The great brain waste

Published: January 30, 2012

Pakistanis are in search of greener pastures, but most end up cutting tomatoes for restaurants, driving taxis and cleaning toilets. PHOTO: INP

In May last year an Australian embassy press release stated that more than 5,000 Pakistani students have chosen Australia as their destination to study.

How many of these people actually go abroad to study?

The answer is nil.

Living in Australia, I can say that 99% of these so-called students are actually professionals and underachievers of society who go abroad to seek a better life. Let’s face it: who would want to live in a country where there is daily load shedding, nepotism, corruption, government ineptitude and terrorism, right?

Although this Pakistani talent is moving out in search of greener pastures, the truth is that most of it is being put to use in cutting tomatoes for restaurants, driving taxis and cleaning toilets. This phenomenon is known as brain waste.

According to the Encyclopedia of World Economy , brain waste is defined as the underuse of migrant talent in the host country. In the same encyclopedia, which quotes Ozden’s 2006 study, it is mentioned that the brain use of Pakistani migrants is just 38%

The problem is that the toilet cleaner or that person who chops veggies in restaurants is a highly educated man or woman who might possess a masters or bachelors degree but can’t get a decent job. Misconceptions about race and religion are also important factors for Pakistanis being jobless or being caught in sub-standard jobs in the West.

Another important and closely related problem is the under utilisation of Pakistani talent. This means that even if you get a decent job in a high-rise building abroad, you will still face a barrier during job promotions and other office activities. This talent is being wasted in a foreign country. It should really be put to good use in Pakistan. This is why the brain drain in Pakistan and the subsequent brain waste are co-related. Hundreds of Pakistani doctors, engineers and IT professionals are working in super markets, packaging factories and restaurants abroad.

Many Pakistani students go away merely to secure a nationality. They do not even bother to show up for classes during the semester and appear only at the time of exams. After my recent encounters with some of these students, I realised that most are here in a foreign country to secure a better future for their families by sacrificing their own. Sadly, these people add nothing to the knowledge of the host country and finally become parasites. The labour that could have been done by any other common person is now being done by our doctors, scientists and engineers.

Recently, I met a former government teacher from Punjab who after being frustrated by low salaries moved to Australia to work in a kebab shop. All he wants is to earn enough money to move back to Pakistan and open a restaurant in five years, so that he and his family can live “happily ever after”.

After witnessing the government’s legendary acts of corruption, who can convince that poor teacher not to leave his job and pursue a career which is unsuitable for him? The truth is that Asians generally choose their careers on the basis of a given situation and not their talent. Hence, Pakistan which already faces a shortage of teachers, is short of one more.

Who knows how many other doctors, engineers and scientists will leave Pakistan to be contractors, taxi drivers and restaurant owners at the expense of their true skill?

Unfortunately, these talented and highly skilled individuals will remain unutilised unless something substantial is done to stop this brain waste and restore normalcy in the state of Pakistan.

Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that the writer is a resident in Australia. He is in his last semester in an Australian university.



A student of Information Systems Management at Latrobe University, Melbourne. He tweets @Einsjam (

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.


    Whil it can not be denied that many pakistani students (they are not even students) may fall in the category that you are talking about, you are more than highly exagerating. Have some air man! Pakistani doctors and engineers chopping veggies and cleaning toilets ????? I think that 99 percent of this article needs to be flushed down the drain.Recommend

  • Kamal

    ” Let’s face it: who would want to live in a country where there is daily load shedding, nepotism, corruption, government ineptitude and terrorism, right? ”

    A rare breed of idiots who question what they’ve given Pakistan instead of what Pakistan has given them.

    As for the rest of your article – presumptuous; because I know many a Pakistanis who have genuinely gone for higher education to Australia and elsewhere; with some even returning over the years to give a little something back to the motherland. And many who haven’t come back but still own Pakistan’s nepotism, corruption, governmental ineptitude and terrorism as their problems. Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    i won’t deny such people aren’t there having lived in Australia for 4 years, but cmon ur generalising and over exaggerating. Recommend

  • Tribune Reader

    For Engineers and doctors, does the term ‘equivalency exams’ mean anything to you? if you hold a Pakistani Engineering and Medical degree u cant just practise abroad, and in the case of Australia work of low skill and semi skilled nature pays a good amount, that tempts many to avoid a proper 9-5 job, for example a cab driver i met in Sydney, has a bachelors degree from UTS but drives a cab cause he earns a good 70,000$ a yr while if he worked for a graduate entry job his starting would be 35000-40000. Applying the basic laws of Economics, money is what influences movement of resources and in this case human resources, many Pakistanis in Australia have little resistance to manual work, plus in Australia good jobs are dependant on your legal status more than anything else.Recommend

