Caroline Pacl US-Iran Relations The Effects of Brain Drain on US-Iran Relations Introduction Every year more than

180 thousand Iranians migrate from the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) to countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and D evelopment), taking a toll of billions of dollars on the Iranian economy and its social development each year. A country that is already facing strict sanctions by the international community is becoming increasingly depleted of its highly educated population, namely physicians, scientists and those in academia. Factor s of high unemployment, a lack of job security, and most importantly oppressive political and social rights (e.g., no freedoms of speech, press or a democratica lly elected government) are driving this large portion of the educated populatio n to leave the IRI. This is significantly problematic, because educated and highly skilled workers a re among the scarcest resources in developing countries like Iran. The United St ates is the largest receiving host country in the OECD for emigrants from the de veloping world and the top destination for Iranians since the 1979 revolution. T his research paper will analyze the migration trends from Iran to the U.S. over the past 30 years; the economic implications migration has had on both the IRI a nd the U.S.; the costs and benefits that Iranian students have from emigration, and how the governments in Iran and the U.S. are reacting to the high levels of migration. Definitions and History Brain drain can be defined as the systematic, large scale emigration of a countr y's trained scientists and professionals, sometimes referred to as 'Professional , Technical and Kindred' workers or PTK laborers (Logan, 94). These labor groups are highly skilled workers who either hold a university degree or have had comp arable work experience equivalent to a university degree and often migrate to ad vanced industrial economies in the OECD from the LDC. The issue of brain drain, or the out-migration of Iran’s educated elite began to occur before the Shah’s regim e fell. In 1975, the Shah dissolved all political parties and created the Irania n People s Resurgence Party. Everyone, except for military personnel were required to join the party, else th ey would be exiled from Iran. This political suppression was a critical starting point of Iran’s brain drain problem. It was the revolution, however, that spurred the wide-spread brain drain from Iran that still exists today. The revolution o f 1979 led to the rise of the Islamic Republic under the direction of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He headed the new provisional government, and began by implem enting a cleansing campaign, Paksazi, that arrested and tried the Shah s top gov ernment officials and replaced all persons holding high positions with his allie s who shared the Islamic values of his new regime . This campaign left many professionals unemployed and/or faced with the dilemma o f leaving the country in order to find new job opportunities . The Ayatollah Kho meini did not believe that Western-educated professors were compatible with Isla m, calling them “Westoxicated” and considered the universities as “nests of intellectu al corruption” that were in need of Islamic renewal . In Khomeini’s eyes, the Shah h ad poisoned Iran with Western values that deteriorated the moral fiber of Irania ns, and schools and universities were the first place in which he began his “refor ms.” In 1980, Khomeini implemented a Cultural Revolution similar to Mao Zedong’s Cultur al Revolution from 1966-76, in which all universities were closed for three year s, while “new paradigms and methodologies in social sciences, humanities, law, phi



losophy and related fields” were chosen for the new university curriculums that wo uld be in agreement with Islamic principles and beliefs . Most of the new admini strators in the universities were filled with under-qualified men who strictly f ollowed the regime’s Islamic ideology and would implant it into the university set ting. Alongside the overarching political oppression and a crackdown on the regi me’s opponents, the Cultural Revolution’s overbearing presence in the daily lives of Iranians led an estimated 3 million to immigrate to the Americas and European c ountries between 1978 and 1980. Iranian scholar, Akbar Torbat, describes the millions of expatriates as mainly “ed ucated elite, political activists, intellectuals, emancipated women, people asso ciated with the previous regime, and members of religious minorities, especially Baha’is and Jews.” After the revolution, the number of Iranian students in the Unit ed States made up a majority of 17 percent of the country’s total foreign student body, or 51,310 of the 100,000 Iranians studying abroad in 1980. Other Iranians fleeing the country included youth