Brain drain or the movement of intellectual manpower of one country to the other in search of better prospects, career growth, and quality of life is not a new phenomenon. Countries that fail to provide a lucrative growth path to its qualified pool of talented people lose them to other countries this way.
Though brain drain does benefit home countries in terms of remittances, the loss in the long run, according to experts, is much larger. They believe the skilled people can serve their countries in a much better way by staying back and directly participating in the growth process.
For this reason, countries struggling to face the challenges launch programmes to bring back their best brains.
In the case of Pakistan, the skilled workers’ immigration programmes offered by developed countries have led whole batches of engineers, agriculturists, doctors, academics, etc, to leave the country in big numbers.
There is difference of opinion among experts on whether brain drain has negatively affected Pakistan.
In the presence of an economic slowdown, stalled industrial growth, and non-prevalence of merit-based recruitment and promotion systems, venues are limited for graduates rolling out every year.
Arshad Bajwa, an engineer, believes migration of young and energetic educated workers is an economic disadvantage in the shape of loss of skilled human capital. This, he says, is more prominent in the sectors where replacement of highly skilled people is difficult, like engineering and the health sector.
He says, “migration also has serious social problems, especially children and families left behind grow up in the absence of the head of the family, sometimes resulting in poor academic performance of the children”.
Bajwa adds that in order to control the massive brain drain, the government has to act rationally and swiftly. “First, the education system, especially technical education needs to be correlated with the requirements of the industry to ensure that the manpower is relevant and in demand.”
“Second, the government has to take steps to create a conducive environment for business and economic activity for generating new jobs. The reverse of brain drain, that is brain gain, is not quite workable as returning professionals face ‘reverse culture shock’. This phenomenon is explained as social shock to migrants returning to less developed countries after longer periods,” he adds.
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Adil Najam, Dean, Pardee School of Global Studies at Boston University and former Vice Chancellor at LUMS has a totally different opinion. In his view, brain drain is not a useful concept. “Certainly, not in today’s age of global connectivity and connection. To be fair, I did once consider it a useful, even important, issue but no longer think so.”
This premise, he thinks, “is wrong because it is demeaning to the many very talented people who are and remain in Pakistan and are doing amazing work in Pakistan.”
Najam says the concept seems to suggest or is often used as if all those who leave Pakistan are somehow more ‘brainy’ than those who remain in Pakistan. “All of this, of course, is just plain wrong. I should also say that not all of the ‘brain’ that goes abroad is much of a ‘drain’!”
Ali Salman, Executive Director Policy Research Institute of Market Economy tells TNS that about 62 per cent of the adults interviewed for a Gallup survey in 2014 said they would like to work abroad to make a career. In 1984, a similar survey carried out by the same organisation had showed only 17 per cent in favour of settling outside the country.
He says brain drain is a reality and many Pakistanis have been moving abroad mostly due to the high level of job dissatisfaction here.
According to figures obtained from the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis, 2.7 million Pakistanis have left the country in the last 5 years (2008 to 2013). Top six destinations for those migrating are: Saudi Arabia, UAE, USA, UK, Gulf countries, and EU countries.
Salman says the highly skilled professionals, such as doctors, are only around 1.4 per cent of the total people who migrate. A majority of them are technicians and agriculturists.
What must the government do to bring back talent from abroad? Najam says this is not something that it should do. He says there are a number of ‘schemes’ and interventions that attempt to bring back the so-called talent but as far as he can tell they are all failures. And this, in his opinion, is mostly because these schemes are based on a false assumption.
“They assume that talented Pakistanis are abroad because they can ‘earn’ more. Therefore, they offer lots of money and resources to bring them back. Invariably, these do not work. Mostly, they bring back folks who actually are not that talented in the first place and not doing much abroad,” he explains.
Najam says these schemes fail because they misdiagnose the problem. “From money and quality of life perspectives, even many ‘regular’ jobs in Pakistan are now as good as anywhere. The reason why the best talent moves is that it seeks the opportunity where that talent can be nurtured and used. What will bring the talent back is when there is an exciting opportunity and the ability to make a difference. We can see around us that when this is available, people do come back.”
Rana Imran, CEO of E-Clicks, a Lahore-based jobs and head hunting company, says real dilemma exists for professionals moving up the ladder. It is here where opportunities are limited, making experienced professionals look for opportunities abroad. “The employers also exploit workers as they know they will not be able to easily find a better-paying job in the market.”
He says things are much better in the developed countries. “For example, in France the employer has to give at least 10 per cent annual raise to the employees. Besides, if one leaves a job and opts for a new one, the new employer cannot hire him by law for less than what he was getting at his previous job.”
Imran says whenever there is expansion in a sector, jobs are created and even the Pakistani talent settled abroad returns. This has happened in the case of the telecom sector which was deregulated during the Musharraf regime. “There were similar expectations following the launch of 3G and 4G services but, unfortunately, this did not happen.” The licensing costs, he says, were too high but the companies could not sell their services at their desired rate due to affordability issues.
Imran says the concept of brain exchange also exists in Pakistan, that is import of professionals from abroad. “Just as other countries have destinations like Pakistan in mind to tap its human resource, Pakistan also looks for talent abroad. Recently, E-Clicks got a request from Pakistani employers to look for experienced factory managers from Bangladesh and Sri Lanka,” he adds.
This article was published in The News on Sunday on October 25, 2015 with the title Skill of bringing them back.