brain drain pakistan

Written by Maryam Ibrahim 1:18 pm Pakistan, Published Content, Research Papers

Brain Drain: The Reason Behind Pakistan’s Stunted Growth

Brain drain, also known as the emigration of highly trained labour or talented individuals, has been a contentious issue in the developing world since the 1960s. The mobility of human capital or skilled labour has significant implications for both the economic and political spheres.
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Maryam Ibrahim has recently graduated from Lahore College for Women University with a bachelor's in international relations. Her sphere of interest includes the digitalization of international relations, specifically digital diplomacy.


Not all animals, including many birds, migrate, but humans do. The practice of migration is as ancient as humanity. This concept is explored from several perspectives and has various definitions. The word “brain drain” is defined as “the departure of educated or professional people from one country, economic sector, or field for another usually for better pay or living conditions” (Merriam Webster, n.d.).

The idea of brain drain is regarded as a “zero-sum” game, meaning that one nation’s gain is equivalent to another nation’s loss. Therefore, social and political policy agendas have been dominated by the advantages and disadvantages of skilled migration in both sending and receiving nations, and scholarly debates over who is “winning” and “losing” have been fierce (Ferro, 2006).

In every region of the world, talented individuals and intelligent individuals are desired. They are drawn to wealthy nations because of the higher incomes, superior living standards, availability of cutting-edge technology, and more stable political environments. The majority of migration is from poor or underdeveloped countries to western industrialized and advanced ones. The intellectuals of a nation are among its most valuable resources since they committed time and money to their education and training, making mobility one of the greatest losses to such nations (Dodani & LaPorte, 2005).

In a Review of the Literature

In the 1950s and 1960s, the British witnessed a flow of qualified scientists and technologists from Britain to the West, specifically the United States and Canada, and later they termed this phenomenon a brain drain. There are three distinct historical periods that make up the evolution of this phrase. The first period is from the 1950s to the 1960s. During this time, different scholars talked about the outflow and migration of workers and their social and economic impact (Giannoccolo, 2021).

The second period is from the 1970s to the 1990s, with the majority of academic reviews coming to the conclusion that while the host nation benefits from the influx of competent people, the original country does not profit from the phenomenon of brain drain. Implementing migration policies and strengthening the role of international organisations and institutions in managing migrant flows are offered as solutions in this regard (Bhagwati & Hamada, 1974).

The third period is from the 1990s to till date. Scholars researched many elements of migration through the lenses of both good and negative viewpoints throughout this period, during which time a variety of new concepts around brain drain arose. Kugler and Rapoport made the point that diaspora effects—despite staying abroad—overseas talented migrants may help the growth and advancement of the country by providing their knowledge, abilities, counsel, or even just financial support. Directly, as in FDIs and their businesses, or indirectly, as in when diaspora members persuade other entities to do so (Brzozowski, 2008).

Brain Drain Across the Globe

The matter of human capital movement affects the whole world, not just a few particular nations. Losing your professors, physicians, engineers, and other qualified individuals might be disastrous for your nation. The scourge of brain drain is present when highly competent individuals migrate to more favourable environments. For instance, only three African nations—Libya, Mauritius, and Tunisia—have one doctor per almost 1000 people at present, with corresponding physician-to-population ratios of 2.09, 2.00, and 1.29 (Mo Ibrahim Foundation, 2018).

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It is anticipated that Sri Lanka would see a significant brain drain in the near future, given its current political and economic situation. In June 2022, the Sri Lankan foreign employment bureau published a report and according to the paperwork, a record number of Sri Lankans—more than 1.5 lakh—left the nation in search of a brighter future. From the first week of January to the first week of July, the record is included. (Ada Derana, 2022).

Brain Drain in Pakistan

Pakistan is one such example of a developing country that has been a victim of the brain drain. Despite the lack of specific figures, the impact is larger. Since its birth, Pakistan has lacked to recognize and contain the intellectual pool. People with skills and competence find Pakistan an inhospitable place for their services. As the higher connection, personal references and sums of money silenced the intellectual prowess (Bangwar, 2022).

More than 10 million Pakistani people have reportedly emigrated abroad in quest of more favourable economic and career opportunities, according to reports compiled by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment. Engineers, paramedics, physicians, Ph.D. candidates, accountants, highly skilled professionals, postgraduates, etc. are included in this (Ahmed, 2019).

Occupation1971-2021Upto June 2022Total
Table 1.1: Division of skilled worker migration by category
Source: Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment

The table above only displays a small portion of the several categories chosen to migrate. Many more people are on the list, representing many different professions. Numerous examples demonstrate that the majority of Pakistan’s young adults wish to live overseas, with only half of them wanting to return. However, the Pakistani industry is small and mostly concentrated in a few niches.