who feared being drafted to the military for the War in Iraq. While a portion of Iranians living outside of the country befo re and after the revolution did return, it is estimated that roughly 2 million I ranians, both immigrants and non-immigrants (naturalized citizens) are still liv ing in the United States. This number includes Iranian Americans who immigrated to the U.S. after the revolution; next generations of their offspring; Iranians attending school or university with a student-visa; or Iranians with refugee sta tus/seeking asylum (Torbat, 276). Contemporary Iranian Migration Trends The population of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 2010 is roughly 90.9 million p eople, a higher number than the 72.9 million that was originally projected, due to the influx of Afghan and Iraqi refugees (U.S. Census). Iran is unique because it is both a destination country for immigration and refugees, as well as a sen ding country for emigration of the highly educated. The numbers of Iranian natio nals leaving the country with a tertiary education is not offset by the high imm igration of Iraqi and Afghan refugees, because many bear a high cost on the IRI for financial support and security. In 2006, Interior Minister Mostafa Purmohamm adi estimated that Iran hosted roughly 950,000 legal Afghan refugees, and around one-million illegal Afghan refugees . The UNHCR voiced concern for the IRI gove rnment’s treatment of refugees, specifically regarding their suspension of health care and education as a means to pressure them into returning to Afghanistan. The IMF reported in 2009 that Iran was the leading country in the world for havi ng the highest rate of brain drain, or the percent of nationals with at least a tertiary education emigrating from a country out of the total educated populatio n of that country. Past studies show that of the immigrants in the United States , Iranians have significantly higher educational achievements than other immigra nt groups . Because the IRI is a middle-income country with a high poverty gap – a result of its economic isolation from the international community – brain drain h as far more serious implications on the society, and remittances are therefore c ritical to families left in the country. The brain drain from the IRI accounts for roughly 15 percent of the population, according to a 2000 World Bank study. A study by the World Bank in the Migration and Remittances Fact Book 2011 shows that physicians are among the highest emigrating profession als from the IRI, accounting for roughly 8.4 percent of all trained physicians i n Iran. In 2010 alone, 6, 101 physicians left Iran in search of better job oppor tunities . In Akbar Torbat’s research on Iranian brain drain, he found that in 200 0, the total number of physicians practicing medicine in the United States that were of Iranian origin equaled 20 percent of the overall physician population. T he brain drain of physicians takes a huge toll on Iran, because it of the expens ive materials, equipment and technology needed to learn and practice in the fiel

d. This means that Iranians attend schools for higher education in Iran and when they emigrate, they give countries like the United States a free ride in academ ic financial aid. Iran subsidizes various higher education institutions, with th e greatest focus and funding spent on science and technology programs. Because o f the IRI’s extensive financial aid programs to Iranians studying medicine, scienc e and technology, the free ride is given to the United States for receiving thes e Iranian professionals . While political factors are the main push causing brain drain in Iran, unemploym ent is becoming another major factor for Iranians who graduate from school and c annot find work. This is largely a result of the IRI’s lack of investment in the d omestic economy as well as the result of U.S. backed sanctions that have restric ted trade in Iran. Unemployment is extremely high, nearing around 11 percent (9 percent males; 16 p ercent females) in 2010. This, along with high inflation, has made living condit ions barely tolerable for the average citizen. Economists say Iran needs to crea te more than a million jobs a year just to keep pace with its growing population . In reality, though, only about 300,000 new jobs are added each year, causing a vast number of the population to seek work abroad. In 2007, Iran allotted 5.5 p ercent of its annual government budget to its education system, the same amount as the United States, and has one of the highest literacy rates in the Middle Ea st . For the highly educated, more than 80 percent of Iranians who win awards i n scientific fields choose to immigrate to countries that will value their exper tise and offer them high paying jobs (Esfandiari). Other motives that add to high emigration of educated Iranians include the socia l