Asia's developing nations suffer as their brightest talents move in search of better opportunities, as Alfred Romann reports for China Business Weekly.
There are about 1.4 million Indonesia-born migrants in Malaysia, making the Indonesia-Malaysia migrant corridor one of the busiest in the world.
Malaysia is a "receiving" country, according to the World Bank, meaning that more people go to Malaysia every year than leave it. But this does not take away from the fact that Malaysia has a severe brain drain.
Most of the immigrants are low-skilled laborers. Most of the emigrants, however, tend to have university degrees. According to the World Bank, the problem is severe enough to jeopardize the country's development prospects throughout this decade.
Malaysia is not the only country in Asia that has to deal with a growing brain drain. Most of the developing countries on the continent face similar difficulties. The best and the brightest often find opportunities elsewhere and are lured to those opportunities by higher pay, more comfortable lifestyles and the possibility of taking their scientific acumen or business skills further.
The problem tends to affect developing countries in the region more than their developed peers. Places such as South Korea, Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia or New Zealand tend to attract talent from their less-developed neighbours such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, the Philippines, Nepal, India or China. The best and brightest go further afield, to study and work in North America or Europe where pay scales are in a different category and the opportunities for growth often greater.
"There are incentives to go abroad because there are few opportunities (at home)," says Juzhong Zhuang, an economist at the Asian Development Bank. "There is both a push and a pull problem."
The "push" is the lack of opportunities at home, which drives talented people away. The "pull" is the lure of financial rewards and lifestyle, which encourages people to move away.
This pattern is not new. Japan, Taiwan and South Korea all had to stem the tide of talent heading overseas during the 1970s and 1980s. As those countries moved up the development ladder and their economies grew, the drain became less severe.
So this brain drain problem may be more of a symptom of socioeconomic development than an illness in itself.
"A more useful way to look at the issue is to look at it in terms of domestic policy," Zhuang says. "The question is: How are you going to deal with it?"
Two issues come into play, says Huang Jing, a professor and director of the Centre on Asia and Globalization at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.
The first issue is access. It is relatively easy for people in Malaysia or Indonesia to get a passport and travel abroad. But the same was not true of China in the 1980s or 1990s, so brain drain was less of a concern.