Home Editorial Editorial: Pakistan’s Brain Drain

Editorial: Pakistan’s Brain Drain

The departure of skilled and highly-skilled workers from Pakistan bodes ill for national development

by Editorial

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According to Pakistan’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, the number of Pakistani emigrants in 2023 reached 863,000, roughly the same as the 832,000 recorded in 2022. In a report published in September/October 2023, the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT) noted the “most compelling reason behind Pakistanis, especially students, [leaving Pakistan] is to pursue higher education abroad.” Approximately 52.4% of individuals polled blamed Pakistan’s “tough economic situation” and their “limited prospects for building academic and professional future for students,” while 20.5% wished to settle abroad “for a better economic lifestyle.” Both answers indicate the same underlying reason: a lack of opportunities to earn, advance, build, create, and grow professionally.

While a majority of Pakistanis proceeding abroad is classified as labor, 2023 saw 26,405 individuals considered “highly skilled” and 164,155 “skilled” workers also leaving the country. Saudi Arabia was the primary destination, attracting 205,515 Pakistanis, with the U.A.E. following behind with 121,745. Other Gulf countries, including Oman (34,140), Qatar (35,637) and Bahrain (7,441) also saw a significant influx of the Pakistani workforce.

A 2004 study claimed departing doctors primarily attributed their decision to inadequate healthcare services and insufficient coverage of certain diseases in Pakistan. This “brain drain,” if left unchecked can create a vacuum to be filled by semi-skilled “dispensers, physicians using traditional remedies (hakims) and spiritual healers.” This would, inevitably, lead to a decline in quality of medical services. Unfortunately, the state has taken few steps to address this exodus, as it is compensated with “remittances” or foreign exchange sent home by migrants that benefits a state starved of dollars.

In 2022, the World Bank reported Pakistan’s officially recorded remittances at $29.87 billion, much of it to lower income households, helping them secure a degree of economic freedom. But the national loss from “brain drain” cannot be underestimated. A report by Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment claimed over 7 million Pakistanis live and work abroad, with a majority considered skilled professionals, including doctors, engineers, and I.T. experts. “Their departure from Pakistan can have devastating consequences for the country’s economy and development,” it warned.

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