Brain drain from Southeast Asia growing constraint for economic growth

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Young well educated people leaving their home countries in Southeast Asia to pursue a better career in a well-salaried job in richer countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are becoming an obstacle to economic development for their home region.

Bloomberg News cited a recent study by the Asian Development Bank that shows the number of immigrants with university degrees who left to work in higher-developed OECD nations surged 66 per cent in the decade from 2001 to 2011 to 2.8 million. More than half of them came from the Philippines, with hundreds of thousands more working in regions outside the OECD like the Middle East.

The trend – labelled brain drain, which refers to the loss of a nation’s skilled human capital – has persisted, with the number of Filipinos leaving to work overseas rising by 27 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

For example, the Philippines has been ranked first within Southeast Asia for exporting nurses and second for sending doctors overseas.

The emigration comes even as most Southeast Asian countries have made tremendous progress in boosting education in recent decades. More than 50 per cent of Filipinos, Malaysians and Singaporeans in the workforce of OECD countries are highly educated, compared to the average of 30 percent. 

Immigrants from Southeast Asia are also often more educated or more experienced than what is needed for the jobs they hold. About 52 per cent of workers among Thai expats are overqualified, and the ratio is more than 40 per cent for immigrants from the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and  Vietnam, the study shows.

But despite Southeast Asia’s economic boom, with countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia posting annual GDP growth rates of more than six percent, the educated citizens are still likely to look for opportunities abroad.

“Migrants respond to other countries’ higher wages and better working conditions, prospects for professional development and continuous education, and opportunities to work with other skilled persons in talent clusters,” the report said.

On the upside, most Southeast Asian nations benefit from overseas workers’ remittances, which reached for the largest receiver, the Philippines, a whopping $30 billion last year and boosts the economy at home.

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Reading Time: 2 minutes

Young well educated people leaving their home countries in Southeast Asia to pursue a better career in a well-salaried job in richer countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are becoming an obstacle to economic development for their home region.

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Young well educated people leaving their home countries in Southeast Asia to pursue a better career in a well-salaried job in richer countries of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are becoming an obstacle to economic development for their home region.

Bloomberg News cited a recent study by the Asian Development Bank that shows the number of immigrants with university degrees who left to work in higher-developed OECD nations surged 66 per cent in the decade from 2001 to 2011 to 2.8 million. More than half of them came from the Philippines, with hundreds of thousands more working in regions outside the OECD like the Middle East.

The trend – labelled brain drain, which refers to the loss of a nation’s skilled human capital – has persisted, with the number of Filipinos leaving to work overseas rising by 27 per cent between 2011 and 2015.

For example, the Philippines has been ranked first within Southeast Asia for exporting nurses and second for sending doctors overseas.

The emigration comes even as most Southeast Asian countries have made tremendous progress in boosting education in recent decades. More than 50 per cent of Filipinos, Malaysians and Singaporeans in the workforce of OECD countries are highly educated, compared to the average of 30 percent. 

Immigrants from Southeast Asia are also often more educated or more experienced than what is needed for the jobs they hold. About 52 per cent of workers among Thai expats are overqualified, and the ratio is more than 40 per cent for immigrants from the Philippines, Laos, Cambodia, Myanmar and  Vietnam, the study shows.

But despite Southeast Asia’s economic boom, with countries including the Philippines, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia posting annual GDP growth rates of more than six percent, the educated citizens are still likely to look for opportunities abroad.

“Migrants respond to other countries’ higher wages and better working conditions, prospects for professional development and continuous education, and opportunities to work with other skilled persons in talent clusters,” the report said.

On the upside, most Southeast Asian nations benefit from overseas workers’ remittances, which reached for the largest receiver, the Philippines, a whopping $30 billion last year and boosts the economy at home.

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