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37

So it is time to come back to the series on Globalization.

Human Capital Flight or Brain Drain is the migration of educated and skilled professionals from less developed places to more developed places. The usual reasons are going abroad for further education and settling there or taking jobs in developed countries for better salaries and living standards. While brain drain does result in financial profit for the persons migrating or their families they may remit money to, there are other less realized aspects of brain drain that also need to be considered.

Expense of education borne by less developed country, while fruits of the person's service are reaped by developed countries.  Today's outrage on Twitter was the government making it mandatory for doctors going abroad for further education to return to work in India after completing their education and reserves the right to enforce it by not issuing No Objection Certificates to doctors who don't comply. The government of India estimates some 3,000 doctors who studied in government subsidized hospitals have left the country in the last one year. The annual cost of each student is about 31.31 lakh rupees, while fees charged are Rs.850/- per annum. The government is paying the difference per student that results in no gain to the citizens. 939 crores is no amount to sneeze at. In a country with high poverty, scarcity of medical professionals and tight budgets, this money should be better utilized or recovered.

As far back as 2001, the UNDP had estimated that India loses about $2 billion a year from IT professionals taking up jobs in the US alone.

Some argue that those working abroad remit money. But a country's well being is not money alone. When 3000 doctors go abroad, there are supporting jobs that get reduced too. Less nurses, less ward boys, less patients treated, more losses due to ill health, less villages with access to healthcare... it is all interconnected - which is why governments subsidize - for development.

On a "for higher education" scale... a 2009 report by Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Assocham) estimated that India lost around $10 billion annually in foreign exchange from an average 5 lakh students choosing to go abroad for further education every year and made a strong case for deregulating higher education. The concern of the Indian government that doctors going abroad for further education return to work in the country makes sense. But more is needed. here need to be more and better education facilities to keep the students in the country - which will also result in more jobs within the country. It is a cycle.

The government spends considerable money in education from basic schooling to subsidizing degrees that have costs well beyond the average man's capacity to spend. This expense is intended as an empowerment of citizens as well as raising the skill capital of the country. Brain drain delays the development of the country. In his essay on Globalizing Inequality, P. Sainath quotes statistics from Africa from the Economic times, and puts them in a context of national interest.

...today, according to the Financial Times, the entire continent of Africa has just 20,000 engineers and scientists to serve a continent of six hundred million people, because today, there are more African scientists and doctors and engineers working in the United States than in all of Africa and much of this drain of medical personnel has come from South Africa – the country facing the world’s largest AIDS pandemic.

Lower employment in developed countries. Migrant professionals increase competition to native professionals and often work at lower salaries, resulting in increased unemployment for the local population. UK's visa restrictions for professionals from 2010 came from rising unemployment in the country with hundreds of thousands unemployed IT professionals and engineers while 36,000 immigrated for jobs from outside the EU. As the economy tightens worldwide, these inequalities become more and more visible and resented.

But beyond this, there is also a social cost. When well educated people leave for more prosperous surroundings, their influence also leaves with them beyond their services. Educated minds lead to a more thinking society and increasing brain drain adds to the less developed areas remaining permanently mired in poverty and less world aware society.

Brain drain, or Human Capital Flight increases inequality and makes poorer countries poorer and richer countries richer. A few random examples come to mind. Michio Kaku, the scientist-activist calls the H1B America's secret weapon. It is the visa for professionals to immigrate. Over half of America's top professionals are non-Americans and they are driving the country's prosperity, because they change the ratio of educated and skilled professionals in society - making the country skill dense and thus with more opportunity too. On the other hand, if India has one doctor for 1700 people, Ghana has one for 6700 people. 305,000 Malaysians migrated overseas between March 2008 and August 2009 compared to 140,000 in 2007. According to the official Chinese media, 65,000 Chinese last year secured immigration or permanent resident status in the United States, 25,000 in Canada and 15,000 in Australia in 2007. A 2007 study of Chinese students found that 7 out of 10 students enrolling abroad never return. And while it is true that lack of opportunity or oppression drives or abundant opportunity pulls these people, these numbers of people moving to greener pastures is also making the pastures greener, and their loss is desertifying the pastures they leave.

