see migration as a route to escape all the difficulties that
we face in our daily lives. When hearing of people that return
we often wonder why they want to come back. Sometimes we tell
ourselves that it must be because they failed overseas and
so came back empty handed. Contrary to that notion, some migrants
have succeeded overseas but have chosen to come back because
they want to contribute to their country with which there
remains an innate bond that only grows over time.
7-8 March, a workshop on the Sustainable Return of Professional
and Skilled Migrants organised by the Refugee and Migratory
Movements Research Unit (RMMRU) of Dhaka University explored
the ties that bind these emigrant souls to their native land.
Under the auspices of the University of Sussex based Development
Research Centre (DRC) on Migration, Globalisation and Poverty,
it explained the reasons behind these come-backs and the problems
people face to start their lives afresh on their native land.
the number of returnees, people who return home permanently
dominate the chart. With their acquired knowledge, skills
or capital they may begin a new career in their home country,
while others may retire. Their prospects to re-migrate are
no higher than a general desire to migrate.
second group may return for a reasonable length of time but
retain their domicile and contacts in the country of immigration.
The length of time they may spend in the home country may
vary. During their stay they may contribute their knowledge
and skills gained in the destination country, while acquiring
new knowledge and experience in their home country.
migrants, another group of returnees, according to the findings
of RMMRU, have their stakes both in the home country and country
of destination. They may be involved in economic activities
that require them to share their time and efforts between
recurrent reason mentioned for coming back was the desire
to contribute positively to the country that made them who
they are today. No matter how much they achieved abroad nothing
gave them greater satisfaction than achieving it at home.
As Mushtaque Habib, an engineer trained in the University
of California, Berkeley noted, the planning and construction
of an University campus in Dhaka far exceeded the satisfaction
of executing a sixty-storey building project in California.
issue raised was that of greater career opportunities at home:
the idea of being "a big fish in a small pond".
With the qualifications and experience gained abroad they
were able to realise their full potential which otherwise
may not have been possible.
returnees emphasised on career limitations in the country
of immigration. In her presentation, Dr. Robyn Iredale commented
that returnees from Australia felt that due to inherent prejudices
they would always be overlooked in favour of 'native' Australians.
Employers felt that those who did not speak with a particular
accent did not 'fit in the team'. There is also an ever-growing
feeling that ever since the events of 9/11, migrants from
a certain background face discrimination both in job placement
Dr. Amer Wahed, a young successful physician specialising
in haematology and pathology, has enough reasons to
stay back in the U.S. where the opportunities are
immense. With brilliant results and a good career
at home Wahed had even better prospects abroad. He
trained at the Houston Medical Center in Texas, U.S.A.,
the largest medical centre in the world, becoming
Chief Resident, Department of Pathology, University
of Texas, Houston and later a resident and then a
Fellow in related departments of the same institution.
Yet in spite of a lucrative and prestigious career
abroad, Wahed has chosen to come back to Bangladesh,
at least for a few years, so that he can use his expertise
in the medical field.
Amer and his wife, an economist, and their three sons
have been here since the last six months. Since then
Amer has been working at two places. As a Consultant
Haematologist at Popular Diagnostics, he is responsible
for helping to improve the quality of pathology there.
He is also working as Consultant Pathologist at Ibrahim
Cardiac Hospital and Research Institute where his
function is to set up a small diagnostic lab and blood
It was a joint decision to continue with higher education
that Amer and his wife Tanya went to Houston. With
a J-1 visa there were two options for Amer. Once his
training was complete Wahed could go back to his home
country or serve in a designated 'undeserved' area
for three years. Moreover, the couple's eldest son
was a US citizen, which raised the incentive to stay
"But we did not want to live in an underserved
area for three years", says Amer, "We wanted
our sons to become familiar with Bangladesh, its people
and culture. We especially wanted them to bond with
all their grandparents and my grandmother"
Thus Amer and his family came back to Bangladesh.
Amer still has a job offer from the place he trained
in the US which will hold the position for him for
two years. His designation would be Assistant Professor
and Assistant Program Director, a prestigious position,
especially for a foreigner. Tanya has completed her
MPh from the same US university and has currently
taken two years leave before she continues with her
PhD programme. Her field is in Health policy and management.
