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Brain drain or investment capital from Belizeans abroad

EditorialBrain drain or investment capital from Belizeans abroad

The extremely wealthy USA, aka America or The States, is attractive to peoples all over the globe. America, a country with a past as ugly as any of the worst nations on the planet, is also a country that has given great hope to the rest of the world, and it is for its virtues that many Belizeans, mainly those who aren’t too well-off, have left our shores to settle there, particularly in its great cities – Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago.

For a time, it was fairly easy for Belizeans to go to the USA, and in 1961-2 that great and powerful country welcomed hundreds, maybe thousands of Belizeans after we had been devastated by Hurricane Hattie, one of our country’s worst natural disasters. It’s not been so easy for Belizeans to go to The States since then. Our people are drawn to America because of its high wages. In the states that pay the lowest wages, the minimum wage is three times ours; in the big cities, the minimum wage is quadruple or quintuple what we earn here. Despite the more stringent entry requirements, Belizeans continue to head north to the USA, some illegally, some on work permits for a period, and some to study at the great universities over there.

For many students, a scholarship to a university in the US is the highest prize. When there they get to explore the field that excites them to the highest level, and to land a job in the US after they have completed their studies is topping on the cake. There’s always a place for them in America when they have completed their studies, because the education system in the US is geared to serve the needs of the nation. Our educated people are an asset; hence, the welcome mat being rolled out for them.

From the point of brain power, when a Belizean goes to a university in the US and doesn’t return, it is considered a loss. Belize invests in her people, pays to educate them through primary and secondary school, and through junior college. Then some go to the US where they specialize in different fields. They are supposed to come home with their knowledge to help build Belize. But too often they don’t. Countries like Belize that lose citizens this way, call it the brain drain.

Education, particularly in the fields that serve the productive sector, increases the material wealth of a nation. Educated Belizeans are supposed to return, help to grow the economy, and we are all to benefit from the increase. Education delivers more for some nations. There are many factors that impact the financial value of higher training. Not all countries have the infrastructure or the raw resources to take advantage of the full potential of some highly trained personnel. Some countries don’t have the population to support some professions, especially those ones that aren’t directly contributing to the productive sector.

Some countries are out of favor with markets they need to trade with. In Cuba, one of the countries in the world with the highest human capital, an elite education system hasn’t produced the economic engine that should result from great knowledge coupled to the physical energies of a people. That’s because the mighty USA, for its ends, has an embargo on that nation’s economy since 1962. The embargo has stymied Cuba’s growth; the country hasn’t been able to attract the capital needed to develop its relatively small oil industry, and its capacity to profit off its advanced biopharmaceutical industry has been limited.

Over the past three decades, hundreds of Belizeans have received scholarships to study at the great universities in Cuba. Most of them return to Belize after they have completed their studies because Cuban degrees, even though they are as good as any anywhere, are not given full recognition in the US and some other Western countries. Over the past two decades, hundreds of Belizeans have gone to Taiwan on scholarships and earned degrees. Degrees earned in Taiwan are recognized in the US and other Western countries, so graduates from these universities have many options besides Belize. A number of Belizeans have remained in Taiwan after completing their studies, or have moved to the US.

Back in August last year, then Foreign Minister, Hon. Eamon Courtenay told Belizean graduates in Taiwan that they should return home and help build Belize.

In some instances, Belizeans receive scholarships from government to undertake training to fill specific needs that our brain trust has identified. To protect the national interest, investment – tertiary education being quite costly – Belizeans on scholarships paid for by the government and people of Belize, have to sign a bond to return and serve the country for four years. Courtenay said the scholarships program in Taiwan is promoted by GoB, and the government would like for students to return and help build Belize when they complete their studies, but they weren’t obligated to come back to the Jewel. Some of the students told Courtenay that they are in line for much higher salaries if they work in Taiwan. Courtenay told them that if they came home and gave their skills to Belize, the next generation would have a better future.

It’s not so easy for graduates to come back, knowing that their skills might be underutilized, and that they will forego considerable earnings. And it just might be best in our cash starved country for our graduates to go out there and earn high salaries—especially if they set aside a sizable chunk of their earnings to invest in Belize.

Our governments haven’t ignored the tremendous human resource we have abroad in Belizeans who have made good, especially in the US. The present government has gone further than previous ones by setting up a Ministry of Diaspora Relations. We lobby foreign countries to attract investment capital. There are no estimates of the nest egg Belizeans abroad have piled up, but some experts believe it is considerable. Oh, if we could only get them all to invest in their country!

Those Belizeans who have a heart for the place of their birth can do a lot for Belize with their cash. And many are contributing already. Even though their pay checks weren’t the same during the pandemic, many Belizeans remembered home during that time when our economy had ground to a halt. A World Bank report stated that Belize received US$142 million in personal remittances in 2022.

Belizeans abroad with money in the bank is a good thing. While we would love for our educated young people to come home with their expertise and help to build Belize, maybe it is just as well, better that quite a few of them stay abroad and work in economies that can pay them what they’re worth, IF they invest some of their cash in their home country, and share their expertise at every opportunity.

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