The Exodus Of Talent From Pakistan: Why It Happens And How To Reverse It – OpEd

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Pakistan is a country that is losing its most valuable asset: its human capital. According to the official statistics, over 765,000 Pakistanis left the country in 2022 including 92,000 highly educated professionals such as doctors, engineers, information technology experts and accountants.

This was a 300 percent increase from the previous year when 225,000 Pakistanis migrated abroad. This phenomenon, known as brain drain, has serious implications for the development and progress of Pakistan as it deprives the country of its potential leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, and other professionals who could have contributed to the economic, social, cultural, and political spheres of the country. 

Here, we will try to shed some light on the causes, consequences and solutions of brain drain in Pakistan. 

Causes of Brain Drain

One of the main causes of brain drain is the political unrest and instability in Pakistan. The country has been facing a series of challenges such as corruption, terrorism, sectarian violence, civil-military tensions and constitutional crises that have undermined the democratic system and the rule of law. These factors have created a sense of insecurity and uncertainty among the people especially the educated and professional class who fear for their lives and livelihoods. Many of them have lost faith in the government and the institutions, and have decided to leave the country for safer and more stable destinations. 

Another cause of brain drain is the economic crisis and the lack of opportunities in Pakistan. The country has been struggling with low growth, high inflation, fiscal deficit, debt burden and balance of payments problems that have eroded the purchasing power and the living standards of the people. The government has also failed to provide adequate investment and support for the education and health sectors which are essential for human development and social welfare. The quality and quantity of education and health services are poor and insufficient and many people cannot afford them. Moreover, the job market is saturated and competitive, and there are few opportunities for career advancement and innovation. The salaries and incentives are low and do not match the skills and qualifications of the workers. As a result, many talented and educated people are dissatisfied and frustrated with their situation, and seek better prospects and rewards abroad. 

Consequences of Brain Drain

The consequences of brain drain are manifold and detrimental for Pakistan. On the one hand, brain drain deprives the country of its human capital and intellectual resources which are vital for its development and progress. The loss of skilled and educated people means the loss of potential leaders, innovators, entrepreneurs, scientists, engineers, doctors, teachers, and other professionals who could have contributed to the economic, social, cultural, and political spheres of the country. The loss of human capital also reduces the tax base and the domestic demand which negatively affects the public revenue and the economic growth. Furthermore, brain drain creates a gap in the supply and demand of skilled labor which leads to a shortage of qualified personnel and a decline in the quality and efficiency of the services and products. 

On the other hand, brain drain also has some positive effects for Pakistan. One of them is the remittances that the emigrants send back to their families and communities which provide a source of income and foreign exchange for the country. According to the World Bank, Pakistan received $31.3 billion in remittances in 2022, which accounted for 9.4% of its GDP. Remittances help to reduce poverty, improve living standards, and stimulate consumption and investment in the country. Another positive effect of brain drain is the transfer of knowledge and skills that the emigrants acquire and share with their counterparts in Pakistan through various channels such as return migration, diaspora networks, online platforms, and joint projects. This transfer of knowledge and skills can enhance the human capital and the innovation capacity of Pakistan, and foster collaboration and cooperation between the emigrants and the local actors. 

Solutions to Brain Drain

Reversing brain drain is a challenging task that requires long-term planning and commitment from both the sending and receiving countries. However, it is not impossible, and there are some success stories of reversing brain drain in other countries such as China, India, Ireland Lebanon and South Korea. Some of the possible measures to reverse brain drain are: 

– Improving the political stability and the security situation in the country by strengthening the democratic system and the rule of law, combating corruption and terrorism, promoting tolerance and harmony, and resolving the internal and external conflicts.

– Enhancing the economic performance and the opportunities in the country by implementing sound macroeconomic policies and structural reforms, diversifying the sources of growth and income, increasing the public spending and investment in the education and health sectors, improving the quality and accessibility of the education and health services, creating a competitive and dynamic job market, and offering attractive salaries and incentives for the skilled and educated workers.

– Encouraging the participation and the contribution of the emigrants to the development and progress of the country by maintaining close ties and communication with them, recognizing and appreciating their achievements and potentials, facilitating their return and reintegration, supporting their initiatives and projects, and involving them in the policy-making and decision-making processes. 

The best practices and examples of other countries in dealing with brain drain

Pakistan can learn from the best practices and examples of other countries that have successfully dealt with brain drain, or have turned it into a brain gain. Some of these countries are:

– China: China has implemented various policies and programs to attract and retain its highly skilled workers, especially in the fields of science and technology. These include offering competitive salaries and incentives, providing research grants and facilities, establishing science and technology parks and clusters, creating a favorable legal and regulatory environment and promoting international collaboration and exchange. China has also launched the Thousand Talents Plan, which aims to recruit leading scientists and experts from abroad to work in China. As a result, China has become a global leader in innovation and development, and has achieved remarkable economic and social growth .

– India: India has leveraged its large and diverse diaspora to enhance its human capital and innovation capacity. India has established various institutions and initiatives to engage and connect with its diaspora, such as the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the Overseas Citizenship of India, and the Global Innovation and Technology Alliance. India has also benefited from the reverse migration of its skilled professionals who have returned to the country to start or join businesses, projects, or initiatives especially in the fields of information technology, biotechnology and renewable energy. India has also fostered a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation by providing support and opportunities to its young and talented population .

– Ireland: Ireland has experienced both brain drain and brain gain in its history, depending on its economic and political situation. Ireland has faced a massive emigration of its skilled and educated people during the 1980s and 1990s due to the economic recession and the political conflict. However, Ireland has also witnessed a remarkable recovery and transformation in the 2000s due to the economic boom and the peace process. Ireland has attracted and retained its highly skilled workers, by creating a favorable business environment, by investing in education and research, by joining the European Union, and by attracting foreign direct investment and multinational corporations. Ireland has also maintained a strong link with its diaspora, by providing citizenship and voting rights, by facilitating return and reintegration, and by supporting cultural and social activities . 

As a matter of fact, brain drain is a complex and multifaceted phenomenon that has both negative and positive impacts for Pakistan. However, the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones, and pose a serious threat to the future of the country. Therefore, it is imperative for the government and the society to address the root causes of brain drain and to create a conducive environment for the retention and attraction of the skilled and educated people. This will not only benefit the country but also the emigrants themselves who may find more satisfaction and fulfillment in their homeland. 

Brain drain is not a fate, but a choice, and it can be changed with the collective will and effort of the people. Pakistan has the potential and the talent to overcome its challenges and problems, and to achieve its goals and aspirations, if it can harness and utilize its human resources effectively and efficiently. Pakistan needs its brains, and its brains need Pakistan.

Altaf Moti

Altaf Moti writes on diverse topics such as politics, economics, and society.

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