Many have recommended deporting/encouraging return of Pakistani professionals back to Pakistan as a possible solution for dealing with extremism by increasing powerful, influential voices who have seen the merits of a developed and inclusive society. Obviously no one imagined them to pick up guns and fighting wars with the Taliban, but the influence of thoughts that were more broad minded would dilute the influence of extremism and provide alternative ways of thinking for people at large. In other words, they would strengthen the moderate voice. It is no coincidence that reversal of brain drain was suggested as a developmental intervention.

Needless to say, I support the government's decision to make it mandatory for doctors to serve in the country even if they go abroad for further education. In addition to doctors studying in government colleges, I think doctors studying in private colleges should also be required this, though for a shorter period. There are reasons - below.

  1. Whether a government or private educated doctor, the government still has made considerable contributions to making that education possible and in the cost that is possible in India. Consider, for example an Indian doctor and an American doctor working on similar jobs, paying off their education loans. Even if the Indian doctor gets paid less, guess who finds the payments easier? That is the difference in a developed and developing country, which makes a developing country more needy. I see nothing wrong in citizens with the capacity to pursue extensive education being expected to have a stake in helping develop the country.
  2. I think this should apply to all professionals, not only doctors, though doctors have more conspicuous investment and scarcity of professionals.
  3. This should not apply to those who do all their degree education abroad, since their investment is also in another country.

I got several significant comments, which I'd like to talk of here.

The medical students are already giving in a lot of effort for 7-8 years to go through a shabby education system. Give them adequate compensation/incentives to work in rural areas. Monetary/reduction in study term/preference in PG admission. ~ Raj Rambhia [1][2]

This, I think is a matter of education reform, and applicable to all students whether they continue working in India or abroad.

the question of how the students can "give back" is indeed a serious one. the number of students that manage to study medicine in India is largely due to government subsidized education. Two issues here 1. How do you get them to "pay us back" and 2. What about all who studied in private colleges.

1. Lets say, 4.5 years of studies and the avg. 10 lakh that the govt spends on a student can be reimbursed in 1 year of internship and 1 year of Bond. The bond already exists, and lasts 6 months long. Problem is, there is no enforcement. Is 6 months enough? will one year fix this? Difficult decisions to make. In the 6 months, of the docs who do it seriously, a large number of them see upwards of five hundred patients a week, many do twice as many. thats a few hundered thousand patients treated by the lot of them, does that cover the costs?

Now, they get to go abroad only after they finish the bond, and get a NOC. The new "law" adds a clause to the NOC, it says studies that you do on your own money, in your own time, also, now belong to the nation. Meaning, you come back, irrespective of how many years you have worked in India. and "given back"

2. What about all those who did not study in government colleges? Like me. My college made me do a bond, 2 years paid pittance and on call24x7, I enjoyed it, as did most others I know. Now, 3 years down the line i might want to go work in the US for 10 years, maybe my wife wants to do a PhD, but if I go by the j1 Visa, i cannot, my visa expires when I finish studying.

~ Uberschizo

I am not certain even in this instance the government is speaking of private colleges, though I support even if they are. Also, I am not certain the government means stints working in India for every higher education course. The impression I got was mandatory serving in India, which would be a one time deal. Let us see what clarifications emerge.

Additionally, I think for exceptional cases, there should be an alternative to reimburse the government for the money invested in their education in stead of working, though I hesitate to recommend this, because it isn't only about money, but a professional less in the country. Also, extremely specialized doctors would find it far cheaper to pay back than invest time, but our country needs the neurosurgeons more than the money.

I think some of this also ought to be in reforming education so that students form attachments in the country and genuinely care about the need of the country, which will go a long way toward making this easier for all.

