Reframing Brain Drain Narrative to Focus on Poverty in Pakistan

The increasing unemployment rate in Pakistan is a major contributing factor to the country’s brain drain, as people try to flee their impoverished home country by taking menial jobs in other countries.

brain drain

Brain drain refers to the migration of highly educated and talented individuals from one nation to another. It is a big issue for a number of emerging nations, like Pakistan, which has seen a continuous exodus of brilliant people for years.

In December 2022, Pakistan’s Department of Immigration reported that more than 832,339 Pakistanis had registered overseas for jobs in the previous year, representing a surge of more than 300 percent in the number of Pakistanis departing the nation in search of better pastures. The majority of persons leaving Pakistan do so because they cannot find work, especially in blue-collar occupations. Just around 92,000 were physicians, engineers, IT experts, accountants, and other “highly trained” professionals. The bulk of the people traveled to the Gulf in order to work as laborers, masons, drivers, and in other blue-collar jobs.

The phenomenon of people wanting to leave Pakistan is not new. Most English-friendly audiences who read magazines such as Profit are increasingly concerned that the enormous number of persons emigrating is an indication of brain drain, an urgent fear that Pakistan is losing its brightest brains to more lucrative employment opportunities overseas. Yet, brain drain is primarily an urban legend.

This indicates a distinct issue in Pakistan, namely poverty. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, which only accounts for 18% of Pakistan’s population yet sends almost twice as many migrant laborers overseas in proportion to its population, is severely affected. In Pakistan, although working conditions are difficult and the majority of people want public employment, barely 8–10% are able to get it. Unfortunately, the remaining 90% have few alternatives. Although the administration may point to remittances and the benefits of having a large population living abroad, the calculation is not that straightforward.

At a recent two-day event dubbed EconFest, hosted by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE), the topic was extensively explored. A number of speakers discussed the many causes of brain drain in Pakistan. One of the most important factors is the dearth of employment prospects for people with advanced skills. According to Dr. Faheem Jehangir Khan, 31% of Pakistan’s educated youth are jobless, and 67% of youth desire to leave Pakistan. He emphasized the need to discuss population and youth concerns in order to find solutions to the issue.

Although some may see the availability of international employment as a good indicator, the fact is that it reveals the tragic reality that many cannot even earn this much at home. Pakistan has a high unemployment rate, and individuals, particularly the unskilled and semiskilled labor force, cannot find job. The crisis must be addressed, and Pakistan must do more to provide employment opportunities.

According to the Ministry’s report for 2022, only 1902 and 2777 of the 832,339 immigrants were highly qualified and highly talented, respectively. In contrast, the vast majority of 24445 were unskilled. According to a recent assessment by BR Research, which analyzed the data when it was originally provided, the top five occupational categories for 2022 would maintain the same rankings as the 10-year average. The group of unskilled laborer has the largest representation at 43%. This is followed by drivers, whose demand will increase 2.5-fold by 2022, tripling the 10-year average share from 14 to 28 percent.

Around 80% of emigrants are unskilled or semi-skilled workers attempting to make ends meet back home. Individuals are fleeing Pakistan because they cannot find work, and the few jobs that do exist pay low wages. Typically, workers earn between PKR 35,000 and 45,000 per month, which is relatively low. There is scarcely sufficient to offer meals at home. Most Saudi Arabian workers make between 600 and 700 riyals per month. After discounting the cost of living, this sum is scarcely comparable to the Pakistani minimum wage. In addition, living conditions for employees in Gulf nations are deplorable. Humans are crammed into small places to reduce expenses.

In addition, the country’s inadequate educational system contributes to the brain drain. According to Dr. Durre Nayab, there is a peculiar scenario in Pakistan where professors do not provide relevant education to the young and instead use the same lecture notes year after year. Due to the absence of excellent education, many brilliant people are seeking opportunities overseas.

The absence of chances for entrepreneurship is another key element leading to brain drain. Several young individuals are unable to find prospects to start their own firms, prompting them to go overseas. According to Dr. Nadeemul Haq, Pakistan is afflicted with an illness, and IMF tranches provide little assistance. He pushed the young to take matters into their own hands and pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.

Political and economic instability within the nation also contributes to the brain drain. At a session on agricultural diversification for food security, Dr. Khalid Mushtaq claimed that Pakistan was paying USD 4 billion to buy edible oil, but that the government could reduce these costs by diversifying its crops. He said that wheat had been the country’s primary focus and that the Punjab government had spent Rs 4 trillion on wheat procurement over the last 15 years. He questioned why people were required to consume just wheat, given that wheat and rice were high in carbs (sugar) that were detrimental to public health.

In addition to the aforementioned problems, many skilled workers are leaving Pakistan owing to the absence of a research- and development-friendly climate. According to Dr. Nadeemul Haq, universities in Pakistan do not participate in policy assessment and research, in contrast to universities in other areas of the globe, where research is an integral component of policymaking. This lack of focus on research is prompting a large number of brilliant individuals to seek employment possibilities elsewhere.

To combat brain drain, Pakistan must prioritize the creation of employment opportunities for highly trained individuals, the provision of excellent education, and the encouragement of entrepreneurship. The government must also foster an atmosphere favorable to research and development in order to encourage brilliant people to remain and contribute to the nation’s growth. With the appropriate policies and measures, Pakistan can retain its brilliant people and construct a more prosperous future.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance

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