62 percent or more than two-third of Pakistan's adult population would like to go abroad to work

July 28 - Aug 03, 2003



Generally the migration of highly skilled workers from less developed countries to developed countries is referred as "Brain Drain". A recent UN report says that most South Asian countries are suffering from a brain drain and Pakistan is one of them.

Most of the time people migrate abroad in search of better economic and social opportunities for both migrants and their families, offered by the host countries as compared to the economic and social opportunities found at home country. Brain drain drivers are those factors which propel the professionals to migrate. These drivers can be divided into two main categories. "Pull Factors" and "Push Factors". Pull factors are the attractive factors, present in the developed markets that draw emerging market professionals towards them. These factors include professional opportunities, salary differentials, upgraded living standards, better education and safety. While push factors are the elements, present at home country that makes it necessary for the skilled people to migrate. These factors include lack of career opportunities, poor economy, injustice, deteriorating law and order, political instability and social imbalances.

The international migration of professional people is not a new phenomenon, what is new however, is the extent to which it has affected the developing countries today. These trends are likely to have been confirmed in the 1990s in the face of the increasingly "quality-selective" immigration policies in the US and most other OECD countries. In the US, since the Immigration Act of 1990 followed by the American Competitiveness of Work Force Improvement Act of 1998, emphasis has been put on the selection of highly skilled workers through a system of quotas favoring candidates with academic degrees or specific professional skills. Although the causes of the brain drain are largely internal, but US and OECD countries' selective entry criteria that target best and brightest professionals have compounded the problem. Canada welcomes skilled workers, America offers vast package to good doctors and IT professionals and Australia operates a point system to separate the more productive visa applicants from the less so.

Pakistani professionals have been leaving the country at an alarming rate in the last three decades as they look for better opportunities and benefits outside their home country. Over the last three decade, immigration from Pakistan has increased sharply. Many professionals including engineers, scientist, computer programmers, agricultural specialist make the major part of immigrants and many are lured by slick consultants for immigration visa, of course, for a hefty fee. According to official estimates of Pakistan Overseas Employment Corporation, close to 36,000 professionals including IT specialist, doctors, engineers and teachers have migrated to other countries in the last 30 years. Interestingly this number is indicative of only a small proportion of actual migration, since the majority of immigrants do not register.

According to Gallup Pakistan survey, 62 percent or more than two-third of Pakistan's adult population would like to go abroad to work. The survey also found that half of those wishing to work overseas did not wish to return home. Whereas a similar survey carried out in 1984, found only 17 percent of Pakistani are eager to settle abroad. Analyst at Gallup linked this alarming brain drain to two main causes—a declining hope in the country's economic future and new technologies of globalization which have facilitated travel and constant telecom link.

In Pakistan, the migration rate is higher among educated people with specific skills because in Pakistan salary level for skilled workers (relative to unskilled worker) is often kept forcibly low by government to maintain an egalitarian income policy and this problem is compounded when the advancement for the highly skilled professionals is limited in a system where individuals often gain jobs and other opportunities through personal contact and other unfair means versus merit.

Currently the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and UK are the most sought after destinations for Pakistani professionals. Even though the large number of Pakistanis move to Gulf area but majority of them are unskilled or semi-skilled but the Pakistani migrating to US and other OECD countries are largely most valued individuals.

For a country like Pakistan, which is facing acute brain drain dilemma, it becomes imperative to think about the cost that it has to pay for this brain drain. Some researchers argue that brain drain is detrimental for the home country of emigration because the exodus of highly-educated workers tends to depress income level and impede long-run economic growth rate. It also retards the economic development of home country by reducing their stock of human capital, which also hinders the attraction of physical capital and the development of effective social infrastructure. Whereas some researchers argue that, in a developing economy with a limited growth potential, the return to human capital is likely to be low, and if the return to education is higher abroad, the possibility of migration increase the expected return to human capital, thereby enhances domestic enrollment in education increases remittances and provides opportunities for knowledge flows and collaboration.



However when we will look at the ground realities we will realize that brain drain is not beneficial for our country and has failed to foster our economic growth through offering us the advantages of exodus of skilled professionals. This is because the higher education does not seem to count much in our countries when a large number of professionals are migrating. Most skilled migrants have studied in national educational institutions, where subsidies are more than 90 percent and the brain drain merely succeeds in transferring the benefits of these subsidies to the industrialized world who has not invested even a single penny in their education. Moreover, usually the quality of professionals who migrate is far superior to those who are left behind. A country like Pakistan where in, for 1529 people only one doctor is available, can't afford to export their professionals. Simultaneously official estimates show that, even though during the last ten years the immigration is mounting but the amount of remittances has decreased largely. The main reason behind this is that majority of these migrants have no plan to return back and they are frustrated of current socio-economic set-up of Pakistan and due to its unstable political environment and inconsistent economic policies they are not enthusiastic to invest here. Proponent of brain drain argues that it increase knowledge flow and collaboration like Bangalore Software Industry has ties with Indian computer experts present in Silicon Valley. Pakistan is yet unable to take advantage of such opportunities, because the large number of students and researchers, who go abroad to get advanced degree seldom return and also we have no common forum where Pakistani professionals are working in collaboration with professionals working abroad.

After matching the pros and cons of brain drain phenomenon with respect to Pakistan, we conclude that there is no doubt that brain drain is, indeed a peculiar problem because of its adverse growth effect. However no matter whatever the scenario is, brain drain continues in the immediate future as long as the driving forces remain present. If society is moving upward, then there is a feeling of optimism, progress, better education, greater wealth, less inequality, greater adherence to rule of law, development of viable institutions all of which measure "national health" of a country and Pakistan is "unhealthy" at this front. The worst thing that Pakistani nation is facing nowadays is a feeling of hopelessness. Efforts to reduce specific skill shortage through improved educational opportunities may be largely futile unless measures are taken to offset existing incentives for highly educated professionals to migrate.

Therefore, if Pakistan government is serious about stemming its alarming brain drain, it must take some quick measures. These include:

• Creation of better job opportunities on merit that adequately remunerate workers based on their skills and talent.

• Implementation of special tax policy imposed on the drained professional manpower, which will be collected by industrialized country government and eventually handed over to the Pakistan via the UN system.

• Social setup should be improved to provide equal opportunities to all.

• Appropriate government policies and incentives should be designed for those students and researchers who went abroad for higher studies.

• Preventing migration entirely would not be conducive, but government should take measures to control this human capital flight.

• Opportunities should be developed to establish ties with prominent scientist, professionals and researchers who are working abroad for collaboration.

• Finally, better education, better infrastructure, better health facilities and safety are the basic right of every citizen of Pakistan which is all the ultimate result of economic progress and good governance, at this front Pakistani government has to play a very vital role.

The author is currently working as a lecturer in the Department of Management Sciences at Isra University, Hyderabad.