Another comment referred to this as a "communist" choice. I disagree. It is about as communist as the country making the specialized education possible and affordable or people earning more also paying taxes at higher rates. On the other hand, it is capitalist in an exploitative way to the interests of people of both countries to get educated using resources of a poorer country, depriving someone of them, and then going abroad to undercut salaries for doctors who have invested far more money to get qualified there.

In my eyes, while specific solutions may be good for specific groups of people, governments being responsible for entire countries, have a responsibility to make decisions that will help all. The decision to enforce professionals to serve in the country impacts thousands of lives beyond that student alone.

Mumbai has a huge and growing migrant population. And Mumbai has conspicuous ‘sons of the soil’ insisting that priority in employment MUST go to locals. They have ransacked offices, issued ultimatums (and threats), targetted migrants from specific places. I disagree with their methods and I also see them applied unevenly (show me the objections to Gujarati migrants, for example). At the same time, I think there is an important value in what they are saying. And not just for Mumbai.

As inequality grows in India, more and more people are migrating to the cities. Part of the story is what is widely believed – that cities have opportunity. The other part is also that vast tracts of India are simply being cleared for corporations and their people abandoned to landless destitution, or are simply neglected in development to the point of unsustainability. These people land up in cities not only because cities hold hope of jobs, but also because they have been destroyed in their original homes.

Consider tribals who continue to live in forests being targetted as criminals and Maoist supporters. The story of Soni Sori is the tip of the iceberg. There is systematic “pest control” happening to clear out lands in demand. It is little more than a massive drive to empty out the mineral rich homes of the adivasis. Arundhati Roy has written extensively about this. This quote from “Capitalism: A Ghost Story” is telling:

Only days after the Chhattisgarh government signed an MoU for the construction of an integrated steel plant in Bastar with Tata Steel, the Salwa Judum, a vigilante militia, was inaugurated. The government said it was a spontaneous uprising of local people who were fed up of the “repression” by Maoist guerrillas in the forest. It turned out to be a ground-clearing operation, funded and armed by the government and subsidised by mining corporations. In the other states, similar militias were created, with other names. The prime minister announced the Maoists were the “single-largest security challenge in India”. It was a declaration of war.

P Sainath’s reports on water privatization from around 2005 onwards contain horror stories of people being charged impossible rates for irrigation water and put into situations where they have little option but to sell land or starve. A quote from “How the deal was done“:

Back in Maregaon, Chavan points out: “This village lost canal water because people were too poor to pay the old charges. The rates plus fines crossed Rs.1 lakh for us and it got impossible.” Rambhau Mahajan had to pay the equivalent of one acre of land — Rs.25,000 — in order to be able to sell four acres to survive.

To make a long story short, the water was made so expensive that no crop grown in the region could sustain such charges. The bills of water were made more expensive for people with more than two children. Multiple taxes were levied, and non-payment by a few in the village could get water blocked for all. People couldn’t even sell their land without clearing dues first. Is there any wonder that there are suicides? Is there any wonder that people sell their lands and migrate to find work?

This is not progress. This is the desperate grab for opportunity for survival being peddled as progress. AUN report on urbanization says:

As a result of these shifts, developing countries will have 80 per cent of the world’s urban population in 2030.

This may seem like a good thing, but it is worth thinking that if urbanization is such a good thing, then why would developed countries have only 20% of the urban population?

Ok, leave aside this for a minute. India has a large population, and low energy reserves. Our pursuit of goals is all about industrialization, which minimizes human effort and needs more energy and takes a heavy toll from the environment. How is this ever going to result in better employment, energy independence or even ensure people have pollution free environments to live in at all? To feed this monster, we are promoting the corporatization of everything. Large farm holdings run efficiently, etc. Nuclear plants to keep this monster going. But even then, where will the jobs come from? We are already running into this problem. Rural people can migrate to urban areas when life becomes impossible, but what happens to the locals of urban areas when life becomes impossible for them as their meagre opportunities are up for grabs by more and more people?

