THE brain drain is real! As most advanced countries implement immigration policies that attract the best of human capital across the world, Africa continues to lose its pool of skilled workers to these countries. Scholarships, internships, work experience and training programmes, stints in industry programmes, Highly Skilled Migrant programmes, Tier One, and Tier Two visas are some of the many schemes that allow Britain, for instance, to attract the very best scientists and other professionals from Africa.
A study for the International Organization for Migration “Mapping of Nigeria Health and Education Professionals in the UK” by Equinox Consulting revealed that most Africans, including second and third generations, had a strong affinity to their countries of origin. They think daily of the place, search for weekly news and trends in their fields and specialities, are in close contact with colleagues in the same professions back home and they often travel frequently on holidays to visit friends and family. But without a comprehensive proactive programme by governments to entice them back, there is very little chance of reversing the brain drain. Patriotism alone is not enough.
There are very strong pull factors at the heart of the migration of professionals. They come to advance their educational and professional qualifications and to achieve a better quality of life financially in a more advanced economy. They stay, however, because of excellent conditions of employment, a fairer system of appraisal and promotion and a supportive professional environment that enables them to achieve their best professionally.
Undoubtedly, the work is demanding and difficult but with enforceable contracts, the problem of the glass ceiling and the racial discrimination they sometimes face is just not enough to make them give up the roots that they and their families have developed and go back to a less certain future back home.
For most skilled professionals, the quality of the relocation package, comparable salary and benefits, and opportunities for career advancement may be important, but these personal benefits are less critical than the general lack of a developed infrastructure, security and safety concerns, lack of political leadership and weak governance and corruption which they see as factors that detract from returning in the short term.
The key to an effective programme is a partnership approach led by governments working with civil society organisations with the assistance of the International Organization of Migration. IOM has supported countries that want to implement better management of migration to arrest the situation and turn the issue of brain drain into brain gain to enable the pool of skilled African talent to return to their countries of origin.
Whilst some professionals may not wish to go home immediately, government action and incentives may target three categories of probable returnees. Those, such as, bright young sparks at the beginning of their careers, persons in middle management who may want a change and persons nearing their retirement who may wish to take early retirement to enjoy the benefits of projects that they have already established back home.
Umbrella civil society organisations can work with the high commissions and the embassies to undertake an audit of skills of professionals and maintain an employment exchange of skills shortages in different professions in different areas of the country. These skills exchanges can be used to recruit people who want to go back immediately.
In some schemes that have worked, Diaspora medical organisations have operated working experience schemes where the professionals have taken time off their work here to go and help in hospitals with the trips facilitated by professional organisations in the host country. The government has provided support in accommodation and security. Diaspora area community organisations have also been able to sign memorandums of agreement with their local home governments.
Evaluation of such schemes has revealed that it is better to take a lot of people to one unit where they make more of an impact in changing culture and implementing new methods of work than to spread them across several units where they end up fighting a turgid system.
These trips also provide some of the professionals with a better opportunity to scout the system and determine where they could fit in and adjust their plans for future return.
Another mechanism is the implementation of a Diaspora Week with activities where results of government policies in better migration are showcased to attract returning diasporas and those on holiday.
Without government involvement and political will, these schemes will not work. Most professionals will tell you that the key to return ultimately lies in the country being fixed, providing evidence of economic growth, stability, and less corruption within their countries of origin. In the view of the professionals, it is fixing the country that will, in turn, create better working conditions within all the sectors.
Ade Sawyerr is a management consultant at Equinox Consulting who works on enterprise, employment and community development issues within the inner city and black and minority communities in Britain. He comments on social, economic and political issues and can be contacted at www.equinoxconsulting.net or [email protected].