Thursday, December 3, 2009

Why get them to come home when in the first place we should try to get them to stay?

Reasons to leave
Why Not?

By WONG SAI WAN
Friday December 4, 2009



The number of Malaysians leaving to settle down in other countries is growing and this worrying trend needs to be studied.

MALAYSIANS are a well-travelled lot and there are very few countries in the world where at least one of our countryman cannot be found eking a living there.

In my travels as a journalist in the past 25 years covering various assignments, especially the visits by the Prime Ministers, the only place I could recall where I did not meet a fellow Malaysian was Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryat - one of the isolated former Soviet republics in Siberia.

Former diplomat Dennis Ignatius wrote in his column in The Star last month that he estimated that there were about one million Malaysians living abroad, half of them in Britain and the United States.

According to Ignatius, there were more than 300,000 in Britain, 200,000 in the US, 95,000 in Australia and 50,000 in Canada.

I even met a Malaysian in Peru who together with his Taiwanese wife had settled down in the South American country where he exports seafood like abalone to Asian countries. Even in Africa, where I have visited more than 10 countries, I met at least two of our countrymen in each of those nations.

This shows that we are a resilient lot and can make a living anywhere in the world. It is something to be proud of.

However, when Deputy Foreign Minister A. Kohilan Pillay told the Dewan Rakyat on Monday that a total of 304,358 Malaysians left the country between March last year and August this year, it must have surely rung alarm bells in the halls of power.

If it did not and the government leaders are not worried, then they better sit up and listen.

The number of OUR people migrating overseas in that 18 months is more than double that in 2007 when 139,696 migrated to other countries.

Kohilan admitted that the figures may be higher because they were derived from only those who had registered with Malaysia’s representative offices abroad.

On top of that, the deputy minister said the figures included 50,000 students who left to study abroad during that period.

So even if we exclude these student numbers, that’s still over 250,000 capable Malaysians who have left the country to settle down elsewhere — and we can be sure that they are well qualified, otherwise their new home countries would not have accepted them.

I dread to think of how many doctors, engineers, accountants and other professionals we have lost. This does not include expert brick-layers, artisans and even artists who have chosen to seek their fortune elsewhere.

Many of our 50,000 students will also not return home.

I have made it a point when I am overseas to meet with our students, especially those about to graduate. It is not a difficult thing to do because the Malaysian missions often organise meetings between visiting VIPs and the students. I just stayed back to meet them afterwards and many of them tell me that they do not intend to come home immediately after their graduation.

Most of them want to stay back to gain some experience and some even admitted that they had already applied for their PR (permanent resident) visas.

Even at 250,000 (excluding the students), this means that we lost about 1% of our population - now that is a worrying figure if this trend continues, especially since these are among our top talents.

Labis MP Chua Tee Yong, who had asked Kohilan the question about migration, had wondered whether the higher number of migration was a result of the political climate after the March 8 election, to which the deputy minister replied that it was a ‘’weak factor’’.

And Kohilan stated that the reasons for them migrating were for better education, business and career prospects. In other words, they left because they don’t think their future in Malaysia is bright. Something must be done to reverse this trend.

The Government has drawn up an extensive brain gain programme to attract ex-Malaysians or those living overseas to come home but that is not a proactive move. Why get them to come home when in the first place we should try to get them to stay?

The authorities must examine the reasons why 1% of the population left in just 18 months and will this figure go up again? Are there any particular policies that are driving these good people away?

We have drawn up all sorts of incentives to attract foreigners to come here, ranging from tax incentives to the Malaysia My Second Home programme. Isn’t it more urgent and cheaper to retain our talents?

I hope that the authorities will not just dismiss this latest increase in migration as just an over-reaction by certain ethnic groups only.

Back in the 1970s, many non-Malays left because they felt insecure after the May 13 incident and the introduction of the New Economic Policy. In the late 1980s, there was another spike in migration after the Ops Lalang crackdown in 1987 and again it was mostly non-Malays.

However, a former Australian High Commissioner told me that in the past few years the number of Malays seeking to migrate has increased tremendously. But to me that is not the issue. Why not?

Because it would be against the spirit of 1Malaysia – we should treat brain drain not as an ethnic problem, but as a national issue.

> Deputy Executive Editor Wong Sai Wan’s son will soon leave for overseas to study but the boy says he will come back although the father is unsure.