Should you move abroad to get a higher salary or stay home to help your country develop?


Some countries are suffering because the best and brightest tend to move abroad. Should you move abroad to get a higher salary or stay home to help your country develop?

Every year, nations such as the United States, Australia, Germany and others see an influx of immigrants—whether for economic reasons or to escape violence at home. People from all over the world immigrate to these countries for a multitude of reasons such as seeking higher education, job opportunities and training, and also because they want a freer and better life for themselves and their family. An argument can be made that underdeveloped countries stay so because the most competent and brightest of its people choose to move abroad to get paid better, instead of staying in their home country in order to contribute to its development. However, there is no reason to assume that you cannot achieve both the wellbeing of your own self and your country by moving abroad with your skills and abilities.

People are willing to leave their motherland for a foreign country not solely because of financial motives. Sometimes, they have no choice. Other times, the choices that they do have at home are simply not worth it, or even counterproductive. Let us explore two example situations people find themselves in. In the first situation, there is a high school graduate wishing to continue education in France, in a field they are interested in, and likely being able to earn more upon graduation there than if they graduated from a university in their home country. The second one is when there is a highly capable and competent person who is skilled at their craft who wants to move abroad in order to receive better pay. Let us say these people are both born and raised in Cambodia. Is finances the only motivation at play here? Or is there more that is driving these people?

Let us imagine that the highschool graduate in the first example is a conscientious and determined student. After having grown up in Phnom Penh, a town that suffered frequent blackouts, she dreams to one day help her nation build better and more reliable energy infrastructure to connect people to electricity, helping them in their daily lives, and lifting them out of poverty. Upon graduation, she applied for a scholarship in France and later got accepted. France is a nation whose energy sector emits far less greenhouse gases per year than its neighbour Germany, and is among the world’s biggest net exporters of electricity due to their different attitudes toward Nuclear Energy and renewables. What if instead of studying abroad in France, she instead stayed in Cambodia? It would be a waste of talent and energy. Going abroad would allow her more opportunity in exploring what works and what does not, in being able to immerse herself in a higher quality education system (instead of one that focuses on memory and regurgitation like in Cambodia) and not to mention the technological advantages that France has. Upon graduation in her field of choice, she would be able to find opportunities interning for energy companies, or even working on a plan to renovate the Cambodian energy sector. This example also applies to other fields as well, not just energy.

As for the second example, we have a skilled software engineer who is self taught. His skill set includes building mobile and web applications, and he later finds out that he is qualified enough to be hired by big American tech companies such as Microsoft and Google after applying for software engineering jobs at these companies. Our engineer in this example is currently working for a tech startup. He is responsible for a food delivery application that allows for restaurants to receive orders from customers online, and then assigning a delivery driver to their location. Currently he is earning about 550 USD per month, which is a little above average in Cambodia. The engineer feels as if his skills and abilities are undervalued, and rightly so, because at Microsoft, the junior software developers earn roughly 62,000 USD per year—or 5,166 USD per month. While it is true that he will earn more by going abroad, it is unclear about how engineers going abroad would slow down Cambodia’s development. Even if the motivation behind these skilled people going abroad is financial, would it necessarily be a bad thing? Proficient and competent engineers moving abroad seeking better pay is an incentive for government and private companies alike to consider increasing how much these individuals are paid.

For almost a decade now, the Cambodian economy has been experiencing stagnation in growth due to multiple reasons that include, but are not limited to, the European Union withdrawing economic deals, political tensions with the United States due to the ruling government becoming increasingly authoritarian, and high levels of corruption in everything from the judicial system to tax administration and land administration. To be fair, there are other nations that perform just as—and sometimes even worse—than Cambodia, but the point still stands. Would you want to live in a country that is corrupt, will jail you for speaking up against the government, and pay you less than what you’re worth, or move to one where you have freedom of speech and be able to receive decent pay?

If more Cambodian people are able to move abroad and earn a much better living, then the patriotic amongst them would be willing to give more donations to NGOs and charities, and invest more in Cambodian companies that will help boost the national economy and provide jobs and better livelihoods for the people of the nation than if they stayed and worked in their home country.

References & further reading

© Masaya Shida 2021