (CA) emphasizing
on the plurality of the determinants of migrants choices.
The literature frequently describes HSM or BD phenomena as provoked by a serious
lack of opportunities and/or persistent inequalities in the sending countries as well as the
result of deliberate and selective promotion of immigration in the receiving countries.
That is, R&D investments and attraction policies directed toward highly qualified
professionals (Saravia and Miranda 2004). Here, the application of the CA as analytical
framework allows shifting from the unique attention for macro/economic dynamics of
losses/gains between sending and receiving countries to the migrants actual opportunities
to achieve capabilities, that is, capacity/freedom of choice for living the life that they
have reasons to value (Sen 1999; Nussbaum 2000). This interpretation may indicate a
way to overcome the behavioral reductionism of the traditional migration theories which
suppose, as the human capital theory (HCT) states (Becker 1976), that migrants pursue
their egoistic interest as unique reason to act. Conversely, as based on multidimensional
inquiries, CA may consider a larger range of factors than traditional economic variables
(e.g. income) and hence to take into account the inescapable ethical and welfare
implications involved by peoples choice to migrate. Therefore, CAs key assumptions
may be used to conceptualize which multiple factors may provoke deficiency of
opportunities for high-skilled people in the contexts under exams and further to clarify
the way in which they may influence migrants decisions to move abroad. Finally,
peoples choices are expected to be influenced by the notion of welfare and good life of
the migrants. Consistent to the key CAs assumptions, this inquiry considers that human
beings have a multidimensional vision about their own well-being and needs those cannot
be reduced to pure economic benefits (e.g. income) or at collective level to the pursuit of
the countrys economic growth (e.g. increasing GDP) irrespective of any redistributive,
welfare, and social justice concerns.
A relevant inquiry that can be particularly benefited by the paradigm shift is the
analysis of the tension, which is implicit in BD, between individuals rights to migrate in
446 A. Cenci

search of more joblife opportunities or a better life and national priorities: that is, the
need to improve a countrys R&D performance, its competitiveness in the global market
economy as well as to sustain national growth or, as in the case of the Southern Euro
Zone nations, promote the recovery from actual recession. The reconciliation of both
parts interests is crucial to pay attention to both present and future welfare of all EU
citizens, especially the least advantaged, respectively, the migrants and the future
generations within the affected societies. Indeed, it is argued that intra-EU BD may be
legitimately depicted as a matter of social justice within the EU (between members
states), and for all European citizens, thus, it cannot be approached as a mere national
problem. The conceptual shift entailed by a capability view, that is, from human
capital to human capabilities, might challenge the idea of brain gain as expression of
sending/receiving countries conflicting interests regarding migration. Moreover, the
CAs stress on the primacy of individual rights, that is, of migrants and all sending
countries citizens, allows emphasizing on both national and the EU responsibility to
provide to all EU citizens proper life chances. It may be functional to support the need of
long-term public policy oriented to the pursuit of stable balanced growth (Treaty on the
functioning of EU: Part 3) and equal citizens welfare (Treaty of the EU: article 3) as the
EU foundational treaties demand.
Using both conceptual analyses and secondary data, that is, literature, policy papers,
and official statistics, this paper attempts to build a capability-sensitive structure of
analysis for intra-EU HSM. Indeed, in order to address the main concerns that emerge
from the discourse on the knowledge economy implementation strategies within the EU,
the paper tries to establish if and why the case of Southern Euro Zone HSM can be
considered as a proper BD problem and not just ordinary mobility of people and
knowledge. It follows with a theoretical discussion aimed to challenge the idea of
circular migration and reject it as main political and policy target. Such theoretical
survey is then used to redefine the traditional economic approach and to elucidate the
analytical-explanatory advantages of a capability view to address welfare and ethical
repercussions of BD.

2. Brain drain or brain circulation in the EU? Some empirical notes

The Lisbon Agenda (1999) and the Bologna Process (2000) have been in charge of
transforming the EU into the most dynamic and competitive KBE in the world by 2010.
Unfortunately, as known, the 2010 EU goals were not achieved. However, Horizon 2020,
the most recent EU framework program for research and innovation, seems to be clearly
oriented by the same principles and objectives. The pillars of EUs research strategy
argues that in order to increase competitiveness, national public policy of all member
states has been aimed to improve their capacity in higher education and R&D. Indications
include the enactment of a market-driven approach and the strengthening of international
cooperation. Another key purpose is the creation of a single market for knowledge,
research, and innovation in order to complete the European Research Area (ERA) by
2014. The idea of free movement of capital, goods, service, people, and knowledge and
the promotion of high-skilled people mobility represent the ways to achieve more
efficient allocation of resources and human capital. These processes based on the
promotion of highly skilled labor force mobility within the EU.
In the beginning, the discourse on the EU KBE recognizes the existence of potential
tensions between the desire to promote scientific specialization, its circulation, and
concerns to ensure balanced growth in all EU regions. The European committee
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 447

