Who wants to be an emigrant?

Given the opportunity, one in five highly-educated Pakistanis would emigrate from Pakistan. This is in addition to the two million-plus Pakistanis who have already left their homeland.


Given the large population base of 175 million, 2 million emigrants (2000 estimate) does not seem to be an exodus. However, amongst the highly educated Pakistanis, almost 22 per cent are ready to jump the ship. This does not bode well for the skill-deprived nation where scarcity of qualified doctors, managers, professors and more importantly, entrepreneurs, is impeding the economic growth.

A recent report by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development, an organisation with 34 (mostly western) member states, analysed the role of diasporas in improving social and economic conditions in countries of their origin*.  Based on results derived from a Gallup Survey conducted in 146 countries (including Pakistan) during 2008-10, the OECD report revealed that given an opportunity, 11 per cent of Pakistani adults would emigrate.

While the flight of highly-skilled talent hurts Pakistan’s soc

ial and economic prospects, the emigrants can hardly be blamed for losing faith in their homeland. The economic hardships alone are sufficient to force the skilled to leave. Pakistan ranks 145 out of the 187 countries ranked in the Human Development Index. On a per capita GDP basis, Pakistan ranks 152 out of 194 countries. While the economic woes continue to persist in Pakistan, the country has also plunged into several civil wars that manifest as sectarian, ethnic, and nationalist conflicts, which have deprived Pakistanis of any sense of security. Thus those who could, have already left, and those who can, are planning to leave.

Globalising emigrants sending billions back home

The two million-plus Pakistanis and their children who live outside of Pakistan are part of the global emigrant nation, which in 2010 was 214 million strong. Almost 89-million migrants live in the OECD countries alone. Mexico provides 20-million emigrants, most of whom reside in the United States. While the emigration rates have picked up over the past 20 years, the increase in the number of female migrants has been significantly higher than that for men. Women now account for 60 per cent of the emigrants from Thailand, Japan, and Philippines.

The global remittances from emigrants are estimated at around US$440 billion. The World Bank estimates that US$325 billion in remittances are headed to developing countries alone.  Remittances from OECD countries to India are estimated at US$54 billion. Another US$53 billion in remittances are destined to China. For at least 10 countries, remittances represent more than 20 per cent of their GDP.  For instance, remittances account for 35 per cent of the GDP in Tajikistan, 23 per cent in Nepal, 22 per cent in Lebanon, and 21% in Kyrgyzstan. Remittances account for 5.5 per cent of the GDP in Pakistan.

The brain drain in the medical profession poses unique challenges. It is estimated that 164,000 foreign born doctors from Asia are working in OECD countries. Of those, Indian-born doctors are estimated at 56,000.  At the same time almost 110,000 Filipino nurses have also been working in OECD countries. The 56,000 Indian doctors represent 8 per cent of all Indian born doctors, whereas 110,000 nurses represent 46 per cent of the nurses in the Philippines.

The OECD report lists several other countries that contribute a large number of medical professionals to the OECD countries. More than one in five Algerian and Philippines born doctors is working in the OECD countries. This raises the question about how these countries can meet the healthcare needs of their masses when a large number of medical professionals leave for elsewhere.

A higher calling for Pakistani emigrants

The very definition of diaspora refers to those emigrants and their children who share a sentimental link or hold a collective memory of the origin country. This sentimental link can be put to good use to address the adverse impacts of brain drain.

The OECD report cites examples of diaspora entrepreneurship that enables the emigrants to help the country of origin. Consider for instance GlobalScot, which is a group of 750 Scottish emigrants dedicated to help Scottish enterprises to expand globally. “GlobalScot seeks to develop and expand Scotland’s standing in the global business community by utilising the talents of leading Scots, and of people with an affinity for Scotland, to establish a worldwide network of individuals who are outstanding in their field. Scottish companies can freely draw on this network for advice, contacts, assistance and support.”

GlobalScot is one example of Diaspora Knowledge Networks (DKN) where emigrants can pool resources to provide expert advice to businesses, government agencies, academic institutions and not-for-profit organizations. The South African Network of Skills Abroad (SANSA) is another DKN based out of the University of Cape Town that assists researchers and academics in South Africa. Advances in Information Technology enable emigrant doctors to assist patients in their country of origin, thus giving birth to telemedicine.

Highly-skilled Pakistani emigrants have the opportunity to play a much larger role in improving the plight of those they have left behind. While Pakistani emigrants are already playing a very significant role in providing over $10 billion annually in remittances, the emigrants can also assist in creating the much needed enterprising culture in Pakistan.

By creating DKNs, the emigrants can help revive the stagnant economic environment in Pakistan so that enough opportunities are created domestically to absorb the highly skilled labour in Pakistan.
* The numbers cited in this essay are obtained from Connecting with Emigrants: A Global Profile of Diasporas. OECD, October 2012.

Murtaza Haider, Ph.D. is the Associate Dean of research and graduate programs at the Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University in Toronto. He can be reached by email at murtaza.haider@ryerson.ca

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