Brain drain, once more | Inquirer Opinion
Kris-Crossing Mindanao

Brain drain, once more

In 2023, India has overtaken China as the most populous country in the world, with an estimated population of 1,425,775,850, surpassing by 104,498 China’s estimated population of 1,425,671, 352. Both countries are acknowledged to be among the world’s most influential in spreading their socio-cultural icons that have become staples in many parts of the world, including the Philippines.

In contrast, the Philippines, composed of islands, has a population of 117,337,368 people. Unlike India and China, the Philippines is a perennially struggling dwarf compared to the two behemoths, in land area, population, and socio-cultural influence in many parts of the world. For example, you will find an Indian or a Chinese restaurant in many countries, but Filipino food remains an undiscovered rough diamond in the global culinary map.

Yet, in the latest report of Statista in its chart of countries with the most number of educated migrants working in developed countries in the world, the Philippines is third to India and China. Among these developed countries are members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) including the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, and Australia. Aside from working in these countries, Filipino migrants—foremost of whom are health care professionals like nurses and doctors—have also established their new families and become citizens there.

It is interesting to note that India has “exported” 3.12 million of its more than one billion population to OECD countries where they have established a respectable reputation among the learned and brilliant professionals. This is also the same for China which ranks second with most educated migrants in OECD countries, at 2.25 million out of its more than 1 billion population. Then there’s the Philippines with 1.89 million of its more than 100 million population choosing to migrate to other countries.


If we look at the percentage of educated migrants vis-à-vis their countries of birth, the Philippines has “exported” (or is it driven by economic necessity?) more people than India and China. India’s 3.12 million and China’s 2.25 million educated migrants represent a tiny portion (less than 0.5 percent) of their humungous populations of more than one billion each, while our 1.89 million is quite a lot, at almost 2 percent of our total population.

What do these numbers mean?

Both India and China, despite their huge economies and great global influence, are still coping with high numbers of unemployment. In fact, as the Statista report cites, it is now the leading issue in India’s current electoral process that will take place over six weeks, considering the total voting population of almost 1 billion. The Indian national election will determine whether Prime Minister Narendra Modi will get a third term. But with mostly young voters complaining about the lack of employment opportunities there, this election will be quite interesting to watch, as more desperate, well-educated voters are expected to opt to migrate to other countries that promise them better pay and better lives.

For decades now, migrating to seek the proverbial greener pasture has been the usual way out for many Filipinos who have had difficulty getting a viable paying job or a stable source of livelihood. Two of my siblings, for example, one of whom is a highly qualified health worker, a nurse, went for this option after more than five years of slaving it out in a local hospital in our home province in Bohol. She brought her husband and three children to migrate to the United States more than two decades ago, and all of them have since become American citizens.


The case of my siblings is not isolated. There are many more talented, conscientious, and compassionate workers in various fields of endeavor who have decided to leave the Philippines to find better working conditions, better pay, and other things they did not find here.

But not all educated migrants have realized their dreams of a better life abroad; we hear of horror stories of how their employers have mistreated or discriminated against them. Yet, the option to migrate is always an attractive one for many educated Filipinos, leading to a phenomenon referred to as “brain drain.”


Such a phenomenon has become part of discourses of how Filipino families survive on remittance money, and more importantly of keeping our economically emasculated country afloat. Our top officials sing high praises to our overseas Filipino workers or OFWs as our new heroes (“bagong bayani”). And indeed they are—without their remittances, we would have long become a sinking boat.

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