stressed that insufficient links between policies promoting balanced regional development
and policies promoting geographic and occupational mobility, as well as increased
competition between states for recruiting highly qualified labor force, could have led to
new forms of intra-EU BD (European Commission 2001 in Ackers 2005, 305). To avoid
this, special mobility programs, such as the Marie Curie Fellowships Scheme, were
introduced to support member states collaboration and to guarantee equal circulation and
exchange of professionals. Fellowships aim giving to scientists from less research-intense
countries the chance to acquire knowledge and contacts. However, a posteriori analyses
show that the implementation of such programs provokes high levels of clustering solely
in certain European countries and institutions. The UK was the most popular destination
for both postgraduate and postdoctoral fellows, receiving 28% of the total population,
followed by France (17%), Germany (12%), and the Netherlands (9%). Conversely, the
analysis of fellows nationality indicates a similar overrepresentation of certain nationality
groups. In fact, southern Europe contributes to significant proportions of fellows. Of
these, Spain exports the highest proportion (over 16% of all fellows) followed by Italy
(with 14%), and also Greece suffers from one of the highest net outflows (Ackers 2005,
305). The same study denotes that, due to the low salaries, few students from northern
Europe should be available to go to southern Europe. Additional constraints highlighted
were the high level of bureaucracy, the difficulties to get funding, or the language (Ackers
2005, 310311). What seems to be clear is that since the first stage of the enactment of
the KBE strategy there were signals that imbalances on scientific development between
the EU regions and socioeconomic concerns should have led to scientific polarization in
certain areas and cases of intra-EU BD in others.
An exacerbation of the previous situation has been evidenced during the ongoing
economic crisis and the recession in the EU periphery (CEPS 2014, 1014). The Southern
Euro Zone have been dramatically hit by economic recession generating high unemploy-
ment rates and several social problems. However, due to free movement policy within the
EU, the frequent lack of registration of the migrants in their respective agencies,
embassies, or consulates abroad, possible cases of intra-EU BD are difficult to identify
and quantify. Media and national stakeholders (e.g. research institutes and agencies,
universities, etc.) are denouncing the growing proportion of the Southern Euro Zone BD
phenomenon, but in most of the national statistical institutes of these countries specific
data about high-skilled people migration are not available. This is the case for Greece,
Spain, and Portugal. Nonetheless, signals that a problem may exist can be found in the
increasing overall emigration registered in these nations during the 2008 crisis (Table 1).
What is known is that in the same period (20082011), within the OECD countries,
Greece and Spain recorded some of the steepest rises in unemployment for all levels of
education, but also Portugal suffered one of the bigger increases (OECD 2013, 7879).
Tertiary educated peoples levels of unemployment passed from 6% to 11.6% in Spain,

Table 1. General Southern Euro Zone migrations during the economic crisis.

2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Italy 65,196 80,947 80,597 78,771 82,461

Spain 22,706 266,460 323,641 403,013 50,742
Greece 119,985 125,974
Portugal 26,800 20,357 16,865 23,760 43,998
Source: Eurostat (2013).
448 A. Cenci

from 5.7% to 12.8% in Greece, and from 5.8% to 8% in Portugal. Traditionally, Portugal has
had one of the highest emigration rates of workers with a university education (18%) and
one of the 30 countries in the world most affected by the BD of its university-educated
workers, with more than 4 million people (Docquier and Marfouk 2004). Regarding Greece,
a recent study of the University of Thessaloniki found that more than 120,000 highly
qualified professionals left the country in 2010 (e.g. doctors, engineers, IT professionals, and
scientists). It also said that young scientists who had already emigrated made up 10% of the
countrys potential (Labriandis 2014). The increasing of unemployment for tertiary educated
people in Italy was moderate, that is, from 4% to 5%. However, it is significant to point out
that it is known that the Italian job market does not require much specialized professionals
and that tertiary educated people are often employed in low-skilled jobs (Consorzio
Interuniversitario Almalaurea 2012, 37). This fact can likely explain the low unemployment
rate for this category. Moreover, the Italian BD is a well-known phenomenon that has been
frequently described by the literature (Becker, Ichino, and Peri 2004; Gill 2005; Beltrame
2007; Milio et al. 2012). This can also explain why the Italian National Statistical Institute
(ISTAT) provides an assessment of Italian tertiary educated professionals moving abroad
during the crisis. It indicates that the incidence of highly skilled migrants on the total migrant
population doubled in the period 2001/2010 passing from 8.3% to 15.9%. Additionally, the
same report also said that, due to several data recruiting inefficiencies, statistics are
incomplete and probably should be higher (ISTAT 2012, 6). The tendency of engaging
skilled labor force for jobs far below their qualifications, the so-called brain waste (Salt
1997) seem to be a practice rather widespread in most of the analyzed societies (Montalvo
2008; Labrianidis and Vogiatzis 2013a; Carvalhais in UNESCO 2012). Likely, it depends on
the technological underdevelopment of the area, for instance, when compared to Central-
Northern Europe (CORDA DATA, March 2013).
Traditionally, Mediterranean Euro Zone countries have never been very strong in
R&D (World Bank 2012).1 Their capacity as talent recruiters is limited, and they all rank
lowest within the EU countries (Global Talent Index 2011). Generally, all of them invest
less than 2% of their GDP in R&D, half of EU 27 average, and some of them less than
0.5% in incentive to enterprises, four times less the OECD average (e.g. Italy).
Nonetheless, significant differences have been registered between them in later years
and before the crisis. Greece and especially Italy were much more oriented toward scarce
R&D activity and specialization in lower technology intensive products. Conversely, in
later years, Portugal and Spain have increased their efforts and strategies to reach the EU
objectives achieving substantial improvements in R&D (European commission 2013a).
However, application of austerity measures during the actual crisis, both in terms of
reductions of public expense in R&D and/or removal of incentives to strategic sectors of
the private economy, is often provoking a rapid decline of the newly born segments of
KBE in southern Europe (e.g. the last reduction of 1500 million Euros on 12 July 2013 to
the Spanish renewable energy sector).2 This situation might be detrimental not only to the
present but also to the future competiveness of these countries within the global economy
and thus further reduces Southern Euro Zone countries ability to handle their BD
problems and to participate in any mutual beneficial circulation or exchange of highly
skilled workers. This circumstance seems reflected by the EU Regional Competitiveness
Index 2013 (European commission 2013b, iii) in which there are no regions of the target
countries of this study among the most competitive regions within the EU (Figure 1).
Moreover, differently from the same report in 2010 that positioned the Italian region
of Lombardy and the area of Milano in the so-called EU blue banana, now Italy is
excluded from the most developed areas within the EU. The only Southern Euro Zone
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 449

Figure 1. Levels of competitiveness according to member states, regions and capital region
(Source: European commission 2013b, iii).

