The migration brain drain: Factors, damages, and solutions

By Sayed Mohammad Firouzi 

Afghanistan has been one of the largest refugee-producing countries in the world for more than four decades. And, for three consecutive decades, it has ranked first in the world in international migration statistics. While such migration can create both opportunities and harm in the societies of origin and destination, what is a serious issue  for the refugee-producing nation is the effect of such brain drain.  

Experts consider a nation’s educated and cultural elites as being a significant factor in the growth and development of a country. Some even believe that, in addition to immediate negative effects, there are intergenerational effects of brain drain for successive generations. The impact of such a brain drain could be significant on Afghanistan as observations and reports show that its educated classes have been among the first to emigrate. In addition, such a brain drain from Afghanistan has continued for a relatively long time and has intensified in the last four decades.   

The two decades from 2001 to 2021 when the international community had a huge presence in Afghanistan presented a huge opportunity for the reconstruction and modernization of the country’s human resources as hundreds of thousands of educated workers were trained. However, the effect of the collapse of the last government in 2021 and the return of the Taliban, appears to have wiped out much of that human capital. Although no exact data exists, experts believe that the majority of the cultural and educated elites have fled the country. 

Factors of the migration of Afghanistan’s elites 

In his famous 1966 theory of the “push and pull” factors of migration, Everett Lee states that the factors at the origin that motivate out migration, the factors at the destination that attract migrants, come together and cause migration. (Lehsaizadeh, 2018) There is no doubt that there are many “push” factors motivating migration of the educated classes in Afghanistan, including government hostility, weak institutions, tribal culture, political instability, war and violence, mountainous and sometimes harsh geography, and the lack of influence of the cultural and educated elites in social and political management. Moreover, Oded Stark and Yong Wang argue that migration is a response to relative deprivation. In fact, when an individual or group cannot achieve valuable goals within their region and feels that there are resources outside their region that are needed to remove their deprivations, then they migrate. The migration of educated and cultural elites from Afghanistan can also be explained by this theory.  

During certain periods of its history, clusters of Afghanistan’s cultural and educated elites migrated abroad. A third modernization theory states the attractions of modern material and social values encourages a move from rural areas toward urban cosmopolitan centres.  

Consequences and damages of brain drain 

At least part of the crises that have occurred in Afghanistan has been caused by the flight of the human capital for when any society is emptied of experts, then it faces serious problems in social and political management.  

Some of the most important consequences of the flight of human capital include: 

a)    The waste of resources spent on training and educating the educated and cultural elites who then take those skills out of the country.  

b) Weakening the scientific, business, and technical power of a country, which contributes to its political and economic underdevelopment.  

c) Challenges in management and administration posed by a lack of professional and expert administrators. (Shahidzadeh, 2010) In their place, non-expert work forces waste resources and opportunities due to their lack of necessary knowledge and skills, an experience that Afghanistan has witnessed several times. 

Solutions and strategies 

The experience of brain drain is not unique to Afghanistan, and solutions can be seen on the measures adopted by other countries to this problem. Two main measures are: a) removing the limitations and challenges from the lives of cultural and intellectual elites; b) ensuring their real participation in the administration and management of the country; c) recruiting skilled Afghans living abroad; d) attracting experts from other countries; and e) increasing attractions for cultural and intellectual elites so they will stay in the country.  

In short, the brain drain has been one of the most serious problems facing Afghanistan in the last few decades. This great national issue has wasted large amounts of resources, decreased the country’s scientific, business and skilled efforts, and weakened the administrative capacity of the country. As well, the brain drain turned from a challenge into an all-encompassing crisis when neither governments, nor people, nor even the academic circles and institutions paid attention to this issue and, in some cases, helped to aggravate it.  

Sayed Mohammad Firouzi is a doctoral student in sociology and a researcher in the field of immigration 





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