Wednesday, November 20, 2002

Lower salaries deter skilled Malaysians abroad from returning
While some doctors and engineers have taken up Malaysia's offer to come back, the response from IT professionals has been lukewarm

By Reme Ahmad

MALAYSIA'S plan to reverse its brain drain has met with a lukewarm response two years after its launch.

Only some 300 doctors and engineers have taken up the 'returning professionals' offer because many were unwilling to take the lower salaries back home.

The total number who have come back is well below the target of 400 professionals the country had targeted for 2001 - the first year of launch.

Despite the slew of incentives offered, Human Resources Minister Datuk Fong Chan Onn said the main snag was the reduced pay cheques.

'When we launched it two years ago, there was a very good initial response due to the rebounding economy.'

'We had 700 applications, we approved 200 to 300, especially medical professionals,' he told reporters yesterday.

He said doctors were easily absorbed by the medical centres and private hospitals that pay good money for their expertise.

But not many information technology (IT) engineers have taken up the offer.

'Some IT professionals returned but found it was difficult to get jobs that commensurate with their expectations.'

'So the number of returning professionals has slowed somewhat,' he said.

The campaign aimed to plug vacancies in six key fields - information and communications technology, manufacturing industries, science and technology, arts, finance and medicine.

Although it was aimed at wooing Malaysian professionals from the world over, those in Singapore, Brunei, Australia, Hongkong, the United States and Britain were the main targets.

Among the carrots dangled were tax exemption for savings and assets brought home.

These returning professionals were also allowed to bring in two cars each without payment of duties and their foreign spouses and children were assured permanent-resident status within six months.

Under a five-year development plan to 2005, the country needed about 35,000 skilled workers especially in technology and engineering.

The scheme itself is an expansion of a 1996 programme to entice home Malaysian scientists abroad. That too met with a cool response.

Attractive salaries and family ties are among the factors to focus on, said Mr Dennis See, head of the centre for knowledge and industry at the Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute.

Mr See returned to Malaysia in 1996 after eight years in the US, partly due to be close to his father who had suffered a stroke. He was also offered a job by Penang's Chief Minister Koh Tsu Koon, to help service multinationals.

'After completing their studies in the US, many of them chose to remain there because of attractive packages,' said Mr See, who has met Malaysian professionals abroad during his six-year stint with the Chief Minister's Office.

A doctor's pay in Malaysia could be just a third of what he could earn in Britain.