region among the first 100 positioned is the Spanish Comunidad de Madrid which
ranked 57 (European commission 2013b, 123). Conversely between the most competitive
regions, we can find the areas formerly object of the above-mentioned scientific
clustering (e.g. the UK, the Netherlands, Germany, etc.).
The risks entailed by the strengthening of skilled people and researchers mobility
without careful attention for the impact that it could have within areas in which R&D is
still not fully developed have been frequently highlighted by the literature on European
HSM. Recent empirical studies show that, particularly in the case of Southern Euro Zone
skilled mobility, there is scarce circulation, mutual exchange between sending and
receiving countries, and infrequent return migration (Gill 2005; Milio et al. 2012;
Labrianidis and Vogiatzis 2013a, 2013b; Labrianidis 2014; Triandafyllidou and Groupas
2014a, 2014b; CEPS 2014, 1112). It is also known that there is occasional exchange of
high-skilled labor force with the other EU or extra-EU nations that may compensate the
losses of qualified human resources (Boeri et al. 2012, 3637). They mostly indicate that
after a first period abroad southern European skilled migrants often move toward
countries still different from their own country of origin. The main reasons seem to be, at
least in the case of Italy, that skilled migrants are unable to find a job according to their
high level of qualifications in the home labor market, or that they could be rejected by the
scientific community of the nation of origin (Gill 2005). Consequently, instead of
lowering their quality of life and/or professional aspirationsexpectations, they seem to
decide to keep on moving where the level of scientific development is higher, and the job
markets may provide more professional opportunities.
As the conclusions of precrisis studies focused on intra-EU mobility of researchers
(e.g. MOBEX 2005) claim:

concerns persist that large outflows of scientists combined with an inability to attract
scientists into or back to their country of origin can result in brain drain: that is, the net loss
of knowledge from a country or region. It seems unlikely that imbalances in research and
development expenditure have not already had a negative impact. Combined with factors
such as language, career opportunities, infrastructure, salary and culture, it becomes even
more apparent that flows are likely to be skewed. (Gill 2005, 321322)
450 A. Cenci

Despite the attractiveness of the idea of free circulation and exchange of people and
knowledge at the basis of the discourse on intra-EU mobility, available data seem to
empirically challenge the key suppositions of circular models about the existence of
significant exchange of professionals or returned competence within most technologically
developed and underdeveloped regions (and countries) of the EU. Likewise, it seem to
undermine the supposition about mutual benefits for both sending and receiving
countries. For example, the two biggest economies within the target countries of this
study, that is, Spain and Italy, even though they are the biggest receivers of immigration
within the EU, due to intrinsic characteristics of their labor markets, require limited
skilled labor force and mostly receive low-skilled migrants (OECD 2013). The same
study reported low levels of remittances provided by this kind of migration within the
EU. The role of remittances to compensate the sending countries is a key conjecture of
circular migration models, and thus, this finding can further challenge beliefs regarding
mutual benefits.
Low return rates and absence of highly qualified inflows that should replace the loss
of national skilled people migrated abroad are normally seen as a signal of BD, with all
related and well-known negative implications for sending societies. Indeed, it is possible
that migrants stay in one country abroad is increasingly temporal, and that there is an
increasing of the general mobility as grasped by the recent coined concept of multiple
migration (Ciobanu 2014). Nonetheless, the lack of significant returns, at least in
working age, and scarce application of migrants knowledge and skills in their countries
of origin (i.e. technological transfer) may preserve the economic-political-ethical
dilemmas entailed by the BD concept. For instance, the negative economic and social
effects in the nations of origins provoked by the drainage of qualified human resources
such as fiscal losses, constraints to national development, or degrading of national
welfare states (UNESCO 2012, 36).
Finally, empirical studies from the countries of the recent EU 27 enlargement display
similar findings regarding the EU eastern regions. That is, due to substantial labor market
differences or working conditions (e.g. higher salary), high-skilled people seem to be the
most reluctant to come back in their home societies, while younger people with higher
levels of education use to settle down abroad (Galgczi, Letschke, and Watt 2012, 32).
This reinforces the hypothesis about the existence of cases of intra-EU BD to which the
Southern Euro Zone can be an illustrative case but, conceivably, not the only one. Thus, it
seems that the circular migration paradigm and related concepts can hardly caught the
nature of actual intra-EU HSM and its capacity to offer significant analytical insights
rather than policy solutions that can be questioned, and the paradigm key theoretical
assumptions need to be discussed in deeper details.

3. The theoretical limits of circular migration, scientific diasporas, and network

approaches to HSM
The circular migration paradigm as approach to HSM gave birth in the1990s as a
response to the challenge that globalization and the KBE needs supposed to the analysis
of skilled labor migrations (Massey et al. 1993). Its main foundational assumptions rely
on the ideas that science and technology are the main instruments to enhance
development and that an increasingly multifaceted form of labor mobility, as the one
created by the insurgence of the knowledge economy, cannot be adequately addressed by
traditional migration models.
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 451

This paradigm shift is often associated to turnaround of views, from pessimist brain
drain views, which dominated thinking on the issue before the 2000s, to optimistic new
ideas about brain gain that converted migration in the new development mantra (cf.
Kapur 2003 in De Haas 2012, 8). In particular, these research programs emphasize on the
impact and potential positive contribution of scientific diasporas and scientific
networks in mediating the relationship between human mobility and the transfer of
knowledge. They stress the existence of potentially compensatory effects for sending
regions. Researches on intellectual diaspora networks optimistically argue that highly
skilled expatriate networks, through a connectionist approach linking diaspora members
with their countries of origin, turn the brain drain into a brain gain (Ackers 2005, 312). It
is said that:

in the field of science and technology, the embodied knowledge of the people (i.e. the human
capital) is but one resource amongst many (e.g. funding, technical support, equipment,
scientific networks, experimental conditions etc.) and that scientific diasporas can be used
as a strategy to avoid talent misuse and promote efficient use of scientific resources.