restrictions of the Islamic government. One example is the official ban of pop music that followed the 1979 Islamic Revolution, because of its western influen ce and representation of the Shah’s regime. Men and women are not allowed to mingl e together in public areas, and women must wear the veil and not bare skin in pu blic. Unlike other Muslim countries, Iran does not allow its citizens a voice in the political arena and for this reason, the disenfranchised educated populatio n have emigrated more so on a permanent basis, waiting for a regime that will we lcome their input democratically. Economic Implications of Iranian Immigration for the United States The cost to Iran of not stemming is estimated to be nearly $40bn a year. Remitta nces, or transfers of money sent home by a foreign worker, are three times the s ize of official development assistance and provide a significant lifeline for mi llions of poor households around the world . Remittances are one of the positive aspects of emigration for Iran, because it usually reduces child labor, increas es investment, and helps prepare for adverse shocks like earthquakes. Because th e majority of Iranian immigration is to the United States—the top remittance-sendi ng country in the world— it can be assumed that the IRI is a recipient of more rem ittances than what has been calculated by the World Bank. None-the-less the Worl d Bank calculates that the IRI will receive $1.1 billion by the end of 2010—making it one of the top ten remittance recipients in the Middle East. Since the lates t round of UN sanctions on the IRI, the U.A.E. central bank has called for all b anks and financial institutions to submit details of remittances to and from Ira n in order to better understand the effect the sanctions have had. Furthermore, the UN Iranian immigrants living in the U.S. are finding it more and more diffi cult to send money to their families in Iran since the 2010 sanctions were imple mented. The National American Iranian Council (NIAC) is pressuring the Office of Foreign Asset Controls to place more guidance to banks and financial institutions for t he different legal ways that individuals can send family remittances to and from Iran. Since the beginning of U.S . sanctions on Iran, direct transfers of funds

to and from Iran have been prohibited, forcing American Iranians and Iranians t o use a third bank in order to complete transactions. The growing number of bank s that refuse to process family remittances is particularly troubling for Irania n students studying in the U.S., many of whom can no longer receive the same fin ancial support from their parents in Iran, due to the 2010 sanction’s ambiguities. The result has led many Iranians to resort to using the informal havaleh system as a way to transfer their family remittances, putting them at risk of punishme nt by the U.S. government. In some of the worst cases, Iranian Americans have be en imprisoned for using havaleh, because it is in direct defiance of the Iranian Transfer Regulations (ITR) that enforces U.S. sanctions on Iran. The expanding use of the havaleh system between families in the U.S. and Iran accounts for hu ge sums of money that has gone unreported in the World Bank’s records of remittanc es sent to the IRI each year. Costs and Benefits for Iranian Students Abroad Leaving the country has both costs and benefits for Iranian students today. Whil e the IRI government has shown little concern over the country’s problem with brai n drain, they have taken some measures in order to contain the populations with valued skills or education. One measure includes the requirement of attaining an exit permit in order for Iranian nationals to leave the country. Some citizens, especially those with skills in short supply or who were educated at the govern ment’s expense, might need to post bonds in order to obtain an exit permit . With the government’s intense focus on achieving nuclear power capabilities, Iranians w ho hold science degrees with an emphasis on atomic energy, are less likely to be allowed free migration from the IRI. The IRI assigns three types of exit permit s: a green exit stamp that is valid as long as passport validity; a blue exit st amp that is valid for the period mentioned; and a red exit stamp that is valid f or one exit only . Finally, women must have approval of a husband, father or oth er male figure in her family before obtaining a valid Iranian passport, and marr ied women must receive written consent from their husbands before leaving the co untry. Iranians of draft age are also restricted in their ability to leave the c ountry for extended periods of time, and are typically given a blue exit stamp. Despite these recent measures to control the flows of migration to and from the IRI, the government has largely shown little concern for the loss of their educa ted population. In response to