The best and brightest continue to leave Lebanon

Friday 03/07/2015
Too many young Lebanese leaving?

Beirut - Deteriorating economic conditions combined with a simmering po­litical crisis have exac­erbated Lebanon’s brain drain. After a decline in emigra­tion levels ushered in by economic growth that marked the pre-2005 years, Lebanon has gone back to unwittingly exporting its smartest and most educated youth.

Beirut’s English-language Daily Star recently reported that The Lebanese Association of Engi­neers of the French Grandes Ecoles (ALIGEF) was attempting to stem emigration of young Lebanese by helping its alumni working abroad find opportunities at home. ALIGEF is forming partnerships with Lebanon’s top companies, mainly within the banking and construction sectors.

ALIGEF’s initiative sheds light on the alarming increase in emigra­tion levels of Lebanese graduates. According to Nassib Ghobril, chief economist at the Byblos Bank, 56% of Lebanese emigrants to the Unit­ed States and Canada are between 22 and 44 years old.

In December 2014, the Lebanese research group Information In­ternational published a study on youth migration covering the pe­riod from 1992 (after the civil war) through 2014. The study, which included data from Beirut Inter­national Airport, found that the number of Lebanese leaving the country totalled 174,704 (an annu­al average of 58,234) in 2011-13.

This increase was reminiscent of the 1975-2001 period — during and after the civil war — that witnessed the departure of 274,000 universi­ty graduates and 32,000 technical school graduates.

“Members of the Lebanese dias­pora primarily seek the Arab coun­tries, followed by North America, Europe, Africa, Australia and fi­nally Latin America,” explains Ghobril.

Wars, repeated security inci­dents, terrorist bombings and the rise of radical groups in Lebanon have contributed to the resurgence of Lebanese emigration, but Gho­bril claims that 70% of Lebanese leaving the country are motivated by economic reasons.

The country’s growth plum­meted about 2% in 2014, with the national debt rising to $69 billion in 2015. Inflation, increasing un­employment and degradation of the health and education sectors exacerbated the trend. Better sala­ries and work environments in the Gulf and the West serve as “pull factors”.

“There is definitely a huge in­crease in the number of job seekers who are looking to leave Lebanon,” says Faysal el-Jurdi, chief execu­tive officer of Vision Hospitality Recruitment, a company that spe­cialises in hospitality consulting. “The number of job seekers has doubled in the past three years,” he adds, saying that the majority of those were well-educated, mostly university graduates.

However, high levels of emigra­tion have also produced some indi­rect positive effects.

“Remittances of Lebanese expa­triates have increased from $7.86 billion in 2013 to $8.9 billion in 2014,” according to a recent World Bank report. This 13.2% increase in remittances gave Lebanon the second-highest growth rate among the 15 largest recipients of remit­tances in developing economies in 2014, behind only Pakistan, which saw a 16.6% increase. Lebanon was the 14th-largest recipient of remit­tances in the world and the tenth-largest recipient among 125 devel­oping economies in 2014. Lebanon is the second-largest recipient of remittances among 16 Arab coun­tries.

This positive effect has reverber­ated across the Lebanese econo­my. It explains, in part, the bank­ing sector’s continuing strength, which boasted deposits amount­ing to $170 billion at the end of July 2014, guaranteeing the smooth financing of the country’s public debt.

“Another positive impact of high emigration rates is that it facili­tates the absorption of Lebanese university graduates whose num­bers far exceed the needs of the lo­cal economy even during periods of growth,” says Ghobril. In spite of these benefits, Lebanon is still losing its human capital and is left with an increasingly ageing popu­lation.

It appears that for the next dec­ade, Lebanon will have to come to terms with regaining its youth­ful population for short periods of times, mostly during summer and winter holidays. Lebanon’s more permanent population will be made up of either younger stu­dents, elderly cohorts of retirees and poorer citizens. The potential long-term reduction in economic growth due to Lebanese migration is very real.