Pull factors should be broadened for skilled people to return home
WHEN it comes to talent and expertise, the numerous Malaysian citizens abroad who have reached the top of their trade are proof that Malaysians can excel at anything. Yet, this country does not have enough highly-skilled talent going forward to Vision 2020, and we have to try to bring home our Malaysian talent abroad. In this globalised world, where career opportunities are fluid and abundant, it is good to have a plan in place to gain and retain talent. For instance, Australia has special Immigration sessions during orientation week at its universities, targeting foreign students, telling them that Australia wants them, which category of skills the country most needs and how to qualify for permanent resident (PR) status.
For this reason, the government established TalentCorp a year ago. It aims to headhunt more than 300,000 of between 800,000 and 1.4 million Malaysians working abroad and entice them home, by match-making them with employers, and presenting to them opportunities for a good career here. For example, the Returning Expert Programme is offered to citizens who have been residing and working overseas for at least three years, and are not owing anything to the government in terms of scholarship or bond. They are offered incentives, such as a five-year optional flat tax rate of 15 per cent for employment income, tax exemption for two locally-assembled or manufactured vehicles, and their foreign spouse and children can get PR within six months of application.
Previous to TalentCorp, one of the deterrents to returning and staying home has been the difficulty in bringing home a foreign spouse and children, since spousal visas and work permits are tight-fistedly granted. Foreign spouses have to go through bureaucratic hurdles just to get a social-visit pass of longer than six months. If the spouse does not have a work offer or a required expertise, he or she cannot get a work permit. Even becoming a PR takes years, if ever; and the lack of it provides no certainty and protection of law for the foreign spouse. So, some families who have returned for more than a decade and are still jumping through hoops must now feel hard done by.
Many things contribute to a brain drain. People leave the country of their birth to seek better earnings, better work opportunities, a different way of life. Some are enticed away by countries that make the move easy for them. The TalentCorp carrots should be expanded to all who choose to return and build this country.