PM says migration is Bhutan’s biggest challenge

Calls for a united stand to fortify and protect the country

Delivering the State of the Nation Address on July 4th, 2024, Bhutanese Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay highlighted a significant issue: the migration of Bhutanese citizens in search of better employment opportunities overseas. To date, approximately 64,000 Bhutanese, representing about nine percent of the population, have left the country. The Prime Minister noted that while this exodus offers individuals the chance to secure jobs, acquire new skills, and earn income to support their families, it also poses considerable risks and challenges if the trend continues.

The Prime Minister stressed the importance of acknowledging the challenges and risks faced to address this urgent crisis. “To overcome them, we must unite as one people to fortify and protect our country. This is our most urgent responsibility, our most sacred duty. Each and every one of us must take part in nation-building, for the simple reason that no one else will do it for us,” he stated.

Highlighting the importance of human resources in a small country like Bhutan, the Prime Minister warned that further population reduction could severely impact economic foundations and potentially lead to a downturn. He mentioned that the departure of the skilled workforce has not only affected the economy but also disrupted the delivery of essential public services. For instance, teacher resignations have undermined the quality of education, and the loss of doctors and nurses has resulted in deteriorating health services. Additionally, the shortage of skilled professionals, including technicians, engineers, and experts in banking and law, has worsened the situation and hindered the country’s development.

“If we are not able to address the situation today, our youth abroad will not be motivated to return home. Should these challenges persist, there is a real possibility of our country becoming increasingly depopulated,” the Prime Minister said, emphasizing the potential for the nation to become increasingly depopulated. He further mentioned that ideally, Bhutanese citizens would prefer to stay in their homeland, but many endure the hardships of traveling and living abroad due to limited job opportunities and business prospects within the country.

Prime Minister Dasho Tshering Tobgay stated that this issue is intrinsically linked to the small size of Bhutan’s economy. Despite its modest scale, the economy has grown steadily, guided by principles of sustainability and equality. However, aligning economic progress with social development remains a challenge. Many young Bhutanese, despite being well-educated, proficient in English, hardworking, and trustworthy, struggle to find meaningful employment after completing their education. Consequently, foreign countries are eager to recruit them, leading to an increasing number of Bhutanese youth seeking opportunities abroad. He asserted that the ability to provide meaningful employment opportunities within Bhutan will depend on the current state and growth prospects of the economy.

As the Bhutanese economy has not yet fully recovered from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Prime Minister said that many businesses continue to suffer, with those wishing to expand unable to secure loans, and many struggling to repay existing loans. This has resulted in imports outstripping exports, a sharp decline in foreign reserves, and an increase in external debt.

“Today, Bhutan stands at a crossroads. If we are not able to unite, work together, and choose the right path, our country will suffer serious repercussions. Our beloved country faces an unprecedented existential crisis. Make no doubt about it. We ignore this crisis at our own peril,” the Prime Minister concluded.

By Ugyen Tenzin, Thimphu