Likewise, this approach to HSM indicates that is proper to distinguish between the issue
of the transfer of knowledge and the physical presence of the migrants. In fact, it indicates
how certain compensation mechanisms such as scientific cooperation and co-
authorship of academic publication permit to go beyond the preoccupation for possible
overrepresentation of skilled people in specific places (Ackers 2005, 302) and how they
can be suitable redistributive mechanisms of the benefits of scientific activities. What it
often indicates as a crucial advantage of the diaspora option is the fact that it does not
rely on infrastructural massive investments, as it consists in capitalizing on already
existing resources. One of the main policy implication of this idea within the EU, where
circular models of migration are particularly appreciated, refers to the creation of centers
of excellence located in few areas of the central and northern regions which are
traditionally stronger in R&D, for instance, the UK, the Netherlands, France, and
Germany. On the base of the efficiency arguments sketched above, the scientific
clustering is seen as the most efficient way to produce knowledge. As a matter of fact,
the need of clustering of scientific resources has been specifically encouraged and
indicated, both at national and at European level, as the best strategy to promote
competition and facilitating specialization (Ackers 2005, 311). Finally, despite the
promotion of rather transnational vision regarding the transmission of knowledge and
innovation, the scientific diasporas approach clarifies that nation-states entities remain
the main actors in terms of resources mobilization for R&D action, it is at hand for any
country to put at play the effort to mobilize such a diaspora (Meyer and Brown 1999).
This idea has been widely accepted also within the communitarian structure of the EU
where the only instrument that regulates migratory in/out flow is actually the free
movement ideology (Treaty of the Functioning of the EU (TFEU, art.45)).
However, the diaspora approach is rather vague regarding the success of the networks
to boost growth and development in the sending countries. In particular, the same
promotors of this view admit that:

is difficult to determine the success of these networks in terms of input or impact on the
development of the home country. The type of exchanges that take place between network
members and the national community, for example scientific meetings, email information/
data exchanges, training sessions, informal advisory opinions not always bring tangible,
visible or immediate results and do not allow for a statistical.
452 A. Cenci

Moreover, regarding the possibility of returns migration, they concede that it is taken for
granted that many of the expatriates are not likely to return since they often settle abroad
and build their professional as well as their personal life there (Meyer and Brown 1999).
The first argument against the application of the circular migration paradigm refers to
a fact, often underlined by the migration literature, that differences in the socioeconomic
circumstances, the different level of technological, and R&D development between
sending and receiving societies should encourage HSM and prevent possible returns or
exchange of highly qualified migrants (Skeldon in Milio et al. 2012, 17). In particular, the
concepts of brain circulation, brain exchange, and network seem to demand a
homogenous R&D development and similar competitiveness perspectives between
sending and receiving countries to function. Indeed, significant return migration or
exchange has been realized only when sending nations governments have been active to
create most favorable development perspectives and improvement in R&D in order to
facilitate circular migration (see Saxenian 2001, 2002, 2005 in Milio et al. 2012). This is
the case of recently industrialized countries (NICs) such as Singapore and the Republic of
Korea or big developing countries such as India and China where circulation and returns
were possible due to strong programs to repatriate many of their skilled nationals abroad
that have been put in place since 1980. They have been accompanied by national efforts
to create at home the networks in which these returnees could effectively find a place and
be operational (Charum, Meyer (eds) in Meyer and Brown 1999). What the theory seems
of not adequately consider is that in the same period these countries reinforced their
investments in higher education and R&D, achieving in few years similar outcomes of
their direct competitors countries for the attraction of skilled labor migration flows, such
as the USA or Australia. They also gained several positions to other areas traditionally
stronger in scientific production such as the EU or Japan (Gaillard 2010). Therefore,
similar R&D capacity, similar good perspectives of further technological development
and also social investments in higher education might be the structural preconditions to
increase the possibility of circular and return migration, that is, to facilitate mutual
profitable exchanges of high-skilled labor force between continent, countries, and
regions. However, those idyllic conditions, as evidenced by the 2020 Headline Indicators
Report (Eurostat, statistic in focus: 39/2012), seem to be actually missing not only in the
overall global societies but also within a developed area such as the EU. Data illustrate a
rather heterogeneous panorama within all members states and presence of very different
degrees of achievement of the 2020 objectives as well as large differences in R&D
expenditure. Moreover, recent austerity measures in the EU periphery seem to have
further enlarged the preexistent socioeconomic divide within most technologically
developed and underdeveloped regions of the EU (Pizzuti 2013, 43101).
Despite the available empirical evidence, the idea of circular migration has strongly
entered in the EU policy debate. However, the meaning of the concept, due to problems
regarding the exact definition of the notion of circularity or certain difficulty to clearly
distinguish circular migration, from temporal or return migration is increasingly
questioned. In particular, Skeldon (2012, 5355) argues about the scarce usefulness of
the concept in policy-making and recommends reducing its use to academic discussions:

if circular migration is to be seen as a form of mobility that can be managed, it must be

capable of being separated as a type of migration different from other types of population
movement. To be effective, it also must be a form of migration that persists across both time
and space. Such requirements, however, seem problematic.
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 453

