Brain drain or brain gain? Impact of migration on Bangladesh’s economy

Written by: Nitin Debnath

Migration has been a fundamental aspect in the history of Bangladesh, shaping its economic, political, and social life. Bangladesh has a long history of migration. Historically, emigration from Bangladesh primarily consisted of low-skilled laborers seeking better economic prospects abroad. This trend continued for decades, with many Bangladeshis working in the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and other regions. These remittances became a pivotal source of income for many Bangladeshi families, which helped shape Bangladesh’s economy to a great extent.
Recently, Bangladesh has witnessed a different kind of migration trend, with a growing number of young and educated individuals leaving their homeland to search for better opportunities abroad. This phenomenon has both positive and negative implications for the nation’s future.
The question of whether it represents a brain drain or a brain gain for Bangladesh remains a subject of debate. In 2023, as the world grapples with unprecedented challenges, it is essential to assess the impact of migration on Bangladesh’s economy and the implications for the nation’s development.
Brain drain or brain gain?
The term “brain drain” refers to the emigration of highly skilled and educated individuals from their home country to seek better opportunities abroad. Bangladesh has witnessed a substantial brain drain over the years, with many of its brightest minds leaving for developed countries in pursuit of higher education, lucrative jobs, and a higher quality of life. This massive tendency for movement among the younger generation can be attributed to a variety of factors.
What are the primary reasons for brain drain?
Five years ago, a survey created a lot of stir in Bangladesh when a World Economic Forum study showed that 82% of the population aged between 15-29 would prefer to migrate abroad. Based on a survey carried out by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in mid-January 2020, the non-profit international organization claimed that 82 percent of young people aged between 15 and 29 in Bangladesh “expressed their desire to leave the country”.
One of the primary reasons for brain drain in Bangladesh is the pursuit of higher education overseas. While this allows them access to world-class education, it often results in a loss of talent for the country as these individuals may not return after completing their studies. None of the institutions in Bangladesh are listed among the top 500 universities in the most recent QS University World Ranking. This incident reveals a lot about Bangladesh’s current position, which is a concerning problem for the nation. Talented and highly competent individuals find that their skills are squandered here, which forces them to leave the country.
The lure of better job opportunities and higher salaries in developed countries is another significant factor contributing to brain drain. Many skilled professionals, including doctors, engineers, and IT experts, leave Bangladesh to work abroad, leaving gaps in vital sectors of the economy. Bangladesh has faced political instability and economic challenges over the years, leading to a lack of job security and uncertainty about the future. This uncertainty drives many talented individuals to seek stability and a brighter future abroad. After covid 19 this migration tendency has increased to a great extent. Many people lost their jobs, and the lack of resources created session jams in universities, which compelled the students to think about different options.
How is brain gain useful for the country?
While brain drain is a concern, migration also brings about positive effects for Bangladesh, often referred to as brain gain. This phenomenon occurs when Bangladeshi expatriates contribute to the country’s development in various ways. “Brain gain” suggests that the emigration of skilled workers can have positive effects, such as remittances, knowledge transfer, and international networks that can benefit the home country.
Bangladeshi migrants send a significant amount of remittances back home, which greatly stabilizes the country’s economy. Families that couldn’t even manage basic needs are seen leading lavish lives thanks to the remittances. These remittances contribute to economic growth. In recent years, Bangladesh has witnessed a substantial influx of remittances.
Some migrants tend to return to their homeland after acquiring valuable knowledge and experience abroad. They contribute to the education, business, and health sectors using those skills and experiences. Bangladeshi diaspora communities around the world often play an active role in promoting their homeland. They establish networks, invest in businesses, and engage in philanthropic activities, contributing to the country’s development.
Over the last few decades, Bangladesh has managed to turn on its brain gain and done well in both social and economic sectors. Based on its economic and social accomplishments, Bangladesh has qualified to transition from the least developed country (LDC) status to that of a developing country. Recognizing the importance of migration, the Bangladesh government has implemented various initiatives to harness the benefits of migration while mitigating its challenges, such as skill development programs, returnee efforts, etc.
Impact of migration on the economy of the country
Migration continues to have a multifaceted impact on Bangladesh’s economy. Due to the problem of brain drain, Bangladesh is suffering from a shortage of skilled workers, engineers, and managers, and the situation is deteriorating day by day. Due to this, many local, national, and international firms are hiring workers and managers from abroad. A 2019 report by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS) revealed that various sectors such as ready-made garments (RMG), leather, ICT, infrastructure development, food processing, light engineering, healthcare, tourism, and the ship-building industry will require several millions of skilled workers and experts by 2025. While it is true that the migration of highly skilled employees may be referred to as a brain drain, migration’s total benefits—including remittances, economic stability, and knowledge transfer—cannot be overlooked. Bangladesh’s future course will be determined by its capacity to strike a balance between utilizing the advantages of migration and managing its difficulties.
The effect of migration on Bangladesh’s economy ultimately depends on a complex interaction of circumstances rather than being simple. Bangladesh should keep using migration as a tool for future economic growth and development by creating a welcoming atmosphere for both.

This article is 𝐏𝐚𝐫𝐭-𝟎5 of YPF safe Migration Policy Team’s”𝐁𝐞𝐡𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐉𝐨𝐮𝐫𝐧𝐞𝐲𝐬: 𝐄𝐱𝐩𝐥𝐨𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐌𝐢𝐠𝐫𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧” series

To Read Part- 01 Click here

To Read Part- 02 Click Here

To Read Part-03 Click Here

To Read Part-04 Click Here

To Read Part-06 Click Here

Featured Image Courtesy: QS
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