Before being elected, Prime Minister Imran Khan made the lofty promise to create ten million jobs in the country, saying that a day would come when people would come to Pakistan to seek jobs. This seems rather far-fetched as Pakistan has been facing a severe brain drain.
According to released emigration statistics, over 500,000 workers left the country in 2019. This figure does not include those who settled abroad or gained foreign citizenship. The actual net emigration is estimated at 1.8 million people in 2018 alone. Over eleven million people have left the country since 1971 to pursue employment opportunities elsewhere.
Recently the news caught attention that former Google executive Tanius Adrius quit her job and returned to Pakistan. There are very few Pakistanis working in top firms who make such decisions. This is, however, not the first such incident. Many lesser-known individuals have made the decision to settle back but their experience working in the country made them disappointed and forced them to give in to the system. Only time will tell how Tania Aidrus will resist the status quo as she tries to bring a digital revolution.
Pakistan has a rich diaspora and a healthy intellectual capital, but some of the best doctors, engineers, and scientists are serving abroad rather than their home country. The prime minister has termed overseas Pakistanis an asset but has been unable to convert them into any tangible contribution for the economy. There is need for an immediate policy to attract, induct and retain overseas talent.
The rise of China was attributed to reversing the brain power of students studying in prestigious Western universities. They receive lucrative offers, research funding, and plenty of other opportunities to return back. Pakistan has not invested in higher education and those pursuing studies abroad hail from affluent families who have no intention to return back.
There is a huge potential to tap overseas Pakistanis and reverse the brain drain. Many of the manpower exports have been blue-collar or unskilled workers mostly opting for Middle Eastern nations. Pakistan relies heavily on remittances but these are declining from Gulf States. The Pakistani diaspora is much better off abroad with higher incomes and higher standard of living. The workforce back home faces stagnant careers with little potential for development.
The government needs to take concrete steps to harness the potential of its workforce. There needs to be greater flexibility for them to stay in their career. The environment required to create a level of trust will take time. The people also need role models to inspire them to stay here or return back. Most importantly, they need to be safeguarded against the workplace politics and the mundane bureaucratic system.