Bhutan
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Destination Australia

The “Door to the Future,” meaning going to Australia, is as big as the isolated continent. Australia has become the preferred destination of Bhutanese to build a future whether at home or Down Under – as the southern continent is called. There are prospects as long as you work and study hard. 

If the door is wide open, there are thousands waiting and knocking at the door. The average profile of the Australia-bound Bhutanese has changed. It is no longer the civil servants or corporate employees on a scholarship student to pursue further studies.

The opportunity seekers are undergraduates, university graduates, civil servants and corporate employees at all levels. Then there are those that are desperately needed in the country, such as teachers and health workers.  

A Bhutanese doing odd jobs can earn as much as a minister in the country. The stories of repaying loans, buying land and property, easing the lives or improving it has become the biggest attraction. There are no confirmed official records. But going by what the congratulatory note shared on social media for those getting a visa and the number vying for the language test, more Bhutanese are on their way.

To put into context, in the last four days, 11 Bhutanese were congratulated for getting their visa; this means 22 Bhutanese will be in Australia in the next few weeks. At a language testing centre, there were more than 2,000 people sitting the test. Overwhelmed by the sheer number, many are going across the border to sit for the test even if they had to stay in quarantine. 

There is nothing wrong in pursuing the dream. But if the exodus of Bhutanese leaving the country, if not brain drain, should worry us. We might reap the benefits of remittance when our convertible currency reserve is depleting. At the same time, we  cannot afford to see every third Bhutanese in their prime age leaving the country for greener pastures.

At the rate young people are leaving the country, we will be without a young workforce. The question is how do we retain them?  Words going around today is that many civil servants are disgruntled and looking at Australia as an option. 

Going abroad to work and live is not a new trend in South Asia. People from our South Asian neighbours had been going all over the world to work. Remittance from overseas workers contribute more to the GDP than other sectors in three of the SAARC countries. In 2020, remittance contributed 4.82 percent or Nu 8.27 billion to our GDP.

However, relying on remittance is not healthy or sustainable. The trend too is changing. As more and more Bhutanese abroad settle down or get residency, the inflow of remittance will slow down. Many are leaving for the prospects of “green cards” or permanent residency. 

Meanwhile, we should get to the roots of why people are leaving the country. Are we failing to create opportunities? Are our policies and decisions driving people away? Unemployment is one of the many reasons, yet those with good jobs are also quitting to leave. 

What can be done depends on what our policy or decision makers come up with. What we know is that it would be a shame to not live up to the expectations of our visionary leaders who always aspired to make the most of our smallness and uniqueness. 

Talking to the Bhutanese community in New York, Zhung Dratsang Lopon said that it would be ironic if a Bhutanese born and brought up in the USA would need a guide to see his own country. This could be the possibility.