People are our most valuable asset. They must feel secure, in control of their destiny, confident in their leadership, and believe that they are being treated fairly. No country with educated and technically trained human resources is poor and no country with a predominantly illiterate, untrained human resource is rich. Brain drain has a negative impact on the home country, such as a reduction of human capital, limited capacity to innovate, reduced economic growth, demographic shifts, reduction in tax revenues, and hindering real GDP growth. Access and availability of quality human resources is a key stimulant to any economy.
Since its birth, Pakistan has unfortunately lacked the wisdom to recognize and contain its intellectual human resource pool. Intelligent people with skills and competence find the country an inhospitable place for their services. The last few years have witnessed a sharp rise in brain drain in Pakistan.
According to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, over 765,000 Pakistanis headed abroad for employment in 2022. Saudi Arabia was the most preferred destination, attracting 514,909. The actual number of people leaving is much larger though since the data only covers work visas whereas many categories of emigrants such as those traveling out on permanent residency visas, student visas, and family settlement visas are not included. Imagine the scale of the loss that our country has endured due to its brightest minds leaving. The data is overwhelming, indicating the country is losing bright individuals at an alarming rate- nearly 10 million in the last 20 years due to a variety of push and pull factors.
Corruption, mismanagement, nepotism and cronyism, gender inequality, and a predatory job market are some of the push factors behind this immense brain drain facing Pakistan.
A recent 2023 survey by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PUDE) titled “Desire to Live in Pakistan: Stay or Leave?” reveals 37 percent would want out if given the opportunity. A similar survey by Gallup conducted earlier in May 2022 puts the number of people willing to leave Pakistan at 26 percent, if offered employment abroad.
The biggest growth is witnessed in some of the qualified and highly skilled categories. Manpower export of doctors, engineers, IT experts, accountants, and scientists in 2022 is the highest ever yearly number. The rest were mostly traveling to the Gulf to work as laborers, masons, drivers, and other blue-collar positions.
While the impact of this brain drain is evident, Pakistan continually fails to engage this issue with the urgency it deserves. The issue is currently being exacerbated by political instability, unequal opportunities, a challenging law and order situation, unhealthy workplace cultures, and an overwhelmed healthcare and education system falling apart at the seams due to a number of systemic issues. People in droves are leaving for jobs abroad amidst the country’s financial and security woes that have only grown recently with a surge in terrorism, a brain drain that threatens to further damage the already struggling economy.
The dire state of the Pakistani economy offers few reasons to stay mainly because of the uncertain economic and political situation with dwindling job opportunities, growing pessimism, and thanks to skyrocketing inflation, the possibility of long-term economic hardship. The cost of living in Pakistan is also high and many people, especially the salaried class find it difficult to make ends meet . Young Pakistanis, who account for the majority of the population, face bleak prospects.
The government apparently is not cognizant of the reality that Pakistan’s population has a significant youth portion of 65 percent which can either turn out to be a massive liability or an incredible asset. Many people with advanced degrees find it difficult to land positions that suit their skill sets and offer them a respectable salary.
They are compelled to look abroad where they may make more money, have better living conditions consequently, and a better return on investment of their time and labor, as well as a secure future for their children. Most of the people are liquidating their assets or borrowing loans for immigration and leaving with no intention of returning. The country continues to nurse and nourish the bureaucracy and powerful ruling elites, leaving highly educated workers and skilled professionals to fend for themselves.
However, some analysts do argue that the issue is being blown out of proportion because if 800,000 are moving out of a 220 million population, it barely makes 0.4 percent and hence is not as big an issue. There is no doubt that we are getting foreign remittances as a result of brain drain but can we comprehend that the money they send could be a better substitute in exchange of the services that these professionals are extending to other host states and thereby becoming a source of their rapid economic, scientific and technological development.
If proper infrastructure is provided to them within their homeland, Pakistan could earn manifold than the money it receives as foreign remittances which have reportedly declined by a whopping 10 percent this year.
The grave problem of Pakistan’s brain drain is therefore impeding its national growth and development. Reversing this trend of rampant brain drain is a no-brainer. It demands a significant departure from the status quo.
To address the issue of brain drain, Pakistan needs to adopt a multi-pronged strategy. First and foremost, it needs to expand the economic opportunities available to highly educated and competent professionals in the country. This can be done by promoting entrepreneurship, inviting foreign investment, and fostering an environment that is conducive to business. Pakistan should take a cue from India where several initiatives to support start-up incubators and funding opportunities to encourage talented individuals to stay and contribute to the country’s economy.
Secondly, the government also needs to address the security concerns, political turbulence, and social discontent that are propelling people away. This requires a comprehensive policy aimed at establishing the rule of law, promoting peace and stability, and ensuring the safety of its citizens.
Thirdly, in order to retain its talent, Pakistan must make investments in the healthcare and education sectors. This entails improving the quality of education and healthcare services and providing incentives to healthcare and education department professionals for research and innovation.
Lastly, a system of merit must be adopted; otherwise, Pakistan will continue to lose its skilled labor to countries where benefits and opportunities are plentiful.
By adopting the above practices, learning from examples of neighboring states, and implementing similar policies and initiatives, Pakistan can counter the brain drain and retain talented individuals to contribute to the country’s development.
Let us not do anything which may instigate a brain drain of qualified and technical professionals to look outside our borders to make a living. The government, relevant stakeholders, and potential investors will need to strategically collaborate to incentivize and facilitate highly skilled professionals to remain in Pakistan by ensuring that they can lead productive, healthy, and rewarding lives within Pakistan.
Brain drain could be a game changer and transform into an eventual brain gain, if those leaving the country returned after achieving higher education, training, and professional development, subsequently supporting their respective fields of work with new knowledge and acumen. There is an Arabic saying that goes “my home is where I can eat.” One hopes that those seeking a better life through the sheer will of their hard work can find a home in Pakistan.