Stay Or Leave: Puerto Rico’s Brain Drain Question

By: Carla Vera

A brain drain discussion panel was held in the University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez on October 17, 2013. Economist Orlando Sotomayor, sociologist Michael González and mechanical engineering student Bryan Rullán where in the panel giving in sight solutions for the brain damage in Puerto Rico.

In the last decade Puerto Rico has suffered what we now are starting to call “brain drain.” This term means that Puerto Rico’s best talents, professionals and students are leaving to the United States looking for a better life style.

Professor González said that the cost of living in Puerto Rico has higher rates than New York and Florida. Puerto Ricans pay 20 percent more for water and 70 percent more for energy services. He added that Puerto Rico’s working class “pays contributions but still cannot feel safe in their own house, or how you put your children in private schools for better education.” Basically working class pay for a safe country but still look for private schools, alarm systems and private medical plans.

Professionals here in Puerto Rico confront the decision if they stay in the island or flee to the United States daily. “The island on the other hand has another alternative,” Professor Sotomayor said “we have to make this island one that people will not want to leave, an island where people will want to move in.”

Students face the ideal of graduating and becoming rich professional after busting themselves in all the years of hard studies; that is why most of Puerto Ricans leave to the United States to pursue their profession. For medicine doctors the United States has a better salary to offer than Puerto Rico as Danica Coto said in her Huffington post article.

With more human capital leaving this means less capital will be invested here in Puerto Rico, which brings the case where the island’s economy just gets worse. U.S. Department of Labor data shows that in the last decade Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate has been 14 percent of which just counts the unemployed who are looking for jobs and not counting the unemployed who are currently not looking for work opportunities.

Discussion panel members agreed on a possible solution for the brain drain. They all say that every student should learn about their respective fields and also basic business skills.

Professor González says the University has to change its philosophy. It has to create professionals that know how to do their job, sell their job and not just think about the type of salary they can obtain somewhere else.

The brain drain has never existed in Puerto Rico till recently. They were always Puerto Ricans leaving the island to the U.S. in seek of a better life quality but they were people that left with a school diploma, they were basic skilled workers. “Today the number of people that leave P.R. are the best professionals and people with higher educational degrees such as MD’s and PhD’s,” professor Sotomayor said.

Sotomayor added: “The census calculates that by the year 2050 Puerto Rico’s population will lower to 2.3million in which half of them will be elderly.” In the future P.R. will be left with no professionals such as doctors making people travel for medical treatments.

Puerto Rico  needs to find a way to make their citizens stay instead of leaving. Like Bryan Rullán said, “the biggest reward you can get is to work in the place where you grew up, the place where you culture is essential and makes you, you”.


*PhD economist Orlando Sotomayor talking about how the island economy is affected by the Brain Drain.

*PhD economist Orlando Sotomayor talking about how the island economy is affected by the Brain Drain.


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