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'Brain Drain' Is Taking Its Toll on ASEAN Workforce and Economy: Study

Highly skilled members of the ASEAN workforce are pursuing more lucrative opportunities outside of their home countries.

Bloomberg reports that a study from February published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) “shows that the number of immigrants with university degrees who left to work in richer nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) surged 66% in the decade through 2010-2011 to 2.8 million.”

The Philippines is the most prominent example, accounting for more than half of that figure, not including Filipinos working in regions outside the OECD. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of Filipinos who left their home country to work overseas spiked by another 27%.

The term “brain drain,” an expression coined to describe the phenomenon of educated professionals seeking work abroad, gained popularity in the 1960s to describe the mass exodus of British scientists to the United States. In modern usage, it refers to the loss of human capital.

Immigrants from Southeast Asia are more likely to be overqualified for the jobs they take in OECD countries. “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,” said the ADB study.

The World Bank estimates that remittances to developing countries amounted to US$429 billion in 2016. A staggering US$30 billion of that went to the Philippines, accounting for a tenth of the nation’s GDP.

Despite advances in education, Vietnam’s skilled workers, aggravated by low domestic salaries, are seeking competitive wages not only in western countries, but also in regional neighbors such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.

However, changes in this trend may be near. The World Bank revealed in a recent report that in 2016, remittances to developing countries fell for a second consecutive year. The brief concludes that this is a result of low oil prices and weak economic growth in much of the developed world. That said, it might be the catalyst that drives the foreign workforce back home.

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