Editorial: Why are the young people leaving Bhutan?

by Ayeshwini Lama

It is plain to sight that many of the young people in Bhutan are leaving or planning to leave the country. There are many perspectives as to why this ‘problem’ exists. I propose an alternative to the most popular narrative – that it is a problem- and say that it isn’t a problem at all.

 While many older people have left the country in previous years to work and earn money in foreign countries like Australia, there is a difference in the scenario. Most Bhutanese leaving the country now are young people who have recently completed their high schooling or bachelor’s degree. These young people are traveling in hopes of securing a higher education in a first-world country with world-class universities. The degrees that these young Bhutanese acquire from their educational ventures will secure them good jobs in the global market, subsequently extending the Bhutanese voice worldwide. We must appreciate the effort and money these young people put into acquiring a good education and securing a promising career. Unfortunately, all this is often overshadowed by the money-earning perspective.

Most students do opt to take their partners on working visas. While the number of young, productive citizens leaving is doubled, one must consider the living expenses that a student from a developing country cannot afford all by themself. This extra working population also helps boost the country’s assets. The more hours our Bhutanese work in foreign lands, the more they earn and bring back to the country. There are well-known incidents of huge donations coming in from Bhutanese studying and working abroad for individual cases or big projects. Our young Bhutanese all over the world are working and studying, all while learning new cultures and meeting new people. We must be proud that the deeply rooted Bhutanese nature to be resilient and thrive that is so vividly present in the younger generation.

 I urge us to also consider how we stumbled upon this way of securing a future. It is indeed true that Bhutan no longer provides for the majority of the young population. Most of us have college degrees, making us better than many our age around the world. But we do not have jobs. While the Civil Service absorbs a tiny part of the college graduates, the rest will either find a career in the private sector, try their hand at entrepreneurship or stay unemployed. With all the options exhausted, many of these young people will opt to take a loan and study. We also lack the opportunity to pursue higher education within the country. Many want to study a master’s program before getting a job, and I am one. The country offers a limited number of options for people like me.  

 Now, the most important thing to consider is how these young people will change this very scenario in the country years from now. When these young people with good degrees, job experiences, and money return,  the country will see many of its problems solved. Yes, their wealth will be personal wealth, but they will return while still in their productive ages. Most of them may become entrepreneurs, therefore creating job opportunities for young people at the time. They would also return with a skill set that would help themselves and the country. His Majesty trusts the youth with the future, and the future will be brought to the country by youth who leave temporarily. The ultimate best thing to happen to Bhutan is that we eventually have a generation of highly qualified, highly educated, and highly experienced professionals who help develop the country in an accelerated but sustainable manner. We must now entrust our future to those choosing to leave their homes for a better future and provide them incentives to come back and bring with them all that they left to achieve.