Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part essay. The first part was “How the Gulf Countries Could Help Retain Arab Talent.”
In part one of this commentary, I described how my own journey from Yemen to better educational and career opportunities in the West is also the story of many thousands of other Arabs who go abroad to study. Though many initially hope to return to their home countries, where their talents are needed, hard realities often get in the way.
I proposed a new formula that would allow the Gulf Cooperation Council countries to contribute to slowing and countering the brain drain from the Middle East and North Africa region, transforming it into a “brain gain.” The idea is for the GCC countries, which draw on Arab scientists and professionals trained in other countries to staff their advanced education and research facilities, to do more to help keep Arab talent in the region. I believe this would be a win-win proposition for the whole region. Let me explain in more detail how it would work.
Give Expats Equal Chances to Advance
First, there is a motivational problem for Arab expats who hold academic and research positions in GCC countries but have no prospects of ever being granted citizenship or even permanent resident status. They live in these countries for decades without being able to plant roots or call them home. In most cases, they are not competing on a level playing field, and their chances for advancement are limited by a glass ceiling that can only be broken by peers who are citizens of the host country.
The expats and their families become increasingly frustrated by constant reminders of how their growth and ability to make an impact are restricted by local laws, boundaries, and practices. This prevents them from realizing their full potential and getting satisfaction from the job and the profession they have dedicated their lives to. There are no signs that these realities will change soon, as is evident in the recent rise in nationalism and populism in the region and austerity measures imposed by many GCC countries that selectively target the expats in these countries.
With that in mind, providing bridges and channels allowing Arab expats to reconnect with their roots and people in their home country would give them a renewed sense of purpose, and greater motivation to continue to excel and innovate in their field, and not just to keep their job. More importantly, they would develop a greater sense of appreciation for their host country and become more invested in the development of its human capital and institutions. In the absence of a path to citizenship, this could be a great mechanism to ensure the retention of talent and expertise in the recipient country.