  • Zeeshan

    Something can into Jamal Uddin’s mind and he just wrote it. Come on dude. We know many people who study and work at australia, and not only australia, but all over the world. And there have been many living abroad since decades, since the times when Pakistan was quite in good shape. Going abroad doesnt mean that one is sick of the country only, one can have many motives, and the reason you put here is very poor, as I will tell you that no sane person will leave a country and go to another country and work there cleaning toilets. Does your riddled mind agree to this? I know dozens of Pakistanis who work very good jobs abroad and in AU and many who studied and came back and work here and give something back to the country. Relax jeggar! Take it easy. JRecommend

  • Ahsan

    There is some exaggeration in the article, however, it is correctly pointed out by the author that in recent times, a very large number of Pakistanis have resorted to obtaining student visas and moved to Australia and UK, not with the primary intention of obtaining higher education, but to work and earn money while they enrol in some B-grade college. This needs to be checked as such people by slipping through the system would invite stricter visa policies making life difficult for genuine students. There is a whole bunch of immigration consultants in Lahore, Karachi and all over Pakistan who actually advise such people to obtain student visas, get admissions in some evening colleges in UK, Australia and slip through the net…..It is these people, who in fact are not students, who end up working in restaurants, cleaning toilets etc. The genuine students who go to good universities, usually end up in good respectable white collared jobs in UK, Australia or Middle East for that matter. Recommend

  • Omair Shakil

    Unless the author has met all 5000 students who went to Australia to study last year, which I think is not possible because the author seems to be the sort of a person who noone would want to meet given his holier-than-thou attitude, he is not qualified to comment on this topic.
    Who does he think he is? Passing deridive statements about people who could possibly be much more qualified than the author. I’m sure they’re all better writers, in the least.

    That said, I am all for making life better for yourself in your own country, rather than running after it elsewhere, because once you lose your roots you’re connected to nothing.Recommend

  • Usman Shahid

    A nicely written article based on truth.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I think you’re exaggerating that a sizeable group of educated Pakistanis with medical and engineering degrees end up cleaning toilets in the developed countries, and even that as a permanent occupation.

    You should, however, consider the reason why so Pakistanis would rather risk getting low-paid jobs in foreign countries than get high-paid jobs here. In the developed world, every working legal citizen from a waiter to a truck-driver gets social security, a good pay, and most importantly, respect.

    Otherwise, what do you think is stopping them from throwing away their aprons and returning to Pakistan? Ah, it’s so much fun judging others for not being patriotic enough.Recommend

  • geeko

    lol, not a single statistic to back up your fact about supposedly 99% of the doctors ending up cleaning toilets.Recommend

  • tariq ali khattak

    jimmy bro, it would be great if you could give some statistics. though i am living in l UK and to some extend i am agree with you but still this is not the case for doctors and engineers hahah..
    you know what i mean? i know lot of people here who work as a taxi driver or in a take-aways but non of them having such qualification like doctor or engineers but yes a master’s degree in various fields lol. those doctors and engineers are highly paid mate.Recommend

  • jimmy

    @ Jamal Uddin: I have met many south Asian hypocrites like you here in NZ. People like you force other honest and innocent south asians to go back to their country, discourage them from applying their residencies, talk about hw yr country’s culture is superior , and all those crap talks abt hw u r treated with more respect back home lol ( we all knw hw ppl in ind, pak, bangladesh etc are treated back by their own govts) .. yet ppl like u are the first ones to migrate abroad and apply for citizenship !! Please tell me why did u settle in AUS in the 1st place itself.. Answer me !!! if u want to contribute something back to pakistan.. I suggest you give up yr residency and move forever back to pak … which i knw very well ppl like u will never do ! so instead of over-exaggerating yr views.. I would suggest live and let live … Recommend

  • peterparkerarcher

    I am laughing at those people who are saying that tge author hasnt provided much evidence…has anybody actually read the links tht the writer has provided???? And all the people saying that they know aomeone from australia and thts how they are basing their arguments..on second person evidence while the author has provided some references to support the arguments..oh well the writer has seemed to spoken the truth abd truth generally hurtsRecommend

  • Sabi Khan

    What ever the writer is doing but at top of all he is making all our comments dance beneath his super findings…………Good job Mr writer, The fact was not known to pakistanies…. thanks for putting it on stage……lastly it was totally unknown to those who read tribune,Recommend

