Iran's Brain Drain Problem

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Iran has the world's highest rate of brain drain. Every year, more than 150,000 highly educated Iranians leave their country. The majority emigrate to the U.S., Europe, Canada, and Australia. The damage caused by this phenomenon is estimated to be $40 billion a year.

The rates of Iran's brain drain are reaching such astronomical figures that the Iranian press is beginning to suspect that a conspiracy is involved, schemed and carried out by the West with the help of Iran's neighbors. This was indicated recently in an article published by Tabnak, which is Iran's most popular online news agency. Its owner, Mohsen Rezai, has close connections to government officials such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani, and senior officers within Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

One event which has strengthened this conspiracy theory is the defection of Ali Reza Asgari, a top IRGC general, in March 2007. According to Western media reports, he was lured away by the promise of millions of dollars and a better future. His defection is believed to have caused considerable damage to Iran's intelligence network and nuclear program. Another is a CIA-engineered nuclear brain drain from Iran, which was carried out in 2005 with limited success.

Some pro-government elements in Iran now suspect that the West wants to weaken Iran's economic infrastructure to the point of collapse by luring away its top graduates and professionals. The methods applied in such cases to lure away Iran's top talent are much less cloak and dagger, as was the case with Asgari. They include an increase in the number of issued student visas and work permits. And many of those who are moving abroad are succeeding. One only has to look at top technology companies and universities in the U.S. One successful Iranian among many is Anousheh Ansari, the first female space tourist and leading telecommunications entrepreneur. There is also Firouz Naderi, NASA director of the Mars project, as well as many others.

Those blaming the West for this phenomenon may be getting carried away with their conspiracy theories. Nevertheless, the Iranian government has every reason to be concerned. One example is Iran's airline sector. Already beset by maintenance problems due to sanctions, it now has to deal with the new phenomenon of pilot shortages. Increasing numbers of Iranian pilots are leaving their $450-a-month jobs in Iran for $7,000 monthly salaries paid by newly established Persian Gulf airlines. This phenomenon is damaging Iran's struggling tourism and transportation sector.