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Brain drain and its impact on economy

Pakistanis have transferred almost some 750 million dollars over the past few months just to Canada alone


Oct 09 - 15, 2000

According to a survey report published in English language National Daily, over 100,000 persons, mostly highly qualified talented youngmen, have left Pakistan during the past about one year to try their luck overseas mainly in Western countries.

Though it is difficult to be 100 per cent accurate and upto date on the subject, it is estimated that some five million Pakistanis are now living abroad including those leaving the country during the past year. Out of the total 2.5 million live in the Middle East; more than million in Canada & USA, about 750,000 in UK and rest spread over the world. The immigration pattern has, however, been changed during the past few years and more significantly during the past one year. Previously it was mainly the labour class but now it is mostly the highly qualified youths and middle aged moneyed class.

Over the past couple of years, perhaps as a consequence of a worsening economy at home and a liberal Canadian immigration policy, Toronto has attracted the most number of Pakistanis searching for a home outside of their country of birth. Toronto city officials claim that there are at least 300,000 South Asians "living in Toronto, including Pakistanis, East Indians (including Sikhs), Sri Lankans and others". Of the 100,000, some one-third are Pakistanis.

Sources out of the Canadian High Commission in Islamabad reveal that 3,000 "entrepreneur visas" were issued over the recent past. To be sure, an "Entrepreneur Visa" depending on the applicant's selected province of destination, requires an investment of Canadian 150,000 to 250,000 dollars. If Toronto has indeed been the destination of choice, then Pakistanis have transferred almost some 750 million dollars over the past few months just to Canada alone.

Then there is US "Investor Visas" under categories EB-5, E-I and E-2 that require up to $1 million. The overall figure to all countries put together for the past couple of years may even be in excess of $6 billion. Former prime minister, Benazir has claimed that $4 billion has recently moved out of Pakistan.

The other indicator of the number of Pakistanis wanting to leave is the size of the queues outside the embassies and High Commissions (and also the way the rupee is dropping). Gerry's, the designated courier company of the US Embassy, has reportedly been receiving some 35,000 passports a month (directly or indirectly: including B-1, L-1, H-iB, O Visa, P Visa, F-1, J-1, EB-1, EB-2, EB-3, EB-5, I-130 and I-140). No more than a thousand visa applicants are successful on an average day but all that means a wholesome Rs.10 million a month for Gerry's.

In a despatch from Washington daily Dawn correspondent reported last week that the US quota of 115,000 Visas for foreign born information technology experts last year was utilized by American companies within six months. Half the quota was grabbed by the Indians some 57,500 men (and probably women). this year, the covered H-1B quota of visas is expected to be raised to 200,000 with the Indians once again claiming 50 per cent or thereabouts. We do not have comparable figures for Pakistan, but the number those migrating to the Land of Opportunity is said to be considerable. This looks like an exodus of talented Indians and Pakistanis to the United States. And the United States is not the only country hunting for talent in South Asia. German Chancellor Gerhard plans to give 20,000 work permits for IT experts from abroad. Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori promised to relax his country's tough immigration rules for Indian experts when he visited that country in August.

Over the years, Pakistan has been beset by a number of problem while social indicators have not improved, economic conditions in general have been deteriorating. Nonetheless, people were more or less patient, hoping for a good future and expecting the events to take a turn for the better. The scene, however, seems to have changed considerably in the last few months. Though it is difficult to pinpoint the reasons, most of people who have the chance and can afford the expenses are leaving the country almost en-masse to avail the economic opportunities or take refuge abroad. The lengthening queues of visa seekers at various embassies and non-availability of seats on airlines leaving the country indicate the trend. PIA has expanded its capacity on European and Latin American routes but still finds it difficult to cope with the heavy load factor. A substantial number of investors are buying Canadian citizenship and the U.S. embassy is reported to have suddenly become generous with its visas, baffling a lot of persons who now get them quick.

It is an established norm that before losing the investors the country loses their capital, which flies ahead of them. According to some estimates, the amount of money sent abroad through various channels in the recent past may well be nearly 4 billion. Some analysts claim that this is one of the most potent reasons affecting the value of the rupee in the market. All developing countries have suffered brain drain at some stage, but the investor drain is something peculiar and could have a long-term devastating effect on this country and its people.

This phenomenon is evident in almost in every area. The price of real estate in posh areas has plummeted by about 50 per cent yet there are no buyers. Credit expansion in the private sector during 1999-2000 was only Rs. 14 billion as against the target of Rs.104.5 billion. Never in the past was the actual utilization of credit so low compared to its allocation. Industrial activity is almost at a standstill. Some of the factories are reported to have been converted into warehouses for storing imported goods.

Viewed from any angle, the trend is highly disturbing. Migration on such a large scale had taken place in the 1970s but overall, it had a beneficial impact on the economy. The manpower migrating at that time was mostly unskilled and semi-skilled and therefore unemployable within the country. The oil boom did not only release pressure on the employment level but brought windfall gains in the shape of huge inflows of petro dollars and thus helped the balance of payments situation. It is another matter that the authorities of the country frittered away this boom largely on conspicuous consumption, which did not add to the assets or productive capacity of the economy. This time the situation is entirely different. Enterprise and capital that are the backbone of an economy are leaving the country probably for good and therefore cannot be expected to remit their earnings to their motherland. Migrants also include highly competent doctors, engineers, IT specialists and other professionals on whom the nation had invested heavily and who cannot be easily replaced. Without them, the country would become barren of ideas, initiative and enterprise, which are the dominant factors in determining the level and quality of modern development.

This exodus needs to be stopped before it is too late. However, mere persuasion or administrative actions would not do the trick. The songs of patriotism can only affect the mind and that too to a limited extent, in special circumstances and at critical times in nation's history. The universal truth is that man is guided by basic instincts of security and material prosperity. We have to create the conditions in which the emigrants instead of plunging into uncharted waters prefer, willingly and freely, to stay and work for their own country. In order to undertake such an effort, an objective assessment is needed to identify the factors that have accelerated the momentum of emigration. This is a task which should urgently be taken up by the present government.