  • Ich Dien

    Dear Jamal,

    Try attending one or two gathering of Pakistani professionals in Melbourne and you will find out how incorrect your stats are. If you have trouble locating such professionals do let me know i can give you at least a couple of dozen of contacts. Recommend

  • THE

    This is one for the rubbish bin! Recommend

  • Pakistani

    Where is the evidence that states the 99% figure. Please tell me. I am really curious ?
    The two sources he provides are:a blog and a opinion.Recommend

  • Parvez

    This being written by an Australian-Pakistani possibly with good intentions, has turned out all wrong.Recommend

  • peterparkerarcher


    did you have the chance to look at the book he mentioned? err. i dont think so. good luck trying to jump the hate bandwagon Recommend

  • sophie

    Looks like this piece of writing has touched a lot of raw nerves hahaRecommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    once some body said this in ET coments area migration from pakistan is better than brain waste in the counrty and by the way these peoples sending over 10 billions $ for pakistan chores.Recommend

  • H. Babar

    JamalUddin Sahib where in the world did you get your facts from? These over seas Pakistanis is our last & hope.

    I am out here in a foreign land and in touch with many many Pakistanis. I rarely came accross toilet cleaner, sweeper or menial job person who cane here for studies. Student visa means the foreign embassy has established enough education for the travelor to get into higher college here, which is like already guaranteing his success even if s/he look for a job to pay his her college expenses which I know many(now rich & highly educated) Pakistanis have gone thru when they were going thru college in early days.

    Now please don’t call their tough days of college-jobs as their final career. We are sending a billion dollars a month to pay for your street lights and keep that store on the corner from going out of business. Now how much do you produce and export in a year to pay for the loans you have borrowed from the world or for other life sustaining expenses the country has to endure to stay affloat? We are working harder & putting an honest effort here than most of you over there.

    What you have heard might have happened to immigrants who were called over by their educated and established citizens relatives for their better future. Such visitors are usually very poor who don’t know any english or other technical knowledge or skill, neither can they learn any due to “no clue” so they endup becoming servents to their citizen relatives and eventually let go to by them to feed themselves doing menial jobs.Recommend

  • ali arif

    though i have not traveled to Australia so i will only relate my experiencing in USA. I would agree that this brain waste phenomenon is appallingly true. So much young talent is being wasted, and even if they give usmle exams and go to USA to practice there’s no guarantee that they would go up the career ladder if you know what i mean. honest and blunt article.Recommend

  • Hasan Ali Tanoli

    @H. Babar:

    I am a resident australian, unlike the writer who is just a student. I have been living in Sydney for 10 years now. I came here to do a bio technology course and ten years down the road i am a call center manager at a local energy company. I agree with the writer that most of the talent is being wasted, but what else can we do, I can relate to the writer because we both reside in the same country, as for you mr. babar i dont know where you are living, but in Australia the situation is a little different. Hats of to the writer for bringing this issue forwardRecommend

  • Qasim Umar

    I just came here becuase my friend shared this article with me. As a student of Deakin University Australia, i must say one thing. We pakistanis might be sending millions of dollars of foriegn exchange to Pakistan, but we are the lost generation that might pave the way for the betterment of the future generations of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Awan

    Reading the comments i laughed so hard. It seems that 90% of the commenters have not even gone abroad and expereinced life their and yet they are just commenting as their “facts” are solid ….yeah solid as the berlin wall. Has anybody cliked on the in-text links that writer has provided. This article has opened my eyes. 5 Stars !

  • Irfan Malik

    Love the raw honesty of the article. Great and extremely solid references provided. Though i will deduct 1 point for showing less patriotism.Recommend

  • Wahab Shafi

    @Zeeshan: well if you know those pakistanis then why dont you do us a favor and write about what you know rather than posting snide comments and which are without ANY FACTS, Credit to the writer for bringing this issue to light. Recommend

  • Sadia Mirza

    @MAQBOOL: Its funny that you haven’t provided any facts to support your claims rather than the writer who actually gave the links. ( see the blue colored text). I think Mr. Maqbool, your comment needs to be rubbished and thoroughly rubbished,Recommend

  • Sohail Hassan

    I think this article is fairly unpopular among those people whose relatives are cleaning toilets abroad. hahahaRecommend

  • Umair K

    Thanks for bringing the plight of Pakistanis abroad to light. Bravo and God BlessRecommend

  • Alvi

    After a long while i have really read an incisive and well referenced article. Good Job Mr. Jamal.Recommend

  • SaadUllah Afridi

    Nice piece of work there Jamal Sahib. Do write more as you seem to have written the truth and as one person in the comments said. Truth generally hurts teeheeRecommend

