Navigating the Crossroads: The Job Market Struggle of Afghanistan’s Professional Immigrants
By: Mir Hamidullah Mir and Abdul Qahar Bakhshi
Having experienced decades of conflict, proxy insurgency, natural disasters, COVID-19, and a recent chaotic collapse of government added to the people of Afghanistan’s already suppurating endurance. The tragic overturn caused unprecedented mayhem in the country and reverted its hard-earned collective achievements during the past two decades back to square one. As a result, many citizens of Afghanistan immigrated to other countries, including the USA. In this article, we discuss their struggle in the US job market and argue that most professional workers from Afghanistan must work as daily laborers and non-professional jobs to survive. On the one hand, this contradictory employment causes unprecedented damage to the immigrant. On the other hand, the host country fails to utilize the skills immigrants have for further development efficiently.
At the onset of the formation of the interim government in Afghanistan in 2001, moving within metropolitan cities took hours due to rugged and uneven streets, not to mention traveling between remote cities took days. I very well recall the peoples’ degree of enthusiasm and collective participation in national matters, notwithstanding inheriting a thousand battered jigsaw pieces to put together. At the same time, their commitment to rebuilding their country was still unswerving. Millions of students returned to school, government agencies started functioning, and security forces synched and fought against the insurgency on the side of the international community led by the United States. A judicial system was established, power and water systems were rebuilt, roads were asphalted, and women and human rights organizations from across the world rushed to Kabul to participate in the country’s reconstruction. Numerous skilled diasporas returned to serve their homeland after chronic miseries. Hundreds of new professionals were trained within and outside the country through generous national and international educational schemes.
Given the above story, unfortunately, on August 15, 2021, history repeated itself, and the country’s ship of destiny capsized again. As a result, the solid minds and professionals were forced to leave and slog their way to safety elsewhere. In this tragedy, the most vulnerable group who paid the highest price of losing their identity were the country’s experts and professionals. They aimed to raise the country to a better position, but the cruel hands of destiny did not allow their dream to come true.
Reports from UNHCR state that “since the collapse of the Afghanistan government in August 2021, over 1.6 million Afghans left the country and reached the West, let alone the total number of refugees in neighboring countries reaching a tune of over 8.2 million.” This is the largest displaced population from a single country in the world in recent times.” Crossing the neighboring Pakistan and Iran borders for Afghans who mostly trickle into Turkiye is fraught with high tolls en route to their dream destinations yet daily.
After the Taliban takeover of power, said elites had to return to the West. They stopped investing in the country further and retreated to their place of shelter. Those who held high-ranking advisory positions or were involved in big developmental projects had already fled after smelling the rat. Once the stability index started shrinking across the country unexpectedly and the Taliban swept into Kabul, thousands of mentioned fellows swarmed the Kabul airport in a desperate attempt to get a flight out of the country.
We are in touch with many experts from my country. We feel pain when talking to them about their past. I lament when I ask them about their new life in a different atmosphere. We meet many professionals from my country daily in the United States who possess valuable skills, knowledge, and technical resourcefulness. I receive dozens of heart-rending messages, voicemails, posts, and stories from them every day. To truly realize their plight, one must put themselves in their shoes.
In stark contrast to other vicissitudes in the course of its history, this time, Afghanistan lost hundreds of thousands of its top professionals and valuable human capital. The country is facing a disaster in the mentioned sphere, and recovery from this limbo will take many years. Training new professionals will be either a long process or a no-hoper. On the other hand, the bitter fact is that these professionals are not treated as professionals in their new countries. They now must start everything from scratch, and they are compelled to take on labor work for survival. I know many citizens of Afghanistan who work in the U.S. labor market were once generals, professors, lecturers, commanders, doctors, and the like. Being occupied with labor work for many years and remaining stagnant in gaining subsistence means making individuals buckle under these strains and forget their know-how and skills.
A few days ago, in a conversation with one of Afghanistan’s Air Force pilots, he narrated how he received his training under pressure and how much money the US and International Community invested in him and his comrades to become a pilot. They spent months and even years away from their families and loved ones to learn and earn skills and invested precious years to become professionals and serve their country. Equally, it took the Afghan government a huge toll economically, politically, and administratively to get these strongmen ready. The gentleman also indicated how over 500 Afghanistan Air Force evacuees indulge in labor work in the US and other countries.
On a recent European trip, we met many diplomats, doctors, masters, and other professionals engaged in manual labor or idling away. Many have concerns about losing their skills when spending time in non-related settings or remaining unemployed in their fields for long periods. Against this backdrop, these professionals are living an unsatisfactory life. I hope the host governments work out ways to recognize and support them. They can organize programs and schemes to assist them in returning to decent and meaningful jobs. Likewise, governments can use their expertise to implement pertaining projects and reintegrate them into their respective systems after retraining and orienting them.
Given the above circumstances, the question that remains unanswered is that for every regime change and sake of a handful of treacherous and corrupt politicians, why do professionals, experts, and future builders of the country must pay the heaviest price of either getting killed or escaping the country?
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