A survey reveals reasons why Bhutanese are leaving in large numbers

The Center for Bhutan and GNH Studies (CBS) surveyed 181 Bhutanese to find out why Bhutanese are leaving for abroad or plan to do so in the future. This is the largest survey till date. The Bhutanese accessed the findings and raw data of the survey and analyzed them.

The answers show that the dominant reasons are for income, better opportunities, inflation, jobs and better future but there are also a mix of other reasons too lower down the ladder.

The 181 Bhutanese surveyed consisted of 35 who have already migrated, 46 who are planning to do so, 69 who may do so in the future and 24 who are not planning to do so.

They comprise of 120 civil servants, 23 people from the private sector, 16 unemployed youths, 9 from corporations, 5 students, 4 Desuups, 2 farmers and 2 from the armed forces.

The two main questions asked was firstly on their own reason for travel or travel plans and secondly their perceptions on why others are traveling.

Personal reasons for their own travel or travel plans

On the first question the responses were shorter, less forthcoming and more guarded as it had to do with themselves.

However, in spite of that some common major reasons could come forth. Income was the main reason in terms of higher income abroad compared to in Bhutan and was mentioned 112 times.

The next highest reason mentioned 40 times was about seeking a better future. A close third with 38 mentions was about mainly seeking better opportunities abroad compared to the limited opportunities or the lack of it in Bhutan.

Fourth was going for studies with 24 mentions.

Lower down there were others like employment with 17 mentions, inflation with 7 mentions, exposure with 7 mentions, living standard with 5 mentions, job insecurity with 5 mentions, workload with 4 mentions, reforms with 3 mentions and so on.

Reasons on why they think others are migrating

On the other hand, when the question was not personally about their reason for travel, but their perceptions on why others are migrating, they were much more open which was visible in the longer and more frank answers below.

Income and Opportunities

Under this category of their perceptions on why others are traveling, income was still the highest with 110 mentions which shows that the top reason that Bhutanese are migrating is to earn a better income than what they can in Bhutan. The issue of low income in Bhutan comes up too.

A respondent said, “One year’s earning in Australia is equivalent to a lifetime of earnings in Bhutan.”

Another said, “It is difficult to survive with such an income as the salary is not enough.”

A third one said that they can work more and earn more abroad and yet another said that the payment abroad is on an hourly basis.

Under this category the issue of ensuring financial stability kept coming up too.

Next is seeking better opportunities mentioned 28 times. Here a respondent said people are moving for greener pastures.

Inflation

The third highest factor mentioned 27 times was inflation and this seems to be a cross cutting theme linked in some ways to income as people are going for better income since their wages in Bhutan are not enough to meet expenses.

A respondent here said, “Living a decent life is unimaginable for an average middle class family.”

Another respondent talked of a ‘hand to mouth’ existence.

A respondent said that buying two kilograms (kg) meat in Bhutan is around Nu 600 which is around half a day’s wage but the same 2 kg meat abroad is 12 AUD dollars when the hourly pay is around AUD 25 dollars and so that meat is worth just 30 minutes’ work abroad.

One referring to the declining strength of the Ngultrum said there is more money in the system here, but it has less value than before.

Employment, better future and living standards

The fourth highest factor is employment mentioned 25 times. Here the context is not only in terms of youths heading out to get job opportunities not present in Bhutan, but also in the context of professionals leaving their jobs.

A respondent said that people from Bhutan are, “Leaving white collar jobs to do blue collar jobs for income as money matters.”

The fifth highest factor is seeking a better future with 22 mentions on this. This ties in with 3 mentions of there being ‘no future in Bhutan,’ and one mention of a ‘high risk future,’ in Bhutan.

This is linked in many ways to seeking better opportunities abroad. This reason is also alarming in the sense that people surveyed do not see a better future for themselves in Bhutan.

The need to seek better living standards abroad compared to the poorer one at home gets 13 mentions. This again ties in with income, opportunities and inflation too.

While the above factors show that economic factors and the urge to get a better life are the main and driving causes of migration, the international literature on migration shows that it is a complex issue with multiple causes.

Given that the majority of the participants are civil servants along with some corporate employees who are witnessing high attrition rates the answers also suggest trouble in the work place.

Job insecurity and reforms

There were 13 mentions of mainly civil servants and some corporate employees mentioning job insecurity as a reason. One respondent when asked for the reason for migrating gave a two-word answer of ‘manage out’, alluding to the managing out of executives by the RCSC and the possible fear of this happening to officers lower down the line. The RCSC has already clarified that managing out was a one-time exercise.

The above should not come as a surprise as the government spokesperson Lyonpo Dasho (Dr) Tandi Dorji came on BBS a few months ago to openly say that the managing out of executives and civil service reforms had led to many civil servants resigning and heading abroad.

Linked to the above there are 6 mentions of the reforms, 4 mentions to do with policy changes and one mention of a changed system as percieved reasons for migration.

Toxic workplace, bad bosses and nepotism

Some of the respondents are clearly not happy with their working environment as this has 10 mentions and here there are issues of toxic working environment, poor management, bad bosses and top down hierarchy.

The issue of nepotism and favoritism or discrimination at the work place comes up six times while the issue of ‘no recognition’ comes up four times.

Work like balance also comes up four times and workload or stress also comes up four times showing that some respondents feel they are overworked. Lack of career progression came up two times.

