Is the brain drain more real now?
For almost a decade, we have been seeing a huge number of Bhutanese people leaving the country and choosing to travel abroad for various reasons. Apart from Canada and some countries in the Middle East, going to Australia, particularly for many Bhutanese, has become a popular way to make money and acquire a home or land in the country.
Most people who travel to Australia believe that if they work hard for a few years in Australia, they can achieve their life’s goals. However, there is also a new trend where many young people, who have left, have no plans to return and this could have a significant influence on the country’s workforce.
A foreign ministry official said, “Those who wanted to leave for employment stated that they had no intention of ever coming back, while others indicated that they would only contemplate returning after acquiring a permanent residence.”
Meanwhile, such a trend is also happening at a time when the country is facing one of the biggest financial crises in its history as well as labor shortages due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
One befitting example is the country’s dearth of health or medical staff, which could be the result of many young people leaving the country in search of better opportunities abroad.
Many feel that perhaps now, more than ever, the brain drain is a reality.
According to the Prime Minister’s State of the Nation report, 2021, there are over 15,904 Bhutanese living abroad in 88 countries as of December 2021.
The majority of Bhutanese choose to migrate to Australia over other nations, primarily to earn money.
Nearly 12,000 Bhutanese are currently residing in Australia, with nearly 5,000 of them having registered with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA).
Bhutanese in Australia, on the other hand, are a major economic force for the country, for sending in the most foreign inward remittance.
For a long time, while it was believed to be a positive thing because of inward remittances, the fact that most individuals are hesitant to return to Bhutan also raises concerns.
The first reason is that the bulk of people that travel abroad are in the age category of 20-29, indicating that the country is losing a big number of economically engaged people.
And while many people go to work, only a few have gone abroad under the different overseas employment programs of the Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR).
“Since the commencement of the overseas employment program in 2014, a total of 7,388 individuals have been offered placement, predominantly in the Middle East, through the labor ministry and registered agents,” the focal person of the MoLHR said.
Meanwhile, a Bhutanese living in Perth, Australia said, “What we earn in Australia in a year is far more than what you can save in a lifetime as a civil servant or corporate employee in Bhutan.”
She added that there are fewer opportunities in Bhutan.
Many feel that with many Bhutanese leaving overseas, the country may suffer from underinvestment, resulting in low wages, bad working conditions, and a lack of leadership.
Another factor that draws Bhutanese people is that after working there for a few years, individuals who have gone there to Australia have been able to successfully purchase land or even a building in Bhutan.
Another factor is the concept of the present Bhutanese society that if you own a decent piece of land or a house that can be passed down to your children, half of your life’s goal has been fulfilled. Subsequently, land prices have skyrocketed, especially in towns like Thimphu and Paro, making it nearly impossible for average income earners to afford it.
Land prices in these town areas currently vary from Nu 8mn to Nu 10mn per decimal.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Education Pro, one of Bhutan’s consultancies, chartered over 700 Bhutanese students to Australia this year.
According to an official from the consultancy, the majority of people are there to study and they desire to remain there and work once their studies are over.
Tshering Pelden from Thimphu