the problem on October 31st of 1979, Ayatollah Kh omeini said: “They say there is a brain drain. Let these decayed brains flee. Do not mourn them . Let them pursue their own definitions of being. … Don’t be concerned. They should escape. [Iran] is not a place for them to live any more. These fleeing brains ar e of no use to us. Let them flee. If you know that this is no place for you, you should flee too. ” At the same time that Iranians are being restricted by their own government in t he freedom of movement, they also encounter limitations by other governments in countries they hope to immigrate to. In the wake of September 11th the United St ates became much stricter regarding the amount of immigrants they allowed in fro m the Middle East, including Iranians. The United States has still remained the top destination for Iranian emigrants since the revolution, despite not having f ormal diplomat relations with Tehran. For that matter, Iranians wishing to go to school in the United States must jump many hurdles in order to acquire a visa. Currently, Iranians wishing to study in the United States are granted F-1 studen t visas that limit them to only one entrance into the country. This is based on the United States use of reciprocal visa negotiations with other countries. The U.S. Department of States explains the process as: “Current visa validities are based on reciprocity for Americans traveling to an ap plicant’s home country (example: an Iranian’s visa validity to the U.S. is 3 months

just as an American traveling to Iran’s visa validity is 3 months).” In addition to this, Iranian students receive even less flexible visas, because the government they are leaving is what the U.S. considers a “state sponsor of terrorism. ” Many Am erican-Iranian lobbies are pressuring the Obama administration to issue all stud ent visas, regardless of any student’s country of origin and/or field of study, to be multiple-entry and consistent with the duration of the student’s educational p rogram. Conclusions The major goal for Iran is not to attempt to halt brain drain from occurring thr ough strict migration laws. Rather, it should give incentives to enable brain ci rculation to occur, through job opportunities for Iranians to return from abroad . Iran is different than other countries facing brain drain, like India or China , because of its isolation from the international community. If unemployment was the only major problem pushing PTK workers to emigrate from the IRI, the countr y may have been able to benefit from it, through networking and brain circulatio n, however this is not the case. Brain gain can only occur if there are high wag e rates attracting PTK workers back to their home countries as economic growth t ransforms its economy from a net loser to a net gainer in the international migr ation flow of skills (Logan, 94). Brain gain occurs during the Reverse Transfer of Technology (RTT), when the skilled workers return to the original countries w ith new technology and skills that are crucial to development. But, unlike other high brain drain countries such as China or Israel, Iran has not yet reaped the se financial and technological benefits, because their PTK workers have not retu rned in a magnitude that could stimulate such development. ______________________________________________________ Gheissari, Ali. "Contemporary Iran: economy, society, politics." Oxford Univer sity Press. 2009. 129-130. Torbat, A. (2002). The Brain Drain from Iran to the United States. Middle East Journal, 56(2), 272. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier database. Torbat. A. (2002). Pg 275. Torbat, A. (2002). Pg. 275. U.S. Department of State. Iran: Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. 6 March, 2007. <>. MehdiB ozorgmehra ndG eorgesS abagh,H igh StatusI mmigrants: AStatisticalp rof ileo f Iranians in the United States, Iranian Studies Volume XXI, No. 3-4, 1988, pp. 5-36. Ratha, D., Mohapatra, S., Silwal, A. The Migration and Remittances Factbook 20 11. The World Bank. < 34934-1199807908806/IranIslamicRep.pdf>. Torbat, A. (2002). Pg. 284. World Bank. “Public Spending on Education.” UNSCO.< cator/SE.XPD.TOTL.GD.ZS>. Tuck-Primdahl, J. M. Migration and Remittances: At a Glance. World Bank < l_Meetings_Report_DEC_IB_MigrationAndRemittances_Update24Sep10.pdf>. Heffner, P. “NIAC Works to Prevent Banking Sanctions from Hitting Innocent Irani an Americans.” National Iranian American Council. 9, October 2010. <>. U.S. Department of State. < g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/ m>. U.S. Department of State. < g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/ m>. Middle East Explorer “Iran’s Brain Drain”< s-brain-drain>. PAAIA Government Affairs Office. “Visa Regulations for Iranian Students: Overvie w & Analysis.” 20 September 2010. <


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