The best and brightest continue to leave Lebanon
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.