“Staggering numbers” of highly skilled graduates are leaving Lebanon
each year, severely hampering economic growth, according to new
published Tuesday in conjunction with the United Nations Development
Program’s latest Human Development Report shows an annual migration of
roughly 20,000 Lebanese, the majority of which are well-educated. This
contributes to a crippling “brain drain,” and strains the national
workforce, according to economic and social policy experts.
than two-thirds of male and 45 percent of female university graduates
opt to work abroad – a worrying trend according to assistant professor
of economics at American University Beirut, Jad Chaaban.
Lebanese migrants are highly skilled. Many of them are medical or
engineering students and a significant proportion of those studying now
– more than a third – say they want to leave,” he said. “These are not
30 percent of emigrants head for the Gulf states with the US and
Australia also hosting several thousand Lebanese expatriates.
UNDP report, “Overcoming barriers: human mobility and development,” was
launched on Tuesday under the auspices of Marta Ruedas, the UN deputy
special coordinator for Lebanon.
contained 2009 rankings tables for levels of human development in
individual countries. It ranked Lebanon as the 83rd most desirable
place to live based on life expectancy, access to education and quality
of life – a fall of five places since 2006.
spite of what Ruedas termed a recent “overall positive trend” of human
development, Lebanon has struggled to keep up with countries at similar
stages of maturity.
is not so positive is that the rank of Lebanon has gone down. This
means that Lebanon, in a comparative scheme, is going forward at a
slower rate,” she said.
As for migration, Lebanon still struggles to keep its most talented individuals at home.
pointed to domestic “push factors” which prompt young people to leave,
which include political instability, the high cost of living within
Lebanon and “cumbersome” legislation which discourages
addition, higher salaries and more rewarding working environments in
adopted countries pull Lebanese workers to more attractive job packages
“Lebanon is not
creating enough skilled labor opportunities,” he said. “We are losing
talented individuals and paying locally for education that has its
Almost 40 percent of the world’s migrants are from the Middle East and North Africa Region.
“Migration in this region is something that we really need to take a look at. There are positives and negatives,” said Ruedas.
added that human-rights abuses among migrants in the region were rife
and that many lack access to basic social provisions once settled in
their adopted countries.
are] a number of abusive and exploitative working conditions and the
distinctive reaction for a country [receiving migrants] is to initially
throw up barriers in terms of employment,” she said. “Migrant women in
the Gulf countries are excluded in many places from normal worker
protection. This changing slowly, but it is still a dominant factor of
migration in this region.”
report’s launch also discussed the potential benefits that migration
offers to Lebanon, including the vast remittances sent by the Lebanese
“There are a lot of opportunities for Lebanon when it comes to migration,” said Ruedas.
is second only to India in the amount of remittances received,
calculated as $4.5 billion in 2006, the most recent year on which data
was compiled. Remittances now account for more than 20 percent of
Lebanese GDP, but this is not always to the benefit of communities
“Most money sent back home to Lebanon seems to be spent on daily consumption – up to 80 percent,” said Chaaban.
announced that the UNDP within Lebanon was working on initiatives that
would see money sent from abroad used more for social development.
“Most often remittances come, but they go directly to families,” said
Ruedas. “They tend to be less directly connected to development than
might be the case.”
said research done by the University of Saint Joseph, Lebanese American
University and American University Beirut had unearthed a previously
unexplored advantage of migration from Lebanon – an increased
competitiveness among students.
I know I have a potential to leave, I want to study more in my country,
so I tend to learn more languages and skills. This expectation of
migration creates a competition for learning,” said Chaaban.
phenomenon has lead to a generation of exceptionally well-skilled
Lebanese, all of whom are competing for a relatively small amount of
jobs to suit their qualification levels.
suggested that more skilled public sector jobs be created in order to
accommodate graduates and prevent them leaving for pastures greener.
“This is an idea applied in many countries. The private sector is not creating enough jobs – they are really limited to real estate and services – so the public sector needs to step in and upgrade their skilled workforce,” he said. “It needs to get these people back.”
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