  • Zahra

    I live in australia n have been here fr 5 years now.Whether we are sending money or not, whether we are happy here or not the truth is alot of immigrants,students and Australians do take up taxi driving. And that is brain waste but its in most of the cases for a limited time period , to get top ups or after retirement because yes it does pay Very Well. I’m saying this because my husband works as an operations manager at a cab company. So there’s your source of reference. Many of the drivers are like friends to us. So yes driving a taxi is a brain waste for someone who could be a pilot, but from my experience this particular pilot drove taxi to pay his fee n has become one now. There are those who have it tough and can’t move up and it’s true there is rascism in Australia n in the rest of the western world which can hinder progress but you’d still be able make a good living, but if taxi driving gives more money then yes alot of people would be tempted to take it up. All in all life for a student is way too difficult than an actual citizen. As a citizen there are more ways open to you than you would know. And that’s just facts.Recommend

  • Farah Khan

    I would agree with the writer that many pakistanis in forign countries are caught doing jobs that they are not supposed to to be doing. Even if they are cleaning toilets or packing chocolates in boxes at factories, they still lack the career advancement that is afforded to Chinese and Indian migrants. I think that this pakistani talent must be utilized in Pakistan as there is such a big problem of briloiant minds going abroad. By the way the writer. Do you intend to come back to Pakistan?Recommend

  • Maria

    The author does not have a clue about what he is talking about. Tell me why China and India are the biggest sources of immigration to Australia and North America. Simply put, people want a better life in today’s global world and Pakistanis are no exception. I know in Canada thousands of Indian and Chinese students come and want to settle. They are happy to do even the most menial of jobs to live abroad because they want to make a new life. So even if things were perfect in Pakistan, people will still want to see the world. As for the so called talent, I think most of know that the standard of education in most 3 rd World countries is a joke. They are lucky to have an easy 3rd World degree that they can “upgrade” with additional exams when abroad but otherwise most of these people are not educated in any sense of the word.Recommend

  • Khawar

    @MAQBOOL: any facts or articles or journal pages to support your statement? None. Which means your statement is utterly useless.Kindly state those things that you can prove. other wise let the wisemen talk among themselves.Recommend

  • Imran Khan

    Now thats how a proper article must be written. It shouldnt be biased. And this article is anything but biased. add a little bit of controversy and you have perfect recipe for a lively debate. Good job sir jamal. By the way , you are still a student, there’s more to life then staying in australiaRecommend

  • Pappo Piplia

    what a stupid false article.Recommend

  • Hassan

    @Pappo Piplia: You do realize that you have nothing else to say other than ridiculing a person’s piece of work.

    Lovely and thought provoking article mister JamalRecommend

  • Malik Jee

    @Pappo Piplia:

    I think your comment is stupid and false.

    @ Ich Dien: Do me a favor and give me some contacts as I live in Perth, which is in Australia. Otherwise just dont talk in the air. The article is based on well established facts and funnily enough the writer hasnt even taken sides and yet people are saying that its derisive against the people who are living abroad. Well if you know so much why post snide comments. Write a Blog instead. I think the admins who seem to biased by allowing comments like Pappo Piplia’s are themselves biasedRecommend

  • peterparkerarcher

    @MAQBOOL: useless comment. nothing constructive about itRecommend

  • Grace

    I wouldn’t call it a brain drain when half of the people in Pakistan and Africa have phoney degrees anyway- it’s good that a lot of people with no jobs leave since they were a burden on the country anyway. They couldn’t use their degree at home anyhow. Think about how many medical schools are in each city where they just print out degrees and no one really studies.Recommend

  • Ali Tanoli

    @Hasan Ali Tanoli,
    I guess peoples living in North America from pakistan or even from south asia are in much
    better condition than peoples living in Racist Cangroos continent.Recommend

  • Shikwa Kion

    I Say why migrate to the other end of the world when you don’t want to learn their language, dont want to participate in local & civic activities not even in a marathon, don’t make friends with them, instead only hang out and fester with the same buddies you can make friends with in country of origin. Don’t want to work harder for a new and better career. Always in fear that “they” hate you for one reason or the other.