Arsalan Ash, a well-known professional online gamer, won multiple competitions overseas and received recognition, yet in Pakistan, gaming is not regarded as a full-time occupation. One further instance is the hiring of Muqeem Khan, Pakistan’s first visual effects artist, by the major entertainment film studio Walt Disney Pictures. No Pakistani company offered Muqeem the same advantages (Ahmad, 2018).

RegionMigration Number
Middle East10,734,905
North America5,709
Africa94, 375
Table 1.2: Region-wise division of migration by individuals
Source: Open Data Pakistan

This high migration rate in the Middle East with the greatest number of migrants is what stands out. This region comprises the countries with the largest migration rates, including Saudi Arabia with 5,430,537 migrants and the United Arab Emirates with 3,860,258; Oman comes in second with 793,454 migrants, and the list goes on.

According to a survey by Start-Up Pakistan, the number of job searchers in the UAE surged significantly by 126 percent in May 2022. The primary causes of the massive mass migration are rising prices and a lack of work possibilities, which drove many to seek employment overseas, particularly in the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, according to the report, Saudi Arabia, which saw an increase of around 31 percent, was the second-leading destination for Pakistani migrants after the UAE. Oman and Qatar, on the other hand, saw a decline (Farooq, 2022).


Over the past five years, Pakistan’s economy has been shaky. As a result, the closure of marketplaces and businesses has contributed to an increase in inflation. Although having a smart and knowledgeable population is something we may appreciate on an individual level, it is a severe problem at the national level and has caused the emigration of bright people and skilled employees overseas (The Nation, 2022).

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Up until now, Pakistan’s brain drain has also been attributed to unstable leadership. According to political history, there has typically been a rivalry between various political groups. Their struggle to advance their interests slows progress in a variety of areas, education prominent among them.

The deficiency of research and improved educational possibilities in Pakistan is another issue that benefits skilled labour migration. Students in other countries are exposed to research in numerous fields and begin training at the college level. However, in Pakistan, research is done at the graduate and postgraduate levels, and it begins as soon as the student is enrolled. For a student, this presents challenges because he is unfamiliar with research procedures (Noor, 2020).

The foundation of a modern, developed society is the productivity of research, but in Pakistan, this culture is not as strong due to a variety of factors, including a lack of funding for research, a lack of cutting-edge equipment for experimentation, and a lack of technical guidance. As a result, students are forced to leave Pakistan to compete internationally and pursue their studies in western nations (Razzaq, 2019). Climate change, natural catastrophes, pandemics, and other variables are additional elements that influence the push and pull dynamics of human capital migration.


The act of transferring or sending money from one party to another is referred to as remittance. The process of sending money abroad is sometimes referred to as remittance. Remittances essentially assist you to maintain your family’s financial stability while you are based in another nation (Remittance /Digibank by DBS, 2021).

One of the main sources of inflows of foreign currency in Pakistan is remittances. These help to fund the nation’s trade imbalance, aid in the growth of foreign exchange reserves, and lower the government’s reliance on external financing. In the first half of the current fiscal year, remittances from Pakistanis employed overseas increased sharply by 11.3 percent to $15.8 billion.

According to figures from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), the biggest sources of inflows were Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Saudi Arabia’s remittances increased by 2% to $4.034 billion from July through December of FY2022 (International, 2022). Many believe that this amount of money (remittances) has beneficial effects on the home nation, however, this can never be used as an excuse for the brain drain or loss of human capital.

Effect on Pakistan’s Development

Pakistan is heavily affected by the factors listed below as a result of the outflow of several people.

  • There is a reduction in tax revenue.
  • The intellect of a nation closely correlates with its level of development, therefore the loss of potential business owners, scientists, or researchers has a negative impact on the nation’s ability to progress.
  • This shortage of skilled people may lead to a loss of confidence in the economy, and the decline of the rupee may also trigger a larger population to move out.
  • There is a loss of innovative ideas for the country.


While the impact of brain drain is evident, countries like Pakistan continually fail to engage this issue with the urgency it deserves. The data is overwhelming that Pakistan is losing bright individuals at an alarming rate—nearly 10 million in the last 20 years—due to a variety of push and pull factors. If it is not stopped in a timely manner and plans are not made to deal with the loss, the nation might suffer severe consequences on a number of fronts, including the economy and intelligence.

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The following recommendations can be considered to curb the brain drain in the future:

  • A comprehensive education system that includes everything a student seeks may be adopted; this would encourage students to study in their native countries and achieve success there.
  • Those programmes with foreign professors educating Pakistani students might be implemented. They might pass to pupils fresh and alluring methods for fostering their interests.
  • By enhancing the nation’s political and social climate and fostering a secure and prosperous environment
  • By implementing such economic measures that benefit both the people and the state and include offering a competitive compensation plan, promotions, etc.


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