Leave this aside too. There are allegations that migrant populations add to crime. I have no statistics for this. I haven’t searched. I will, and insert later if I find. So, I am not claiming this for fact. At the same time, migrant populations adding to crime does make sense, because they have no social anchors or any need to maintain their standing in society. Think of it as you going on your first hidden date. You may barely speak with each other in your own locality, but will act like husband and wife in a different place where no one knows you. Obviously you are not committing a crime, but if you were inclined to crime, would you find it easy among people who know you, or people who don’t? It makes a lot of sense that behavior is more reckless among strangers where stakes for disapproval or alienation are low.

This is not to say that all migrants are evil, or that migration should be banned completely or even that migrants should be discriminated against. At the same time, the cost of the rampant migration from the promise of “equal opportunity” overburdens cities and also increases stress for opportunities among populations as well as abandons vast tracts of the country to people who would like them abandoned. Development being defined as movement toward cities makes it increasingly easier to neglect villages.  In the long run, it is going to create pigeon colonies out of people, with vast, lush regions handed over to corporations, because no one else can survive the manufactured hardships.

Leave that aside too. Every place has a potential to work and earn. When people proudly proclaim India is one country and anyone can settle and earn anywhere, why is it that an urban person cannot buy agricultural land and stay in a village, if a person from a village can come and stay in the city? Because the design is to cluster people in less and less space and less and less resources. Factories have no problems buying rural land. It is normal citizens who do. The people making expectations that cities should accommodate everyone who takes a whim to be there choose to see only the rights of migrants in this situation. The desperation of the country to survive and cities being the only visible alternative has led to the blatant confiscation of the right of the people to their land in cities. The fantasy is that cities belong to no one, and everyone is equal. You wouldn’t approve of urban people going and outnumbering tribals in their land, and competing for the food naturally available in the wild, would you? Of course, cities have greater resources to accommodate more people, but it is a mistake to think that those resources are infinite and should not be guarded. Or that people who originally belong to the cities have no special right to their land over migrants. Or that they shouldn’t try and enforce boundaries when things become unsustainable.

There needs to be greater focus on development. On uniform development of India – even though cities remain hubs of civilization. There needs to be effort to sustain populations where they live instead of forcing them to cities. It is  not about opportunity. It is about survival for most migrants. If they could live on land they own and make a living, would they choose to wash your dirty dishes and live in hovels and servitude? The other problem is that when “posh” people claim equal rights for all Indians in cities, they are thinking of working professionals living in flats. Because of course, it is the norm to be blind to the poor. Our sense of majority is limited to those with voice, but the number of migrants with respectable jobs and sustainable work are very, very few. The vast majority inhabit slums and have no clue what they are doing with their lives beyond surviving and at most, saving for a rainy day. My maid is a second generation migrant who still lives in rented rooms and stores clothes in bundles. They have property in their village, but they would have to sell it and become homeless anyway, or starve, because there are no opportunities. Does she like working as a domestic servant? No. She has no choice. This isn’t a migration of opportunity.

We cannot kick out these migrants. They need to survive. Whatever fuck up we have become as a country, we have become together. At the same time, the right of locals to secure resources for themselves in their land should be respected. While burning buses is wrong, there shouldn’t be a need to burn buses over this. There needs to be serious attention paid to rural development and urgently, so that people are able to sustain themselves in their beloved lands with dignity. There still will be migrants chasing rainbows and India is a country for all, but we need to do something to manage the desperate bulk of them before things go into anarchy and we end up in a fight for survival in the supposed lands of opportunity as well.

Such thoughts are finding fertile ground in many places as people find the current systems unsustainable. One such site with alternative economic and development solutions is “Slow Money” – an attempt to begin fixing the economy from the ground up. Many thoughts worth thinking, but when it comes to the holistic development of India, one that is stuck in my imagination is:

What would the world be like if we invested 50% of our assets within 50 miles of where we live?