His main recommendation is that the question that must be raised is to what extent
policy intervention can facilitate circular migration to achieve either poverty reduction or
a more equitable society and also stresses that from the data and argument presented the
answer is not particularly optimistic.
This leads to the second and most important argument against the circular migration
paradigm. Such argument is about the incapacity of circular migration models to
properly take into account the welfare implications that the physical moving of qualified
human resources supposes for the affected societies. The adoption of circular migration
models, by emphasizing on efficiency matters, may overlook many negative effects of
HSM for the sending countries. The overall societal losses provoked by the leaving of
skilled people can hardly be rewarded solely by the mentioned compensation
mechanisms (e.g. co-authorship of article, academies cooperation, etc.). In fact, it is
hard to see how the technology transfer or fiscal losses cannot be compensable within the
usual academic mechanisms of production and diffusion of scientific knowledge. In order
to keep on guaranteeing essential social services and welfare benefits (e.g. higher
education, health care, maternity leave benefits, unemployment insurance schemes, etc.)
also in the sending countries, the physical places in which people actually live and pay
their taxes are, palpably, not as irrelevant as both the circular migration and networks
views suggest. The EU strategy of promoting scientific clustering in certain areas of the
EU, already developed in R&D, not only encourage regional marginalization, but it may
also reinforce and perpetuate the existing technological gap and welfare imbalances
among the EU regions, members countries, and EU citizens of different areas. Moreover,
in time of hardships and austerity, the well-known north-south divide would be difficult
to reverse, and the breach among the EU regions would probably increase in long-
term way.
What may additionally prevent the spreading of the benefits to all EU nations and
citizens can be found in the well-known deficiencies of European integration (Majone
1998): that is, the wide socioeconomic, labor market differences, and the still prevalent
national-based organization of the EU in many policy areas. For instance, the national-
based patents registration system, the absence of common political, banking, and fiscal
organization, but especially, the absence of a common social security arrangement. They
are only some of the elements that actually prevent redistribution of the benefits of
scientific activities among all EU members states and thus, to all EU citizens as
optimistically, perhaps too optimistically, predicted by the circular migration models. It
seems manifest that in order to promote balanced growth and regional equality as
well as equal welfare for all EU citizens a more balanced distribution of the research
institutions and skilled labor force all over the whole EU territory is a vital matter. Indeed,
Prof. Ackers remind us (2005, 314) that:

geographical inequality as a result of scientific clustering, especially in the EU, may be

justified only on the grounds that research concentration constitutes the most efficient and
effective use of resources to stimulate European-level science and enables it to gain a
competitive edge for the greater benefit of all European citizens.

However, considering the above elements, at the moment, such general benefits seem
improbable. Moreover, as De Hass argues (2012, 8), circular migration views celebrating
migration as self-help development from below and driven by neoliberal ideology may
shift the attention away from structural development constraints and, hence, the respons-
ibility of migrant-sending states to pursue political and economic reform. In fact, migrants
454 A. Cenci

alone can generally not remove more structural development constraints and migration may
actually contribute to development stagnation and reinforce the political status quo. We
argue that in the EU the responsibility to remove constraints for individuals and promote
equal development in all EU regions also falls on European institutions.
The last argument against the circular migration approach relies on the attitude of
treating uncritically both content, process and instruments by which the production and
diffusion of knowledge must take place. It seems unable to address fundamental ethical-
political concerns about what kind of technological progress is legitimate to pursue as a
society as well as which social outcomes scientific-technological development ought to
produce (e.g. increasing of scientific knowledge, economic growth, low inflation, full
unemployment, satisfaction of citizens basic needs, good welfare conditions, quality of
life, etc.). This is particularly important in the EU where, ideally, objectives are common
and where, due to the communitarian organization, political, welfare, and ethical
repercussions of asymmetrical intra-EU migration (i.e. intra-EU BD) could be a very
sensitive issue. Here, the critical point has to do with the creation of suitable social
environments in all EU regions in which peoples labor mobility should take place under
more equitable conditions between sending and receiving countries and truly on the
benefit of all EU citizens.

4. A proposal of revision of the standard view on HSM: from human capital to

human capabilities
The above discussion on the shortages of circular migration models (due to their key
assumptions) led us to reject a similar viewpoint and look for migration models that may be
more empirically founded and that may explicitly take the whole repercussions of
asymmetrical migrations (i.e. BD) into account. This is what is supposed to offer the
theoretical perspective discussed in this section. The proposal can be seen as an alternative
to circular migration models and an integration of traditional standard view on HSM.
For a long time, HSM has been analyzed through the use of two theories (Beltrame
2007, 1113): the theory of human capital (Becker 1976; Schultz 1971) and the neo-
Marxist approach of center-periphery relations. The HCT tends to explain, from a micro-
social point of view, the migration decisions which depend on the autonomous (rational
and optimizing) actions of the subjects as they move in search of places where there is a
higher performance education. At the micro-level, the theory describes the migrants as
individual, rational actors, who decide to move on the basis of a costbenefit calculation.
Assuming free choice and full access to information, they are expected to go where they
can be the most productive, that is, able to earn the highest wages. This assumption
regarding migrants behavior represents also the epistemic basis of circular migration
models. However, differently from circular migration models, here the neo-Marxist
approach implies to consider macro-social differences between developed and indus-
trialized nations (the center) and developing countries (the periphery). The result is
known as the standard view: skilled migrations are composed of unidirectional,
permanent movement from developing countries (periphery) to developed countries
(center), caused by the autonomous choices of individuals seeking to optimize the
performance of their education and skills, minus the costs of moving to the other country.
Since the 19601970, the biggest body of literature from the standard view approach
focused on the economic effects of HSM, which tend to be negative for the countries of
origin, thus, used to adopt the concept of BD to describe them. The ideological basis of
this adoption can be found in the HCT assumptions, that is, the countries of origin invest
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 455

in the training of qualified personnel who by emigrating deprive the sending countries of
the return on their investment in human capital. It is often assumed that BD tends to
lower the level of human capital within the workforce provoking a loss of the countrys
potential for present and future development (Todaro 1996). Furthermore, it is said that
continuous outflows reduce the capacity of a country to achieve as much technological
progress as other economies (Glass and Choy 2001). In fact, BD seems to decrease
economic development rate in the home countries because of the fall of the local
workforces average level of education (Barro and Sala-i-Martin 1995).
As anticipated, the most important paradigm shift in migration theory took place in
the 1990s where the attention moved from the pushing factors to the analyses of the
demand for skilled migrants within the market economy. This new trend on migration
analyses emphasizes the effects of globalization, the knowledge economy need for highly
skilled workers, and the internationalization of higher education as main drivers of
migratory flows, also in the EU (Cao 1996; Mahorum 1999). This view entails a renewed
optimism regarding skilled migrations capacity to boost development by increasing the
move and circulation of people and knowledge. Particularly, it has been the sociological
literature that argues about skilled mobility as a potential benefit and opportunity for the
countries of origin in terms of remittances (Beine, Rapoport, and Docquier 2003;
Rapoport and Docquier 2003), as force that create trade networks (Gould 1994) or that
manage to be a resource for the sending countries when migrants return with new skills
and experience (Dos Santos and Postel-i-Vinay 2003).
However, recent accounts highlight that new forms of BD has been generated or
amplified by globalization and by the insurgence of the knowledge economy by
producing countries that are winners and countries that are losers in the global battle
for talents (Gaillard and Gaillard 1997). They often stress that migration does not stem
solely from the choices of the people themselves but largely hinges on socioeconomic
features of both sending and hosting countries as well as on their policy choices (Skeldon
2009 in Milio et al. 2012, 17; Clemens 2009 in Milio et al. 2012, 17). That is, they
suggest that the study of HSM or BD cannot be separated from deeper reflections on the
political, socioeconomic, policy dimensions of this phenomenon, that is, its contextual
determinants and its full socioeconomic effects, including ethical and welfare aspects. As
noted in the former section, these concerns were difficult to address adopting the circular
migration approach and within its narrow theoretical-behavioral assumptions. As
Skeldon suggests (Massey et al. 1998; Stark 1991 in Skeldon 2012, 45):

