Thursday, August 2, 2012

No stopping the bleeding? | theSundaily

Posted on 2 August 2012 - 07:06pm
Last updated on 3 August 2012 - 02:06am
Freddie Ng

I AM moving to Australia soon," a close friend messaged me out of the blue one day about two years ago.

"Eh? How come you've decided to migrate all of a sudden?" I asked. He then told me he was migrating because his daughter, a doctor, had been offered a job at a children's hospital in Sydney.

The young woman, a specialist at a government hospital in Malaysia, had a week after attending a medical symposium, received a phone call asking if she would like to work in Australia.

"She said she was interested but had an aged father to care for, and was immediately assured it would not be a problem," he said.

They told her the Australian government would extend a dependant's visa for her father if she took the job. She was then told to go with her father to the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur in a week and to take along their passports.

"When we went there the following Monday, there was a sealed envelope waiting for her, containing a letter of offer for employment which outlined the salary and perks," he said.

As soon as she signed her acceptance of the offer, Australian Permanent Residence visas were issued to both of them.

It was that easy! And that fast! In less than a month, the Australian government had facilitated the snapping up of foreign skilled manpower or rather "brainpower" they sought.

The young doctor is now happily practising her area of speciality in Sydney where she earns a good salary and enjoys good perks, drives a new BMW and lives in a nice condo with her father.

Soon after starting work there, she was taught another skill used by the medical staff at the hospital – how to fly a helicopter – and she has since earned her wings.

Nice story ... but let's get real! This is an example of the "brain drain" our country is facing – the departure of hundreds of thousands of highly educated or professional people from Malaysia to seek a better life.

Many leave as students to study at foreign varsities, often with full scholarships offered by foreign governments, and choose not to return, except for vacations and to attend special occasions.

A lawyer friend is proud that all his children hold professional jobs abroad. Another friend, however, has mixed feelings about his two children working in Australia as doctors.

He knows they are there because conditions are more favourable for them but bemoans the fact that they refuse to come back to work in Malaysia after studying there.

"My wife and I have 'lost' our two daughters because they feel it is not conducive to come back to work here," he said, adding, however, that they don't blame their children.

"They just do not want to return and put themselves at the mercy of some health ministry clerk who may decide that they should do their housemanship in 'Ulu Semuatakde'," he said.

"If they had gone for their medical studies on a government scholarship, it would be fair to have them repay society by serving their housemanship wherever the ministry decides.

"They don't mind doing housemanship here, but when they go overseas on 'FaMa' scholarship – father and mama that is – they should at the very least be allowed the choice of where they want to do their housemanship."

The parents' frustration is made worse by the imminence of the Empty Nest Syndrome, as their youngest child will soon be flying the coop following in the footsteps of her two elder siblings.

While some may say those who migrate to work abroad are being disloyal to Malaysia, others say they are just being loyal to their own careers and have every right to emigrate to seek better lives.

It is estimated that the brain drain has cost the country the loss of more than 1.5 million educated and professional Malaysians, mainly to Singapore and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries like the United Kingdom, United States and Australia.

According to the World Bank report last year on the brain drain affecting Malaysia, about 55% went to Singapore, 15% to Australia, 10% to the UK and 10% to the US, with the majority of them being non-Malays.

The major pull factors cited include better educational and career opportunities, and benefits while major push factors include social inequality, corruption and affirmative action policies.

The government is aware of the brain drain and has tried its best to reverse the situation, first through the Brain Gain programme established under the Science and Technology Ministry in 2006, and more recently through the setting up of Talent Corporation to attract highly qualified Malaysians back home.

Sweeteners offered by Talent Corp include:
» flat income tax rate of 15% for five years;
» tax exemption for personal effects brought home; and
» guaranteed permanent residence status for foreign spouses and children who may study at international schools in Malaysia.

So far, despite the government's efforts, the net loss has been greater than the small gains achieved, and even a good number of those they managed to attract back home, have since left again.

It would seem that perhaps these so-called incentives mean nothing to those wooed, as their primary reasons for leaving in the first place involve much bigger issues.

The writer is managing editor at theSun. Comments:

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