Brain Drain with No Gain?

By T. Keyzom Ngodup, co-founder at Ideas sYnergy.  Ideas sYnergy is Iraq’s first multiple bottom line advisory company committed to inclusive economic and social development through market-based solutions that help build and scale youth-driven innovative ideas for social change.

 

An Economist report rightly pointed out that when people in the developed countries worry about migration, they tend to think of low paid incomers who compete for jobs as construction workers, dishwashers, or farmhands. When people in developing countries worry about migration, they are usually concerned at the prospect of their best and brightest decamping to Silicon Valley or to hospitals and universities in the developed world. Indeed, of the 22 Iraqis listed in Arabian Business’ 500 most influential Arabs, only nine are based in Iraq, all in Baghdad.

This ‘brain drain’ has long bothered policymakers in poor countries. They fear it hurts their economies, depriving them of much-needed skilled workers who could have taught at their universities, worked in their hospitals and come up with clever new products for their factories to make. Alternatively, several economists reckon that the brain-drain hypothesis fails to account for the effects of remittances (see table for the relatively ‘low’ Iraq remittance volume albiet important to note that ‘traditional’ money transfer services are far and few between in Iraq and can often terminate service, for example the recent termination of Iraq-US transfer), for the beneficial effects of returning migrants, and for the possibility that being able to migrate to greener pastures induces people to get more education. Some argue that once these factors are taken into account, an exodus of highly skilled people could turn out to be a net benefit to the countries they leave.

 

Iraq Remittances (Source: WDI)

2006

2007

2008

2009

2010

Received/Inward  (USD)

388,899,994

3,100,000

70,900,002

71,000,000

71,000,000

Outward (USD)

781,299,999

17,299,999

31,400,000

32,000,000

32,000,000

 

While most migrants in other countries are unemployed youth, in Iraq, migrants had been generally gainfully employed professionals in the country before seeking global opportunities with a chance to travel hassle-free through a non-Iraqi passport. Speaking to a number of Iraqi professionals who immigrated to the United States after 2003, one finds that most of them are employed in low-paid blue collar jobs, with plans to return to Iraq in the near future, contingent on improvements in security.

Late senator Ted Kennedy said at the time, “America has a fundamental obligation to assist Iraqis whose lives are in danger.” But the special visa programme, called the SIV, under the 2008 Refugee Crisis Act, has stalled, partly due to crippling bureaucratic process, lack of resources and partly due to news such as Iraqi men in Kentucky, USA charged with supporting extremists. Following the withdrawal of American troops in December 2011, the SIV programme is likely to erect new hurdles as the Pentagon closed its last few military bases in Iraq.

However our experience tell us that Iraqis are better off pursuing higher studies abroad and applying themselves in Iraq, where potential opportunities to start new businesses and non-existent services for the population is tremendous. Much will depend upon how the government of Iraq makes Iraq an attractive destination for aspiring Iraqi returnees.

 

By T. Keyzom Ngodup, co-founder at Ideas sYnergy.  Ideas sYnergy is Iraq’s first multiple bottom line advisory company committed to inclusive economic and social development through market-based solutions that help build and scale youth-driven innovative ideas for social change.

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