These studies fitted well with emerging trends in migration studies as a whole, away from the
migrant as an individual decision-maker and income-maximizer and towards migration as a
group, usually a family, decision, based on resource diversification and risk minimization.

It is argued that in order to provide better theories to analyze HSM more complex definitions
of migrants behavior may solve some of the most urgent analytical-explanatory problems
of traditional migrations models (both standard view and circular migration models).
Conversely, even though there is the need to dispute the micro-foundations of mainstream
migration theory, it is assumed that maintaining the hypothesis about the impact, from a
macro-level point of view, of center-periphery socioeconomic differences is still very
important also in the knowledge economy era. For all these reasons, this paper proposes the
integration of the standard view, already satisfactory for macro-level analyses, with a
Capability Approach (Sen 1999; Nussbaum 2000) which is based on a broader behavioral
model (Sen 1977, 2007). This theoretical option may take into account not only of the
456 A. Cenci

agents optimizing choices performed in a social, political, and ethical vacuum but also of
important political, sociocultural determinants of the choice of migration. Indeed, it
realistically advocates to considerate multiple reasons to act (i.e. to move) as drivers to
the choice of migration. Therefore, the concept of capability is important in the study of
migrations, and not only for the high skilled, since in comparison to traditional economic
accounts it allows the inclusion of an additional set of analytical variables, also no-monetary
variables, to investigate migrants choices. That is, indications on political, economic,
social, and cultural contingencies may be decisive in the formation of migrants choices to
move abroad or to shape the real objectives they pursue and that are not reducible merely to
income improvements (e.g. self-fulfillment).
The adoption of such wider epistemic-normative perspective responds to several
criticisms that have been directed toward the standard view and the assumptions it makes
about the agents motivations to migrate (Beltrame 2007, 17). The focal variable here is
human capabilities seen as peoples actual freedom of choiceopportunities to achieve
the life that they have reasons to value (Sen 1999, 32). In other words, actions,
institutions, and public policy are evaluated according to their capacity to provide people
with actual opportunities to achieve welfare and quality of life, to make free choice as
well as to improve their general living conditions. The fundamental advantages of shifting
from the concept of human capital to the broader notion of human capability are
well-explained by Sen (Sen 1997, 1960):

There is a crucial difference between the two approaches, a difference that relates to some
extent to the distinction between means and ends. The acknowledgement of the role of
human qualities in promoting and sustaining economic growth tell us nothing about why
economic growth is sought in the first place. If instead, the focus is on the expansion of
human freedom to live the kind of lives that people have reason to value, then the role of
economic growth in expanding these opportunities has to be integrated into that more
foundational understanding of the process of development as the expansion of human
capability to lead freer and more worthwhile lives.

As Sen stresses (1997, 1960):

Despite the usefulness of the concept of human capital as a productive resource, it is important
to see human beings in a broader perspective. We must go beyond the notion of human capital,
after acknowledging its relevance and reach. The broadening that is needed is additional and
cumulative, rather than being an alternative to the human capital perspective.

Therefore, achieving capability and/or expanding peoples capabilities is a way to

enhance peoples agency both at individual and at societal level (Sen 1985). The key
priority in the design of social policy, to which the above distinction is essential, relies on
empowering every person to develop their own lives according to their own idea of
welfare and good life (obviously also dependent on available resources or income). This
increased freedomagency includes the possibility of migration as a strategy to achieve
valuable professional or living improvements.

5. The capability view main insights to address welfare end ethical implications of
intra-EU BD
Another theoretical insight of the CA that is very relevant to the analyses of migrations
refers to the support it does of multidimensional notions of welfare, quality of life, and
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 457

development (Nussbaum and Sen 1991). As recently, and explicitly, suggested by De

