02/23/2024, 12.01
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Malaysian 'brain drain' to Singapore worsens

by Angeline Tan

A study conducted by the Kuala Lumpur government warns the country that 3 out of 4 Malaysians with high qualifications work in Singapore where they earn much more on average than in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur (AsiaNews) - Concerns about the steady increase in the "brain drain" of skilled workers leaving Malaysia in the direction of Singapore are real: an official government study of Malaysians living on the neighbouring island found that more than two-thirds earn a gross salary of between S,500 and S,599 per month.

The analysis also found that nearly one in five Malaysian workers living there, or 18.5 per cent, earn between S,600 and S,999 per month, while the highest gross monthly salary is as high as S,000.

Furthermore, the report, aggregated based on 2022 data, revealed that 'only' 38% of Malaysians living in Singapore do so for work, the rest are in the country for research, education or as a result of marriage to a Singaporean.

Of those who are employed, almost three out of four, or 74 per cent, are highly skilled or semi-skilled, says the study released by the Statistics Department of Malaysia, an agency under the Prime Minister's Department and the Ministry of Economic Affairs.

The Southeast Asian country's authorities warn of the 'negative effects' of the brain drain as it is precisely the most skilled workers who leave Malaysia, attracted by the good job prospects, favourable employment conditions offered and high salaries. 

A separate study, published at the same time, also analysed the trends of Malaysians migrating to Brunei, and they are broadly similar to those in Singapore. Data on 'brain' migration to the neighbouring state of Sarawak in East Malaysia revealed that 92% of Malaysians living and working there are skilled or semi-skilled, and that 50% of Malaysians in the diaspora in Brunei are there for work. The only period of slowdown in this brain drain, according to the research data, was in conjunction with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Until now, the ease of upward mobility of Malaysians with robust educational backgrounds has been due to the Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM), or the Malaysian Certificate of Education, which has been a boast for the country because of the socio-occupational progression it guaranteed its citizens, from low-skilled to higher-skilled positions at home as well as in Singapore and Brunei.

The study shows Malaysia's ruling class needs to 'reformulate' this narrative and try to retain the brains and attract those who have found jobs in other countries to return. 'This shift in perspective shows that the diaspora will eventually have to return to Malaysia, thus helping to bring the skills and experience they have gained back to the country,' said Malaysia's former human resources minister V Sivakumar last year.

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