"We do plan to go back", says Amer frankly.
"My wife needs to finish her studies. After she
finishes we can then decide where we wish to reside,
based on our two years experience here and our experience
in the US'.
For Amer there are ample opportunities to find work
in Bangladesh. There are few individuals in the country
with exposure to Pathology in the western world. Pathology
is one of the most technology dependant branches of
Medicine. And Modern medicine is heavily dependent
on Pathology. Naturally Bangladesh has a lot of catching
up to do in this area. But the difficulty, explains
Amer is finding people who understand such complexities.
"I am using a fraction of what I have learnt
in Bangladesh" says Amer. "This is frustrating
as I could contribute more. At the same time, my skills
are going to get rusty ( as I am not using them).
Amer says that there are three main issues related
to people who want to come back:
"First of all what will they do ( in terms of
jobs). The first six to 12 months is crucial. No one
wants to be dependent on parents at an age when they
have their own family. If a job can be arranged before
they arrive in Bangladesh people will be less hesitant
to at least come and see if it is worth coming back.
Opening of hospitals like Apollo, Square, Continental
is a positive thing for physicians who are thinking
about coming back."
Interestingly Amer thinks that the wives of men who
go abroad play an important role in the decision to
come back or not. "Wives have tremendous freedom
when they are abroad. This freedom is drastically
curbed when they come back. This is a serious issue
for people wanting to come back".
More important is the issue of education of the children.
"Bangladesh is notorious for school children
to be smothered by studies, home work and tutors.
Children from abroad are not used to this dedication
to studies. Other things are important to them eg
video games, sports, going to the movies, amusement
parks ". I have to admit though things are improving
in this area".
The volatile political scenario and lack of security
coupled with poor health facilities are also major
There are very few people adds Amer, who go abroad
who vow never to return to Bangladesh. Most people
do feel homesick, some more often than others. "Many
would like to come and at least try to work here for
a period of time. Family ties, I think is the single
most important reason for people wanting to come back."
choices, however, are not the only factor prompting migrants
to return home. For some, returning meant making sacrifices
in their career; but those that were greatly outweighed by
the social gains of being with family and immersed in a familiar
culture, a point articulated by Harvard returnee Prof. Omar
Rahman. When a person is overseas, away from family and friends,
over time there emerges a feeling of obligation and responsibility
for loved ones back home. Traditional South Asian values load
migrants with a feeling that they should be there to look
after the family, particularly aging parents.
cases migrants worry about the identity of their children:
do they feel more Bangladeshi or, say, American? The idea
of the "ABCD" or "American Born Confused Deshi"
springs to mind. Children growing up overseas are likely to
be culturally detached from their parents. They may know very
little about the culture, religion and may not even speak
the same first language as their parents. This makes parents
ever more anxious to return so that their children do not
grow with some form of hybrid identity.
a great many reasons to return, why are not more highly skilled
migrants doing so?
a career perspective, in some sectors, the absence of opportunities
is a major factor against return. A moderately successful
migrant would not entertain the idea of returning, if, career-wise,
they had to start from the bottom and move up. As Omar Rahman
noted the establishment of private universities has created
a window of opportunity for the return of academics.
in the highly specialised professions, the absence of an environment
that is conducive to sharing and developing knowledge and
information often acts as a hindrance to returning. Furthermore,
undesirable work practices and technological inefficiencies
leave some professionals frustrated and disillusioned.
personal side, the lack of educational and healthcare facilities
make migrants think twice before returning. The proliferation
of international standard private schools and hospitals is
slowly addressing this problem.
it at Home
There's no formula for success for people returning from
abroad, says Aneela Haque, CEO of Andes Limited. "It
depends on how you see life. You have to focus on whatever
you're doing with strategy and planning."
