Brains and Drains in Pakistan

Last May-June when political instability and economic disparity of Pakistan were at their lowest Ebb, it was very much in the air that a record-breaking 800,000 Pakistanis had left the country in the first half of 2023, with at least 100,000 of them being highly skilled professionals, including doctors, nurses, engineers, IT experts, and accountants. It was incredible though to believe such a huge exodus of talent out of Pakistan in such a short time but soon afterwards, this incredible news was confirmed as true by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment department to the surprise of all of us. Though immigration from Pakistan to other countries was a common practice for several decades, yet such a high number of immigrants were never reported before.
In view of our degrading civil and economic conditions where there are not enough jobs to cater to our surging population, nor there are adequate laboratories or research centres where new advances in fresh discoveries of knowledge could be taken up and tested, most of the fresh youth seeing a dismal picture at home leave their country in frustration for greener pastures and looking for a better future. Pakistan is currently facing a bit of a dilemma as to how to deal with this pattern of mass migration. Migration is a complex and multi-faceted problem which has both benefits and drawbacks at the same time. More immigration will expose more public to the explosion of new knowledge from foreign universities, our diaspora will intermix with cultures of various foreign countries and by direct contact very soon imbibe their ways and methods which can enrich our own culture.
The other side of the picture is that expanding our huge expenditure on the construction of our effective and better-equipped educational institutions with our own funds or with expensive foreign aid, and if our own students do not avail their benefit, then allowing them to leave the country in large numbers to acquire the same education from the foreign universities would be a sheer waste of national wealth and also a waste of expensive foreign exchange.
The immigration during the first seven months of 2023 (January to July) has seen 450,110 Pakistanis leave their homeland in pursuit of work opportunities abroad, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment. This includes a diverse mix of individuals from various professional backgrounds and qualifications. Nearly 198,000 ‘unskilled’ Pakistani workers also joined them and went abroad under the Labour category. Brain drain from the emigration of highly skilled and educated individuals from one country to another has always been a persistent challenge for Pakistan. For several years many talented Pakistanis have sought opportunities abroad, which resulted in a great loss of human capital.
Thus, it is necessary to propose and take urgent steps to reduce or slow down this alarming drain of talent to other countries.
However, it cannot be altogether stopped because it has a number of positive points favourable for Pakistan’s economy. The wealth the expatriates earn through their sheer hard work abroad is sent back to their dependents and to their country which is called remittances which are regarded as one of the most significant incomes of the country. The government has been urged to create domestic employment opportunities and formulate policies to encourage the return of skilled expatriates to contribute to the country’s development. More professional classes like Doctors and Engineers etc. went to countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada etc. while average workmen and the labour force went to the Middle East. They all immigrated to pursue better living standards and professional growth overseas. That trend is still continuing in the current decade.
In order to slow down this drain of talent abroad, Pakistan must focus on economic reforms to create an environment that can foster innovation, create jobs and take the lead in various enterprises. Offering competitive salaries is another incentive which can discourage individuals from seeking employment abroad. Investing in Education which means strengthening the education system and providing higher quality education including laboratories can not only help retain local talent but also attract international students to Pakistan. Establishing research laboratories and Innovation centres can create opportunities for scientists, researchers, and inventors to work on groundbreaking projects within their own country.

The writer is a provincial civil servant in Punjab and an author.

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