Fernando: Brain drain: The other side of OFWs’ heroism


IT IS not for adventure. Filipinos work abroad in search for a greener pasture, not mostly for themselves but for their families at home. The government is okay with it, despite the humiliation and challenges faced by fellow Filipinos, because they boost the economy. We have also numerous success stories, to be fair. Our overseas Filipino workers (OFW) through their remittances keep the economy afloat and soaring. There is nobility in this but the problem is, the more we let them go and work outside this country, we are also losing significant human capital.

Working abroad has been an alternative, mostly, of many Filipinos. In the Cordillera, many of our professional and non-professional workers grab the opportunity of working overseas once they get the chance. I know that many gardeners are flying to Japan for agricultural works. The reason has always been the same – higher salary. The higher the salary, the higher the chance of living a decent life. An article online states that “Filipino professionals 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.”

Brain drain is the main problem of developing countries exporting human capitals. We gain in terms of remittances but we lose in terms of human resources. According to McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), one of the problems faced by developing nations with regards to human capital was brain drain, with poor regions like sub-Saharan Africa and developing Asia losing a third to a half of their college graduates, especially professionals, a trend that could cause major gaps (Uy, 2016). Our doctors, engineers, and teachers who are vital key players of social, education, and infrastructure developments continue to leave the country in favor of another country. Of course, like other workers, they provide the Philippines substantial remittances, but their contribution to the country they work for is even better. The same online article commented: “Of course, the Philippine economy benefits from their remittances, which reached $30 billion last year. Still, the productivity gains accrue to the developed economies where Filipino professionals are employed.”

In short, we could have developed more innovative technologies had we not witnessed our scientists and many intellectuals flew to the developed countries. One strategy of developed countries is to search and scout talents all over the globe, mostly from poor and developing countries, and get them to work in their countries. In sports, big and well known schools/universities recruit potential players from smaller schools, offering them scholarships and grants to lure them so that they can play and represent their schools. This also applies in ‘human capital’ resources. Our brilliant Grandmaster in Chess Wesley so for instance is now representing the United States in national chess competitions after US successfully lured him to be a citizen. How did they do that? It’s because so he is one in a million and the Philippines failed to keep him here.

Many Filipino great minds are working in the companies and factories of developed countries. Their intellectual contributions is given not to our country but for the country they are working for. “The top 10 migrant destinations were the United States, Germany, Russia, Saudi Arabia, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Canada, France, Australia and Spain with the US taking the bulk of immigrants at 19% or 47 million people (Uy, 2016). There are first-world countries. It is expected that these countries continue to grow and to be progressive because many great minds and skilled workers from developing countries go and work here.

Accordingly, there has been an attempt by the Philippines to bring back many of our professionals and non-professionals working abroad to come back here. The program aimed to keep them here and provide avenues of progress to the local communities and to the society in general. Unfortunately, the implementation of the program was weak. There was insufficient support from the government in terms of work resources. There is a wide gap between their salaries they get overseas compared to what they receive in the country. So, it was not competitive. It was not sustainable. And the program did not succeed.

To counter brain drain, countries developed programs to make them globally competitive. One program of the Chinese in the 80s was to send students in progressive countries to study so that they can learn the progressive countries’ practices. Surely, a lot of these students did not come back but many also came back to share their learnings and experiences. For instance, in one observation, many Chinese were shocked to find that average-workers in Japan have refrigerators in their houses. This provided Chinese a change their mindset on the decency of life.

I believe we cannot totally stop our fellow Filipinos to seek a better life abroad, however, we can reduce the migration of our workers. This is a big challenge even from the local governments in the country. How can we convince our great minds to just stay here and serve the country? How can we solve the problem on health if we continue to be the number one exporter of nurses and the number two exporter of doctors? This is a fact according to a study. How can we expect quality infrastructures if our engineers are busy building skyways and casinos in Dubai? And our teachers, scientists, domestic helpers, and skilled workers? Are the remittances enough? I think not, we could have a better economy if our brains are not draining by the hour.


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