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Top Cleric Admits ‘Brain Drain’ Is A Problem

Abu Mohammad Mortazavi, the representative of Iran's Supreme Leader to higher education institutions.

Amid worsening economic conditions in at home, Iranian graduates living abroad have no incentive to return to their country, says mid-ranking cleric Abu Mohammad Mortazavi, who is the Supreme Leader’s representative to the country’s universities.

Speaking the Islamic Republic's official news agency (IRNA) on March 10, Mortazavi said the number of Iranian elites emigrating to Europe and the U.S. is on the rise, especially over the last year.

Based on the ministry of science, research and technology statistics , more than 40 percent of the unemployed in Iran are university graduates. Faced with limited opportunities at home, between 150,000-180,000 Iranians leave the country each year to work abroad.

Former minister of science, research and technology, Reza Faraji Dana, has estimated Iran loses $150 billion annually as a result of the brain drain.

Nearly four years ago President Hassan Rouhani also acknowledged that brain drain is doing immense damage to the nation’s economy.

Iran ranks 16th among countries with the highest number of university graduates emigrating, according to a report published last year in the pro-reform daily Sharq.

Given the deteriorating economic situation in Iran, a new wave of emigration could be looming, population experts predict.

Speaking with the state-run Iran Labor News Agency (ILNA) last July, a member of the Population Studies Institution (PSI), Bahram Salavati, said the current economic situation in Iran might encourage people to emigrate and even spur returned emigres to leave the country again.

Salavati cited a 2015 Gallup poll on “willingness to emigrate” which showed nearly 1.8 million Iranians were considering emigrating.

According to Salavati, 20 percent of Iranian university graduates are currently unemployed, while 51,600 Iranians are studying in different countries across the world.

“Many young Iranians who return home hoping to make a difference end up disillusioned and disappointed,” Paris-based Iranian researcher Saeid Payvandi told Radio Farda.

Payvandi went on to explain that in addition to the difficult economic situation in Iran, there are other factors driving elites to emigrate.

“Beyond the global trend of brain drain affecting all economically troubled countries, Iran’s wealthy and educated elites leave their native country because of the nontransparent political system, censorship, suppression of civil society, religious, cultural, political, and gender-based discrimination, a rogue judiciary system, a parallel government of the security apparatus, widespread financial mismanagement and corruption, and tense relations with other countries,” he said.