Pakistan’s Brain Drain – Reason and Affects

Brain drain means the emigration of highly trained and qualified people from a particular country in search of better opportunities and living standard. This is true for most of the developing countries where the standards of living are poor which forces the citizens of that particular country to look for immigration opportunities and live abroad.

Photo by Somya Dinkar on

Talking about Pakistan, the fifth largest country of the world in terms of population. Our population is around 218 million people with a median age of 22 years and around 55% of the population in the age group of 15-55 years. So, we have a large proportion of youth population which require opportunities to work and earn money to support their families.  

As per the latest available data on the 2017 year book of Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development around 8.8 million Pakistanis are living abroad with more than 50% living in Middle East.

S. #RegionNumber of Overseas PakistanisPercentage Share
3.Asia and Far East208,2592.35%
4.Australia and New Zealand106,0001.2%
6.Middle East4,761,91353%

So why is that the most intelligent minds of our nation are migrating to other countries of the world? The obvious reasons are:

1.    Education System

The biggest problem of our country is the outdated education system. As per UNICEF report, Pakistan has the world’s second-highest number of out-of-school children (OOSC) with an estimated 22.8 million children aged 5-16 not attending school, representing 44 per cent of the total population in this age group.  Some of the fundamental problems with the education system are:

  • Varying curriculums being followed at educational institutions in Pakistan which are leading to injustices and divisions in the society. The Federal Board, Provincial Boards, Private Board, Cambridge Board and Madrassa education. Students and parents are juggles between which system to follow.
  • Poor government infrastructure for schools and universities. Article 25A of the Constitution of Pakistan states that, “The State shall provide free and compulsory education to all children of the age of five to sixteen years in such manner as may be determined by law.” However, the government has badly failed to build or sustain any dependable educational infrastructure or system.
  • Lackluster higher education system. Pakistan has 14 universities in The Times World University Rankings with the top university coming in the band of 401 – 500th. Whereas our neighbor India has 56 universities in the same Ranking, with top universities in Science and Technologies area.

2.    Job Opportunities

As per the Economic Survey of Pakistan 2018-19, out of the 65.5 million labor force of the country 61.71 million are employed the brings out the unemployment rate of 5.8% (i.e. around 3.79 million labor force). Whereas the unemployment rate of our neighbors India is 3.53% and China is 3.67%. With the outlook going forward is not looking great where the Large-Scale Manufacturing witnesses a decline of 5.91% in the first quarter FY2020 and the GDP growth rate slipping from 5.5% in FY2018 to 3.3% in FY2019. All this means less jobs in the country and the qualified persons will search for opportunities abroad.

3.    Security Situation

Pakistan in ranked 143 among the 160 countries in the world’s safest countries. Though the security situation has improved largely in last decade. However, lot more has to be done to improve by providing trainings and empowering the local police and enforcement of rule of law. People are more likely to stay in their native country by earning less if they feel safe.

4.    Corruption

Increased corruption means that you have to pay extra to the government officials to get your rightful work done. As per Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2018 Pakistan is ranked 117 out of 180 countries ranked. The ranking has improved but still a long way to go. The new government is taking steps to provide healthy environment for business to flourish. This has also been reflected in the World Bank ease of doing business index where Pakistan has improved by 28 places where the ranking is improved from 136 to 108.

Is brain Drain always Bad?

Brain drain though takes away the intellectual knowledge out of the country, however, most developing countries which have large working class utilize it by exporting it developed countries. This have twofold benefits, one the worker flying abroad have greater access to technology and resources and can come back and utilize his knowledge and experience back in his motherland. Second, the worker living abroad sent back large amount of foreign exchange back to his home country to finance his family and relatives. In FY 2019 Overseas Pakistanis set USD 22 billion of foreign exchange back home.

This foreign remittance serves as a very good support to Pakistan’s ailing foreign exchange reserves but is still very low as compare to others in the region where India tops the remittance recipient country of the world in 2018 with USD 79 billion followed by China with USD 67 million. Even countries like Philippines has understood the importance of overseas remittances and created a global network of Filipino Nurses. The annual remittance of Philippines is USD 34 million.


This phenomenon of migration is not unique for humans only, the Birds also migrate to move from areas of low or decreasing resources to areas of high or increasing resources. The two primary resources being sought are food and nesting locations. We as a nation need to improve on many fronts, we need to decide on our directions. We need to strike a balance in the manpower exports and retention of intellectual knowledge. In the manpower exports strategy, we need to market our existing unemployed talent pool to developed countries especially Middle Eastern countries which are more similar to us in terms of culture. There are other opportunities available such as Germany which as per Ministry of Foreign Affairs will require 3 million skilled workers by 2030 in different sectors like IT, healthcare and services. We should target this to export maximum manpower required.

In longer term create employment in the country by creating enabling business environment in the country, invest in education and upheld the rule of law which will improve the security and decrease corruption.

We can learn from our neighbor India, who is currently experiencing reverse brain drain. It has created a Bengaluru as the technology hub where many IT experts which were forced to return back to India during the bubble. Those returning back were caught the interest of Indian entrepreneurs to improve the economic development of India.

Let’s hope that we learn from the surrounding and move in the right direction for the development of the country and the individual himself.


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