People also said they were leaving due to the ‘system,’ with five mentions. Corruption was mentioned twice and service delivery or red tape was mentioned two times. Loss of trust in the government was also mentioned twice.

Study, exposure, social obligations and peer pressure

It may not be surprising that while most of the migrants are going abroad as students, ‘study’ was mentioned only 11 times as being the reason since the main reason is economic.

Exposure was mentioned six times.

Social obligations to family members comes up six times with the aim being to earn enough to not only take care of one’s wife and children but to also repay back the sacrifices made by parents for them.

Linked to this is better education and jobs for kids is mentioned four times.

The much discussed peer pressure is mentioned six times as a cause.

Savings and state of economy

There is also an anxiety around the inability to buy a house in Bhutan which is mentioned three times and how they can do that by going out, while the inability to save in Bhutan is mentioned twice.

The percieved reasons for migration are also around the state of the economy and the private sector.

There were two mentions of the economy not doing well and another two mentions of the lack of investment options in Bhutan.

There was one mention of poor business prospect while another gave the import dependent nature of Bhutan’s economy as a reason.

One mentioned that the private sector did not pay well while one talked about the new SDF in tourism as a reason. Here the respondent said that life has become miserable for a major chunk of the people depending on tourism due to the SDF.

Others

There were two mentions of ‘social discrimination’ while one talked about more freedom and rights abroad.

There were single mentions of frustration, demotivation, working culture, poor health services, fewer job opportunities for Arts students, self development, growth and basic needs not met.

A respondent said there are lesser opportunities for the young.

Will they remit to Bhutan or not?

Of the 181 surveyed 21 said they will not come back, 65 said they may come back and 95 said they will come back.

When asked if they plan to send back remittances 12 said no, another 12 said they don’t see any opportunities in Bhutan, 29 don’t know, 29 said maybe and 99 said they will send it.

Those saying they will send remittances gave similar reasons to do so which are to develop the country, help the country, help family, society and to help the economy. One respondent said the plan is to start and own a business in Bhutan.

Among those not sending one respondent said, “I would love to invest, but everyone is leaving Bhutan and there will be nothing left to invest in.”

Another said land is more expensive here than in Australia.

One said it is better to invest where they live (abroad) while another said there are many barriers in Bhutan for a business to attain its goals.

Another one not interested said Bhutan is under a huge debt and so investments will not give much benefit.

One said Bhutan is not a part of the international market and based on past experience the gains from investment is not worth it.

Another said that shares are available but erratic as dividends are not given and so while he will not invest he will send some money to help.

Conclusion

Earlier stories by The Bhutanese on the Australia Rush showed that it had been gradually building up from as far back as 2005 and there was a jump in 2013 followed by a major jump after 2016 onwards. The numbers started going up after that year until the pandemic hit and travel was restricted and so a backlog built up. There was a major boom after the pandemic. 

Similarly, even when it comes to the civil service resignations the data shows a remarkable similarity with a slight bump in 2013 and a major jump from 2016 onwards with it coming down in the pandemic year of 2020 and then shooting up after the pandemic.

As shown from the analysis of the raw data of the survey the main reasons for the migrations and also the civil service resignations that built up over time was economic in nature.

While income was the main reason a close second reason that follows behind is the combination of seeking opportunities and seeking a better future. This denotes a lack of faith in having a future in Bhutan especially among even young graduates. The above shows that Bhutan’s economic stagnation in the last two decades and the inability to provide quality jobs is costing us.

The open declaration by a fair number that they will not remit back further shows this lack of faith in Bhutan’s future.

The issues of inflation and seeking a better living standard is also a huge factor linked to income and other economic factors.

While migration and resignations were on the up the pandemic played a huge disruptive or catalyst role and accelerated everything. The limited income and soaring inflation during the pandemic followed by the Ukraine invasion that further pushed up inflation further exacerbated matters.

The data shows that the main rocket ship of migration and resignations which are both closely linked at the hip was already on its way up, but the managing out of senior civil servants (as acknowledged by the government), collapse of the tourism industry, sudden changes and various other grievances and issues like state of the private sector, peer pressure etc acted as smaller booster rockets to the main rocket. 

An additional booster rocket is a heightened sense of insecurity about the future.

A Thimphu businessman on the condition of anonymity said, “My business is doing fine for now but that is not enough. I need a sense of certainty about the future but there are so many sudden changes coming without any consultations and that makes me and others very nervous and unsure about the future.”

A senior public servant said, “There is so much unpredictability with so many policy changes not only in the civil service but also to do with the economy and this is painting a picture of unpredictability and uncertainty and so trust in the government is harmed. There is so much negativity and people are voting by leaving the country.”

The biggest concern now is that the high rate of migration shows that Bhutan has now reached a point where even regardless of reasons migration itself is causing migration due to the family and friends contacts in Australia and other countries, awareness, better infrastructure for migration and ease of migration and it is looked at positively and something natural to do. This is why so many young graduates opt for it before even trying for anything in Bhutan and in fact those who do not migrate are being seen as the odd ones out.

 The only way out for Bhutan is accelerating economic growth and activities in Bhutan to deal with the main rocket driving the rush, and also addressing the various smaller booster rockets otherwise it will get a lot worse before it gets better.

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