The Vicious Circle of Emigration

A correspondent provides a great overview on Tehran Bureau of the brain drain that reduces the chance for change:

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In the job market of a rapidly developing country like Iran, 27-year-old Sami R., a freshly graduated engineer, should be a desirable commodity. After earning a master’s degree in business and engineering from King’s College in London, he recently returned to Tehran to spend time with his family, who have not seen him in two years. But he doesn’t plan on staying for too long. “Being bright, capable, and useful is not the only thing you need to prove yourself in Iran,” he says. “You have to either be related to someone or be with the government to do something. So you kind of have to sell your soul.”

In the next two months, Sami intends to make a permanent move to Alberta, Canada. His chief objective isn’t to find a lucrative job in his career field, but to obtain a foreign passport that would cement his chances of living abroad. “Iran is not very open to the rest of the world,” he explains. “Getting out is not easy, so having a foreign passport is almost a must for all Iranians.” This mentality, a direct result of the state’s inability to offer socioeconomic security to its young population, is pervasive among students in Iran and the main culprit behind the country’s notorious brain drain problem.

Disenchanted by lack of career opportunities and social freedom, Iran’s educated elite have been emigrating en masse for the past three decades, and only intensified their exodus since the 2009 presidential election. Despite government efforts to reverse the trend, the country’s tight, state-controlled economy is able to employ only around 27 percent of those who graduate from national universities, prompting about 200,000 fresh graduates to emigrate each year, according to official statistics. Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund describe this phenomenon as potentially catastrophic for Iran’s long-term prospects.

Behind these statistics is a general atmosphere of disillusionment that is palpable at every turn. Visas, foreign connections, language proficiency tests, and college application processes are a frequent topic of conversation for those under 30. Paper marriages are increasingly common, and in this reporter’s experience, it is not unusual for a Westerner to be approached on the street by a stranger seeking to arrange such a union. “You need several things for emigration,” says Marjan R., an illustrator who plans on studying in Germany. “You need money, you need to know a foreign language, and you need to be completely desperate.”

For those wishing to leave, financing their foreign education tends to pose the biggest challenge. The trend of studying abroad is by no means limited to the wealthier classes, and many families saddle themselves with considerable financial burdens. Marjan, for example, needs to have 8,000 euros in her bank account to prove she can sustain her studies in Germany — not a trifling amount in a country where the average monthly wage is around $500. Those who cannot afford such sums must compete in the limited pool of international scholarships. At times, entire families emigrate after paying for their child’s expenses. “My parents spent about 80,000 pounds for my education, which is kind of a fortune,” Sami admits. “But they see it as a kind of investment into their own future. They expect me to look after them in Canada after I get my citizenship.”

Gaining financial independence and experiencing the world outside Iran is a common motivation for emigration. In Tehran, the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $600-700. As prices rise and wages stagnate, many young people seeking employment here must either struggle to make ends meet or remain financially dependent on their families. “If you are a working young person in Tehran, you either have to sacrifice your life standards and lead a very hard life, or rely on your parents for at least the next decade, until you get into a position so you can survive on your own,” Sami says.

Anywhere but here?

The prospect of gaining independence via emigration is even more appealing to young women, many of whom feel bound by Iran’s traditional values. For Marjan, the chance of “even just living fearlessly” is enough of a reason to leave. “Here, if you are my age and not in the process of getting married, you should come up with some sort of an excuse. Even in relationships, you are not free,” says the 29-year-old. “If I want to invite my boyfriend over to my house, I have to introduce him to my father as a study partner from my language class. This kind of convention forces you to lie continuously, and you become far from being honest and healthy in your life.”

You can read more on Tehran Bureau.

9 Comments

AlissonMarch 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 am

I’m not fooladish enough to lbeieve that miladiadtant Islam is someadhow paciadfist, or even that Islam is inheradently peaceadful or freedom-loving. Without devolvading into a Dawkins-esque, equal-opportunity-offensive rant, I’ll leave the disadcusadsion of faith ata0that.I am also not fooladish enough to susadpect that the muladlahs who are adroit enough to have kept a tight lid on their sociadety for 28a0years are crazy enough to attack a nuclear-armed nation with a well-documented (and well-deserved) paraadnoia streak. The U.S. — crazy as it seems to be to me — is not crazy enough to attack a nuclear-armed North Korea, nor is India crazy enough to attack Pakistan (or visa-versa). Which brings me to a secadond point: Have you conadsidadered why we have not taken a side in the Pakistan-India tiff, when both of those counadtries are nuclear armed, run by miladliadtant nationadaladists, and have a near-constant boradder disadpute? The U.S. has peradsued a poladicy of bribading both sides, which has the side-effect of givading the U.S. a larger voice in their affairs — a voice used to keep a lid on Kashmir.Bush’s recent policy-shift in favor of “Nukular India” is widely (and coradrectly, I should add) seen as an unmitadiadgated disadasadter. It was designed to be a preadvenadtaadtive step against the radadiadcal Muslims in the Pakistani inteladliadgence seradvices — backading the other horse before a race has even been schedaduled. It’s predadiadcated (as is your view of Iran, I should add), on the notion that the radadiadcals will evenadtuadally sieze conadtrol and so it makes more sense to simadply abanaddon attempts to stop them in favor of planadning for a “favoradable” nuclear exchange. Of course, by betrayading Musharraf, it weakadens his conadtrol over his govadernadment, which makes a Muslim takeover that much easier.So far as the Holocaust, I’m obviadously not in favor of a secadond Jewish Holocaust; I’m simadply equally opposed to an Iranian Holocaust. And it is very, very well-understood that any attack by Iran on Israel would be met with nuclear aniadhiadlaadtion. The “muladlahs” may hate Israel. They may be anti-semites. But like most reliadgious leadaders, they love being in charge even more. Bloodying their noses will not calm them down and make them see reaadson, nor does the path you sugadgest have any alteradnaadtive but an evenadtual genocide.

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