In 1988, Aneela went to the USA to study fine arts at
Stephens College, Missouri. She interned as a graphic
designer at the public relations office of the university
and went on an exchange programme to the Parsons School
of Design in Paris-Italy in 1990. In 1991, she came back
to Bangladesh, and, after freelancing for four years with
organisations like BRAC, UNICEF Bangladesh, Care and the
Ford Foundation, she formed her own advertising and fashion
company in 1995.
"I came back for my parents," says Aneela. "At
the end of the day, they're the only incentive I have
to look forward to."
When she decided to stay back here, however, she planned
her life accordingly and immersed herself in various activities
including singing, karate, cooking, interior design, piano,
reading and travelling. "Travelling has helped me
to appreciate my own culture and values," says Aneela,
"and I've learnt that, No matter where you are in
the world, it's you, the person, who makes the difference.".
"I had to struggle a lot," says Aneela. "This
is not a country for single women. Chauvinism quietly
prevails. Smart women are a threat to most people -- both
men and women -- who suffer from identity crisis and a
At 22, Aneela began her business with her own savings
and her parents' patient advice and inspiration. "I
hardly came across any like-minded people at the time,"
Affiliated with Rediffusion Dentsu Young and Rubicam,
USA, Aneela now has two branches of her fashion brand
Aneela Haque's Andes in Gulshan and Dhanmondi and employs
Fourteen years of work have been very rewarding, she says,
and has brought her into contact with some good friends
and some great minds worldwide.
"If you have the drive and patience," believes
Aneela, "you can make it anywhere in the world. And
if Bangladeshis in general change their attitudes towards
the younger generation by being more positive and not
interfering, change will happen overnight."
"Young men and women are often pressurised into getting
married even before they've explored life. They feel intimidated
to come back home where they feel they will not be able
to live as freely as they would like. I faced the same
problem, but was bold enough to fight it and now, 14 years
down the road, I'm still going strong," says Aneela.
"It would be great seeing more qualified women coming
back home and working here with a positive attitude, which
would be possible if only they felt more secure here,"
"I won't discourage people who live abroad. Ultimately
what matters is whether you're happy and you feel successful.
But if I can be a good role model to anyone, or if I can
touch the lives of the people I work with, or if my friends
or young people benefit in any way through me, I will
feel the most successful," says Aneela.
-- Kajalie Shehreen Islam
greater concern is that of political stability and personal
security. Hartals and associated reports of violence dampen
the desire to return. Corruption and bureaucratic practices
are further obstacles.
transfer of skills and knowledge from those returning is immeasurable;
returnees have paved the way for the introduction of international
standards and practices. The workshop took the opportunity
to highlight those Bangladeshi returnees who have built upon
their success overseas and made a positive and enduring contribution
introduction of the Cat's Eye brand in the early 1980s changed
notions of consumerism in Bangladesh, with customers being
encouraged to browse while having a salesperson advise them
on what to buy. Quality men's wear that had traditionally
been earmarked for the export market became available in Dhaka,
while in the hospitality field, the culinary efforts of Tommy
Miah (Heritage) and Bazlur Rahman (Little Italy and Bella
Italia) are now enjoyed by the food enthusiasts of Dhaka.
The work of people like Bibi Russell, who has ploughed her
resources, talent and international reputation into producing
high quality merchandise made by Bangladeshi weavers, has
benefited countless people.
Parisha Zarmmen, a graduate from York University,
Canada, the issue of coming back home was always settled.
"I went abroad to study and after completing
my studies I just came back," she says. "I
did like Toronto very much and thoroughly enjoyed
my stay there, but that's it. Settling there didn't
occur to me in a big way," she explains. She
could have applied for immigration as did some of
her friends and would almost certainly get it, but
she did not seriously consider it. "I know I
have got the qualification and I can apply from Bangladesh
whenever I want," she says. Clearly, the idea
of settling there and getting permanent residency
did not figure very prominently in her future plans.
After doing her Bachelors in Economics Parisha returned
It has been a little over six months since she has
been back home and she is quite satisfied with the
way things are going. For the last four months she
has been working as a commercial executive in a joint
project of BTTB and Orascom, which is being conducted
by Siemens Telecommunications. "I did have some
problems adjusting here initially, but I have managed
to sort them out. The work environment is okay, the
pay is reasonable and I don't have many complaints
to make," is how she describes her 4-month-long
work experience. No doubt she could have managed a
decent job in Canada too and the pay would have been
much higher than what she is receiving now.
