In a surprising turn of events, the youth continue to pursue opportunities in Australia, defying expectations of a slowdown in emigration this financial year. Despite work restrictions, stricter immigration rules, and a belief that the exodus had peaked, recent data for the first quarter of the 2023-2024 financial year (July to September 2023) reveal an alarming increase in the number of Bhutanese obtaining student visas for Australia.
A staggering 3,266 Bhutanese secured visas during this period, with 914 in July, 1,266 in August, and 1,086 in September 2023. This marks a significant surge compared to the same quarter in the previous financial year, where only 1,850 Bhutanese had left for Australia. Even when comparing to the first quarters of 2021-2022 (551 visas), 2020-2021 (483 visas), and 2019-2020 (763 visas), the current numbers paint a stark picture of a growing trend.
Examining the age groups involved, the data reveals that 197 children, ranging from babies and toddlers to 14-year-olds, are among those departing for Australia. The worrying aspect is the possibility of this trend intensifying, potentially surpassing the record-high 15,552 Bhutanese who left in the previous financial year.
What raises additional concerns is that these high numbers are not limited to the peak intake months, as there are typically limited course offerings in November. The projections for the months of October, November, December (2023), and January and February (2024) suggest that the numbers may escalate further.
Despite efforts to retain talent within the country, such as a significant 50% salary hike for civil servants, the impact on stemming the outflow is only partial. While the salary increase has succeeded in slowing down the pace of resignations among civil servants, a considerable number still opt to leave.
July witnessed 362 civil servants separating, with 339 resigning voluntarily. This number decreased to 269 in August, with 251 voluntary resignations, and further dropped to 174 in September, with 168 voluntary resignations. The notable reduction in resignations among civil servants suggests that the salary hike has influenced this group, although challenges persist.
The crux of the issue lies in the fact that the exodus is now predominantly fueled by individuals outside the government sector, particularly young graduates and professionals. Out of the 3,266 Bhutanese leaving, 1,722 are students, while 1,544 are departing as dependents.
As the nation grapples with this unexpected surge in emigration, the government faces the urgent task of understanding the underlying factors compelling its citizens, especially the youth, to seek opportunities abroad. The sustainability of this trend poses challenges not only for the government but also for the nation’s future workforce and development prospects.