Haas (2008, 16), Sens broader view on human development may be supportive to
advance investigations and improve conventional explanations in migration theory. In
particular, it can be supportive to address the welfare and ethical challenges involved by
the HSM or BD phenomena but disregarded by former accounts. A similar attention is
implicit in the rejection of the concept of human capital and relies on the emphasis on the
broader notion of human capability.
In a capability view, skilled migrants are supposed to move pushed by a state of
unfreedom or capability deprivation but provoked by several factors (also non-
monetary), for instance, global, national, supranational aspects as well as sociocultural
bias. It implies that targets pursued by migrating can be diverse and self-chosen.
Differently from other recent accounts, for instance, the relative deprivation approach
put forth by Stark (1984, 1985 in Massey et al. 1993) in the fields of so-called new
economics of migration which is still mainly focused on income, the CAs view emphasis
on opportunities/freedom to achieve provides accounts more respectful of peoples
diversity, that is, environmental, physical, gender, social status differences (Sen 1992, 27
33). Therefore, the attention to peoples capability, instead of individual satisfaction or
resources and the extension to a wider variety of analytical variables may elude the
paternalism that derives from conventional models univocal indication of which needs
and objectives is reasonable to satisfy with the act of migration. That is, the standard view
key indication about the optimization of the performance of migrants education as
unique reason to move abroad and the achievement of a higher salary as the unique
target pursued by the migrants. According to Sen, despite the great importance of the
economic aspects involved by peoples choices, there are other dimensions of the human
experience that deserve to be accounted for by the analyses, even though they may be
difficult to measure in cost-effective terms. Migrants do not solely selfishly want to
maximize the benefits of their own education (e.g. more earnings). They also should aim
to achieve a better life for them and their families or gain self-esteem, or they might feel
responsible for other peoples welfare as well. The adoption of this approach has several
consequences also for the evaluation of the consequences of migrations, especially, when
they are asymmetrical, that is, when there is BD.
Human migrations have been often related to issues of development, production and
distribution of welfare as well as to global justice and human rights. Indeed, the
possibility of including interrogations on all these matters into conventional migration
analyses has been widely debated (De Haas 2008; Holtug, Lippert-Rasmussen, and
Lagaard 2009). Since the 1960s, BD studies and human rights account provided
different interpretations of the relationship between human rights and migration,
particularly, regarding the tension between individuals right to emigrate and of nations
to develop. While human rights views emphasized on the rights of people to leave a
country including theirs, certain BD accounts proposed specific compensation mechan-
isms to solve the dilemma. For instance, the controversial Bhagwati tax (Bhagwati
1973) that auspicated that skilled migrants income could be taxed in the host country to
the benefit of the countries of origin. This discussion inevitably involves fundamental
concerns of social justice among nations that could be crucial worries within the EU and
in the relations between members states. One of the key aims of a theory of social justice
is to solve the problem that an unequal social structure may provoke and further to
determine over the base of which criteria are legitimate to establish eventual compensa-
tions or prioritize someones needs. Precisely, the CAs perspective may be useful to
reconcile the tension between opposite instances and vested interests. In particular, it can
458 A. Cenci

be very supportive in reshaping and advancing the debate on ethical-political implications

of asymmetrical migrations, particularly within the EU where they are a very sensitive
issue. Indeed, in opposition to both circular view and the standard view, the CAs
emphasis on commitment, solidarity, and cooperation (Sen 1977, 2007), instead of self-
interested competition, may offer suitable solutions to make compatible both peoples
rights to welfare and personal realization and nations right to development. These kinds
of conducts were difficult to address into conventional migratory frameworks where
rational behavior merely demand to pursue self-interested economic achievements, both
at individual (income) and at national level (GDP) throughout the increasing of
competition to attract the smarter brains. Therefore, considering migration in terms of
capabilities may oblige to long-term planning in order to reduce people vulnerability in
which the instances of weaker nations and migrants (i.e. the most vulnerable parts or the
least advantaged) could be adequately protected. Likewise, the attention to no-monetary
aspects entailed by a capability view can be useful to go beyond the idea that reversing
patterns of migration should rely solely on economic incentives. Indeed, if reasons to
move are multiple, and not only economic, usual practices focused on punctual monetary
incentives (e.g. return policy, attraction policy based on tax-reductions) could be
insufficient to boost circular and return migration.
However, the CAs priority to individuals rights, including the right to migrate in
search of professional-living opportunities, determines that the responsibility for the
losses caused by the moving of highly skilled people to the sending countries could not
be charged on migrants. Indeed, it is believed that no noble national objective should go
in detriment of every persons entitlement to fulfill its basic needs and cultivate its own
aspirations. Especially, inequalities or a distorted social structure in the countries of origin
(e.g. corruption, nepotism, clienteles, etc.) could be responsible and be the main
impediments to an equal distribution of social opportunities. Consistent with mainstream
egalitarian views (e.g. Rawls 1971), the CA advocates for developing fair and well-
ordered societies, in which nations and their institutions have the moral responsibility of
reducing the weight of the natural lottery, that is, removing previous existent
inequalities in order to provide equal social opportunities to all citizens. In the case of
asymmetrical skilled migrations within the EU (i.e. intra-EU BD), the responsibility to
enhance peoples capabilities also falls on the EU, its institutions, and its social policy. In
fact, the EU should be liable not only for the efficient use but also for the egalitarian use
and distribution of the available resources in all European regions and for the benefit of
all European citizens as its foundational treaties declare. Indeed, due to the communit-
arian structure of the EU, solidarity, cooperation, and mutual responsibility between the
EU members countries for their respective development and for all EU citizens welfare
would be not only expected but also a normative obligation (Habermas 2013). That is,
actual solidarity and cooperation between the EU members countries can be central to
justify the existence of a supranational organism such as the EU and legitimate its
Another due remark is about the role of welfare states, not only to guarantee both
individual and social welfare but also to constrain asymmetrical migrations, also in the
case of intra-EU mobility. In fact, working against the insurgence of cases of intra-EU BD
may entail something more than solely invest resources in R&D (although very
important). The negative effects of cuts to welfare and social security and their influence
on boosting BD have been often highlighted by the literature (Muhirwa in UNESCO
2012). Here, the CAs view may provide a strong argument against the actual application
of austerity measures in the EU periphery and be useful to identify which objectives and
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 459

policies do enhance human capabilities, or conversely, which ones intensify inequalities

