Morocco's strategy for talent migration


The loss of skilled personnel due to emigration from one country to another is widely known as 'brain drain' or 'talent drain', meaning the loss of highly qualified people who decide to emigrate in search of better career opportunities. This brain drain phenomenon is now becoming the dominant pattern of international migration, as well as a fundamental aspect of public policies for the promotion of economic development. 

In this regard, it is worth recalling that the right to leave any country, including one's own, has been recognised as a fundamental right for all, yet when exercised by qualified individuals, it is often seen more as a harm to the country of origin, rather than a fundamental right. Thus, a former Tanzanian president did not hesitate to compare the skilled migrant to a traitor: someone to whom the people entrust their last provisions and who no longer returns to help his or her relatives. Others, less harshly, attribute responsibility not to the people who migrate but to those who allow them to do so by opening their borders or selecting the most talented. When brain drain becomes a problem, countries that feel they are affected tend to implement a set of public policies to combat the phenomenon.

In Morocco, the issue has recently been the subject of parliamentary discussion, political declarations and institutional concern in the educational, scientific and technological fields. Before examining the strategic options adopted by the Kingdom of Morocco to maximise the positive effect of the migration of its skills and minimise its negative effect, it would be pertinent to take a brief look at the different theories that have attempted to explain the causes and effects of talent migration.

First of all, it should be borne in mind that the globalised and competitive market for knowledge and skills is constantly provoking a real and increasingly fierce competition for qualified human resources. This rivalry between industrialised countries and emerging countries of the South, but also between industrialised countries themselves, poses a fundamental challenge known as the war for talent, which involves attracting, retaining and motivating high-performing personnel, given that the development of human capital is a very relevant investment for the future of any country.

In general, there were three main schools of thought that analysed the effects of brain drain on the migrants' country of origin: the first, dating back to the 1960s, considered that this type of migration would only have a neutral effect on the economies of the countries of origin. The second, in the 1970s, considers that skilled labour migration is detrimental to a country's human capital stock and development, thereby increasing development and wealth inequalities between the rich countries that receive skilled migrants and the poor countries that send them out. The third current sees this type of migration as an incentive to human capital formation and a source of positive externalities such as the creation of a globalised professional network, in addition to the transfer of money and knowledge. The main thesis developed within the framework of this theory is that brain drain in a context of globalisation has both negative and positive effects on the sending countries. The literature and empirical data show that emigration has a negative impact on public spending on education (due to the lack of return on investment for the country of origin) but a positive impact on human capital formation through the incentive effect induced by the probability of migrating. 

The question then is how the public policies of the country of origin intervene so that the positive effects outweigh the negative ones, or vice versa. The emergence of this new view of brain drain is concomitant with the access to new empirical data on skilled immigration.  In this sense, the advocates of this third wave of contemporary studies on the subject see the criticisms of brain drain as ideological, purely nationalistic and largely outdated positions.

It is also worth noting that, in the context of these contemporary empirical studies, the brain gain theory was developed, which argues that the advantages for a domestic economy derived from the emigration of graduates and skilled workers can, under certain conditions, outweigh the disadvantages caused by this emigration. Brain gain theorists argue that the immigration of highly skilled people can be beneficial for the country of origin, stressing that brain gain is achieved mainly through the formation and strengthening of networks of professionals and scientists.

In Morocco, the migration of skilled human resources is an increasingly topical phenomenon, and only in the last few years has it become a fundamental concern of the state, signalling a proactive and proactive commitment at the institutional level, which is being translated into a series of acts, of which the following four are the most important:

  • First of all, the royal speech of 20 August 2022, on the occasion of the 69th anniversary of the Revolution of the King and the People, in which HM King Mohammed VI set the strategic orientations to optimise the involvement of the Moroccan community abroad in the development process, and especially the involvement of all skills and expertise outside the country, whether working and settling in Morocco or through different types of partnership and contribution from their countries of residence. Stressing the need to establish permanent structural relations with Moroccan skills abroad, the monarch calls for the creation of a special tool to accompany these skills and talents, supporting their initiatives and projects so that they can give their best for the country and its development.
  • In the same vein, the ministerial commission in charge of Moroccans living abroad and immigration affairs has set up a working group dedicated to skills, which, in accordance with the strategic vision set out in the royal speech, should develop concrete proposals on the rehabilitation and modernisation of the institutional framework in this area, as well as on the ways and means of detecting skills and their compatibility with the country's needs, in addition to promoting networking and administrative governance. The final version of all the proposals issued will be ready by the end of January, in anticipation of the meeting of the ministerial commission to be chaired by the Head of Government next February.
  • The holding of the national forum dedicated to Moroccan skills in the world on 29 October 2022, by the Ministry of Higher Education, Scientific Research and Innovation, in partnership with the Council of the Moroccan Community Abroad (CCME) and the National Centre for Scientific and Technical Research (CNRST). This meeting was an opportunity to examine more closely the expectations and aspirations of these skills and to plan the means to mobilise them in the development of the country in general, and in strengthening the quality and effectiveness of the ecosystem of higher education, scientific research and innovation in particular. 
  • The publication by the Economic, Social and Environmental Council (EESC) of an advisory opinion at the end of December entitled "Strengthening the intergenerational link between Moroccans of the World and Morocco, opportunities and challenges". In line with the royal speech of 20 August, this opinion aims to shed light on the degree of attachment of Moroccans from all over the world to their country of origin and their involvement in its development, as well as their motivations, needs and expectations. In order to better understand and get to know the Moroccans of the World (MDM), strengthen the protection of their rights, co-construct innovative links with them, support and encourage the contribution of expatriate talents to the development of the Kingdom in all fields (scientific, academic, industrial, in the fields of arts and culture), the EESC advocated the establishment of a renewed institutional architecture of policies and mechanisms dedicated to Moroccans around the world.

These four institutional acts, which marked the state's policy over the last four months, were carried out in a context characterised, among other aspects, by a recent trend of Moroccan emigration towards new horizons, particularly towards North America, with a notable increase in the educational levels of the migrant population. According to the latest national survey on international migration, conducted by the High Commissioner for the Plan (HCP), one in three current Moroccan migrants (33.5%) has attained higher education. Among immigrants from North America, higher education is much better represented, 76% compared to 48.9% for former European countries of immigration, 28.4% for Arab countries and 10.9% for new European countries of immigration.

In addition to the consideration of these important data reflecting a quite significant transformation in Moroccan migration, it is worth recalling in this context the fact that the whole world witnessed, during the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, the beautiful and active demonstration of the strength of the ties that exist between Moroccans in the world and their homeland. These ties draw their essence from the strong sense of belonging that animates our fellow citizens scattered around the world, a feeling cemented by attachment to the traditions and values of Moroccan identity and by a constantly renewed patriotism.

Aware of the importance of this human capital as a lever for the country's development efforts in the context of global competitiveness, the Moroccan authorities are therefore putting in place new mechanisms to promote the management of their qualified resources living abroad, with the aim of getting to know them more fully and mobilising their talents in an innovative way.

Based on these new mechanisms based on the enlightened vision of HM the King, the various State institutions will henceforth be able to implement public policies on the governance of national skills abroad, policies that respect the right to mobility of people as a fundamental human right, that break with short-term seasonal initiatives, that promote concrete and innovative measures, integrated policies that favour the optimisation of training and the management of human capital, ambitious policies that aim to build a network of the Moroccan scientific and professional diaspora, as well as access to the global market of the knowledge economy.