She believes opportunities to work in Bangladesh are
there for those who want to come back. "There
are quite a good number of multinational companies,
reputed banks, UN organisations, even mobile phone
companies where many foreign trained Bangladeshis
are working," she opines. She also thinks that
the opportunities are increasing. But while the opportunity
to work is an important consideration there are other
issues that influence one's plans to settle abroad
or coming back home. As Parisha points out. "Over
there you have your freedom and you also don't have
to worry all the time about security. Often I used
to return home at 2 in the morning walking all alone
without feeling scared for a moment, which is unthinkable
here," she says. But then there is one huge plus
point about coming back, she remarks, "In the
end your country is your country. And nothing is comparable
to living with one's parents."
Dr. Tasneem Siddiqui of Dhaka University pointed out, the
creation of backward linkages in the form of catering institutions
and affiliated courses have opened up opportunities for Bangladeshis
to excel in the international arena. Further linkages have
been established in the Arts too; the work of artistes such
as Habib have helped to link second generation British Bangladeshis
with Bangla culture, and in the process made Bangladeshi music
accessible to the global audience and acceptable to young
Bangladeshis. The experiences and work of filmmaker Tareque
Masud has elevated the image of Bangladesh abroad. This sort
of work creates the opportunity to establish and forge links
with Bangladeshi networks and communities overseas.
development potential that lies in return, what can be done
in Bangladesh to encourage people to return?
to leave one's job and uproot the family can be particularly
arduous. However, if returnees were able to share their experiences
with those considering the option of return, it may help to
alleviate fears. Setting up a web-based network illustrating
the experiences of those who have successfully returned will
certainly contribute to the decision-making process, and show
migrants that it is possible to return and successfully integrate.
Prospects Can Attract More Teachers
Lecturer at the English Department, North South University,
twenty seven-year-old Sabahat is just one of many
young people who has returned to Bangladesh, after
completing her studies in a foreign country. At the
age of 20, she left Bangladesh for higher studies
to the USA, where she lived for more than 6 years.
After getting a dual degree in English Literature
and Psychology from Angelo St. University, and a Master's
degree in English from Baylor University, Sabahat
was sure about getting a good job in the US. "I
had worked on campus while I was studying there, and
I knew that I would probably have a better prospect
working in the USA," remarks Sabahat. "However,
somewhere at the back of mind, I knew that I would
probably come back to Bangladesh one day or the other."
According to Sabahat, the job opportunities here in
Dhaka are worth the stay. "I enjoy teaching here.
However, teachers here don't get to be creative or
work on something of their own in Bangladesh,"
Sabahat exclaims. "Back where I was studying,
almost all the professors were working on something
or the other or doing research along with teaching.
In Bangladesh, however, teaching would just define
coming to class and lecturing, nothing more than that.
I hope this really changes and prospects for research
increases in the country."
Sabahat lives with her husband and in-laws. "Even
today, entertainment in Bangladesh is limited to eating
outside with a group of friends," she says. "If
my husband and I were to live by ourselves, I don't
think we would have been able to keep up with the
growing expenses in Dhaka. Everything is so expensive
those returning with the intention of setting up their own
enterprise, the creation of a business network of returnees
offering practical suggestions and advice on how to manoeuvre
through the bureaucratic obstacles will provide invaluable
assistance and make the process less daunting.
perspective of the government tax breaks and savings incentives
as well as business start-up programmes will certainly encourage
return. The celebration of achievements of emigrant Bangladeshis
through awards and national days will make the Bangladeshi
overseas feel that their country recognises their work.
for a country like Bangladesh, if it can attract back its
skilled and professional emigrants, cannot be understated.
The Bangladesh government and others concerned should mobilise
necessary efforts and resources to actively bring its 'promising
sons and daughters' back.
Mistry is an intern at the Refugee and Migratory Movements
Research Unit from the UK.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005