    If you’re positive and self starter don’t forget 10million foreign national in Pakstan are making a living right here under our nose, really. You can too, why go through so much for nothing!Recommend

  • Hamna Maqbool

    Wow, that was an eye opening article. The author has brought to light a very important issue that was under the covers for a while because frankly nobody wants to admit that the Pakistanis living abroad are really having a tough. Pakistanis abroad usually are either being Indians or if they are a bit fairer- as Arab terrorists. Good jobs are hard to come by and most of them do jobs that are not related to their skills. most of them either become cynics or overly enthusiastic Pakistanis who actually lose the true picture of Pakistan. that said, as a net junkie i was surprised to see that this article has spawned a debate on some forums and a blog on another news site has appeared about the dos and donts of education abroad. Well Done writer.Recommend

  • peterparkerarcher

    The writer is talking about brain waste not brain drain.


  • Israr Khan

    Great Work. Highy informative. Do write more.Recommend

  • Usman Shehzad

    Great ! Now i know the difference between brain drain and brain wasteRecommend

  • Vikram

    Aurhor: I wonder if you are willing to go back to Pakistan and slow down brain drain. US was created by people who were brain waste from different countries. I remember a story of an Indian who failed grade 9th and 10th in India. Went to Australia, slept on benches went thru hard life and educated himself in computer science and now own’s a business doing 100s of millions dollars per year. Lot of desi immigrants are doing very well in US and have become millionaire and multi multimillionaires. These so called “brain waste” send billions of dollars home every year. Pakistan problem is it is controlled by uncducated mullahs and corrupt politicians. For many people terrorism is a way of making millions of dollars. One may be cutting vegetables today in a restaurant, next year that person may own the restaurant. Only this week I saw a story of a desi who started working in an airline at a very low job and now owns a big airline (Cargojet) in Canada.Recommend

  • Salahuddin


    First of all I really cant bear the patronizing attitude of the Indians. You seem to know only about terrorism in Pakistan and nothing else ( your people’s obsession with ajmal kassab is universally known). So kindly stop this patronizing, big brother attitude towards Pakistan and focus on your own problems.

    That being said i would like to take this opportunity to tell you that a country is built on the endeavors of its people who remain in the motherland rather than on the money sent by the expats. If you think that Pakistan has to survive on money sent by the expats then your knowledge of school level economics and social sciences is clearly laughable.

    Secondly you talked about examples of cargojet and other “desis” who became millionaires in the foreign lands. Well, what benefit did they bring to the home country. They pay taxes that goes in the coffers of their adopted country’s government. They give jobs that benefit the people from their adopted country’s, so what benefit do they bring to their motherland?

    So please, kindly educate yourself about socio-economics and find a little more about Pakistan, I assure you that there is more to it then your media and government prefer to show you.


  • jimmy

    @Hasan Ali Tanoli: Most of the talent wasted?? do you seriously beleive in that?? look at yrself u r a call center manager of an energy company in aus.. earning good salary… so u should be happy with wht the company has given u….. countries like aus, nz are not perfect as their crime laws are not very strict, but the fact is that the work environment and lifestyle u get in these countries u will never get in any south asian countries !! its a fact.. tell me back home in pakistan , do u know even a cleaner, taxi driver or a contruction worker earners RS. 30- 70,000 per month in aus where as back in our own homes they are best paid only 6,000 rs !!! plus u guys hve more freedom to do wht u wnt something which u can never get bck home… if pakistani ppl r happy wth these jobs , then why shuld we bother ?? besides school education is free and university is barely around just 2000- 4000 $ per year, which the banks will give you (loans) as well as student allowances, so wht more else do u need ?? Recommend

  • jimmy

    And Pakistan’s obsession about Kashmir is well known world over as well :)Recommend

  • Ijaz

    @jimmy: Slave MindsetRecommend

  • Reader

    A nice article but maybe a bit too exaggerated. I am currently studying in Australia, writing my Phd thesis these days. Besides my PhD, I represent an Australian company in its every international design meeting (and Yes I work there part-time). Every single person in company knows I am a Pakistani and Yes they know I eat halal. Nationality and religion are an excuse for those who are not working hard. Last month I spoke at Sydney Power House Meseum on my research work. Currently I have a BMW and I know many Pakistani’s who drive high end cars and are doing good jobs. Point is, Pakistani’s are not just cutting vegetables or living a low life. We have given Pakistan respect by our brain and hard work here. Pl get some self-esteem and start to think positive about Pakistan. In July this year, I am going back to Pakistan to teach there. You are welcome to come over and I will show you Pakistani’s in Australia whom you can be proud of.Recommend

  • peterparkerarcher

    There r exceptions in every case. AcceptedRecommend

  • Jamal


    Funny, inviting somebody to visit and not even mentioning your kind name :)

    By the way, I accept your invitation. On one condition. The lunch is on you.Recommend

  • Reader

    you are welcome. Just click on my name and you will find me in “about” section of website :)Recommend