and marginalization. A proper approach to the matter of asymmetrical migrations may, in
fact, demand the creation of adequate environmental conditions those guarantee to all
citizens, who often suffer unequal social conditions, have different skills and needs, have
the same possibilities to access certain social and welfare options (e.g. higher education,
healthcare, access to proper employment, social mobility, etc.). As Sen reminds us (1997,
1960), economic prosperity helps people to lead freer and more fulfilling lives. So do
more education, health care, medical attention, and other factors that causally influence
the effective freedoms that people actually enjoy. Therefore, they could also reduce
peoples needs to migrate in search of professional or living opportunities and/or, in
general, better-fulfilling lives.
In conclusion, the paper suggests that the case of Southern Euro Zone intra-EU BD
(like many other cases of transnational asymmetrical migrations) would be more properly
depicted as a lack of overall capabilities than as a matter of mere income shortages in the
sending countries. That is, the main drivers of the phenomenon can be the product not
only of economic and wages differences (as conventional economic models argue) but
also of structural inequalities, both at national and at EU level. That is, what push people
to migrate should be an unequal distribution of social opportunities more than a lack of
resources as such. For instance, the high unemployment rate for highly skilled people
may be incited not only by deficiency of investments in R&D (reinforced by austerity)
but also by sociocultural bias that impedes disadvantaged people to access (reduced)
social opportunities or resources. In the domestic level, the persistence of social
inequalities, lack of social mobility, and absence of a research culture as well as scarce
consideration for the importance of R&D development in the sending countries political
elites could be significant drivers for labor migration. At EU level, well-known
distortions of the EU integration (Amoroso 2000) and policy-making, for instance the
application of austerity (Fazi 2014), may aggravate the preexistent socioeconomic-
technological divide between the center and periphery of the EU.

6. Conclusions
The paper argued that to identify and explain several intra-EU BD cases the adoption of a
different framework, such as the one based on capabilities, should be particularly
profitable. It may be helpful to address the theoretical deficiencies of conventional
migration models, in particular the circular migration paradigm, and especially, regarding
the negative implications of asymmetrical migrations (i.e. BD) for the sending societies.
According to the indications of the present theoretical survey, the review of the
standard view and the application of a capability perspective to explore and explain
HSM and BD has several advantages. On the one hand, the conceptual shift from human
capital to human capabilities as the emphasis of the analyses on multiple elements
(also no-monetary aspects) broadens the behavioral assumptions of the conventional
theories increasing realism and thus models explanatory and predictive capacity. In fact,
the attention given to the multiple drivers of agents choice enriches conventional
analyses and opens a space also to take into account specific characteristics of the
contexts, in terms of political-sociocultural obstacles to equality for opportunities/
capabilities. The effort to consider not only economic efficiency outcomes but also
social welfare and social justice implications may help to more effectively promote
balanced growth and equal welfare opportunities for all EU regions and citizens.
Moreover, the application of a capability perspective may sustain intuitive beliefs about
460 A. Cenci

the essential role played by synergic collaboration between good quality education,
development strategies respectful of peoples needs, and a good system of social
protection in order to increase peoples opportunitiescapabilities to have a good life.
These factors, by reducing peoples vulnerability, may reduce the need to migrate in
search of life chances and thus let migration to be a real free choice. Indeed, people can
decide of moving or do not move according to their real desires and aspirations as well as
their freedom, autonomy, and self-determination will.
On the other hand, this papers inquiry attempted to show that the circular migration
paradigm assumptions about return, circulation, and exchange of people and knowledge
as well as expected gains of sending countries, in the case of the Southern Euro Zone (but
seems also for the eastern EU case), seem to be not really empirically founded. In these
conditions of asymmetrical migrations, the general benefits attached to the increasing of
European mobility would be very scarce for the sending countries. Conversely,
considering intra-EU HSM as circulation merely displaces the BD problem without
addressing the most harmful implications of the permanent leaving of skilled people for
the affected societies. It also make difficult to address sending countries requests of
possible compensations. Indeed, at policy level, even within the communitarian structure
of the EU, the adoption of circular migration models can be a disincentive to the design
of regulation that may control asymmetrical migrations. Otherwise, they could provide
ideological support to systematic exclusions of peripheral, underdeveloped regions of the
EU (not only the Southern Euro Zone) from the benefits of the knowledge economy. The
main problem is that such models are structurally incapable of addressing regional
underdevelopment, differences of competitiveness among the EU regions, structural
inequalities, and actual deficiencies of the EU integration those have repercussions on
intra-EU mobility. The unique focus on efficiency, by fact, might encourage regional
marginalization to the advantage of the strongest and technologically advanced European
economies. Moreover, it is believed that austerity measures are expected to enlarge the
north-south divide and prevent the knowledge economy upturn in southern Europe, thus
further reducing the possibility of effective and beneficial return and circular migration.
Finally, in the context of the EU and in time of crisis, the application of models
structurally inadequate to address the negative ethical and welfare implications of BD
may contribute to the violation of sending countries and of citizens, including the
migrants development and welfare rights. This would generate a noteworthy social
justice problem that if overlooked might undermine the legitimacy of the entire EU
A final recommendation of this paper is that, in order to properly understand
migrations, any tendency of decontextualize or oversimplify the migratory facts should
be avoided. In fact, social, economic, political, and cultural dynamics, both at EU and at
national level, may be primarily responsible for the substantial lack of opportunities for
highly skilled people in the Southern Euro Zone (or other underdeveloped areas of the
EU), and thus, they are pivotal elements in the analyses of intra-EU mobility. In fact, the
attention on how these factors may influence on the achievement of human capability is
crucial to constraint the insurgence of intra-EU BD or to regulate intra-EU mobility. In
last instance, to promote cooperation and solidarity among all members states and mutual
responsibility for all EU citizens welfare is also essential. At this point, the CA by
establishing the primacy of peoples needs and welfare rights beyond economic growth
imperatives may be useful to support more sustainable and fairer human flourishing
ideals as well as the creation of a borderless, rightful world where no one must be forced
for leaving the homeland or prevented of doing it.
Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research 461

1. The KAM Knowledge Index measures a countrys ability to generate, adopt, and diffuse
knowledge. This is an indication of overall potential of knowledge development in a given
country. It based on three key variables: education and human resources, the innovation system,
and information and communication technology (ICT). The Knowledge Economy Index (KEI)
takes into account whether the environment is conducive for knowledge to be used effectively
for economic development. It is an aggregate index that represents the overall level of
development of a country or region toward the knowledge economy. The KEI is calculated based
on four pillars related to the knowledge economy economic incentive and institutional regime,
education and human resources, the innovation system, and ICT:
2. Published on line on 11 July 2013 (

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