Iranians are more miserable than ever, according to recently released figures, at a time when a large segment of the population is reportedly considering leaving their country for good.
Iran’s “misery index” stands at more than 60 percent, according to the latest quarterly study compiled by the government-funded Iranian Statistics Center. The index, which factors in inflation and unemployment figures and is seen as a predictor of everything from crime levels to economic stagnation, rose by 1.2 percentage points over the previous quarterly survey.
The misery index was highest — 69.5 percent — in the western Lorestan Province, which has seen violent protests over water shortages in recent years and has among the highest unemployment and inflation rates in Iran.
The increase comes amid a flurry of reports highlighting the government’s concerns over the number of Iranians who want to emigrate in search of a better life abroad, resulting in loss of capital, professionals, and skilled workers.
“Confidential” internal correspondence purportedly from the Information Ministry suggested this week that a government survey had indicated that “young men of higher education and financial capabilities, particularly in big cities,” were the most willing to leave Iran.
RFE/RL is unable to verify the accuracy of that and other documents leaked by the Qiyam Ta Sarnguni, a group affiliated with the banned Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization.
Another “confidential” document recently leaked by the group online, this time from the presidential office’s Center for Strategic Studies and reportedly sent to Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi, noted “a wide wave of [people] who desire to emigrate.” The assessment, which traditionally does not account for medical workers who are known to seek careers abroad, was described as “an alarm” that signals the ineffectiveness of efforts toward “controlling the motives of immigration and indifference toward the country.”
The brain drain of tech specialists, health-care professionals, and educators from Iran has been well documented in the past year, following a brief respite when many international sanctions were lifted on Iran under an historic nuclear deal signed with world powers.
But with the withdrawal of the United States from the deal in 2018, the agreement faltered and the return of crippling U.S. sanctions targeting key export industries has posed significant obstacles to Iran’s already dire economic situation. Iranians have additionally struggled in recent years with soaring inflation and record unemployment.
Tehran’s harsh response to protests across the country — both by struggling industrial workers and farmers suffering severe water shortages in recent years, as well as supporters of the country’s Women, Life, Freedom! movement who have voiced their anger at the clerical establishment — appears to have pushed many Iranians to consider leaving for good.
An ongoing purge of academics at Iranian universities, government pressure on medical workers treating protesters injured in the brutal clampdown on dissent, and restrictions and Internet slowdowns on tech-savvy companies have all been cited as contributing factors to the latest round of brain drain.
Another document leaked by Qiyam Ta Sarnguni in August, this time allegedly from the Information Ministry, suggests that officials are seeking to prevent the “emigration of scientific and elite groups.” The document also claims that the emigration of elite talent is “limited to the field of health treatment” and is due to the “intensification of economic and livelihood problems in the country.”
The Farhikhtegan newspaper, the official mouthpiece for Tehran’s Islamic Azad University, has said that 6,500 doctors and medical specialists left the country in 2022. And Mohammad Mirzabigi, the head of Iran’s nursing system, told the semiofficial ILNA news agency recently that “between 100 and 150 nurses emigrate every month,” according to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda.
Injured protesters who spoke to Radio Farda have indicated that harassment against health-care workers has also led some to go abroad for treatment. “The main reason [for emigrating] was the treatment of my eye, because in Iran, doctors were under pressure [from the government], and I couldn’t ask any more of them,” Maysam Dehghani, a protester who sustained a severe injury at the hands of Iran’s security forces, said this week.
There are also indications that the desire to leave the country is not unique to the elite.
In an interview with ILNA this summer, Daud Beginejad, the vice president of Iran’s Real Estate Consultants Association, said that the flight of housing developers posed a “very dangerous” threat to Iran’s future.
Half of Iran’s university students and graduates have decided to emigrate — accounting for more than 66,000 people, according to Bahram Salvati, the director of the Iranian Migration Observatory, a research institute based at Tehran’s Sharif University that itself came under pressure in August after it was given an eviction notice.
Salvati has also cited Iran’s unstable Internet, which the authorities have slowed or shut down amid protests, as a cause for start-up companies to leave for Turkey and other countries in the region.
The list of skilled workers seeking to emigrate goes on, including midwives, pilots, truck drivers, and construction workers.
Outside organizations have noted the impact, with the European Union’s Agency for Asylum reporting this year that Iranian asylum applications to the EU had “more or less doubled” this year compared to the same period in 2022, with more than 13,000 applications.
Saeed Moaidfar, head of the Iranian Sociological Association, explained in a recent interview with the Jamaran news website the deep-seated “reasons behind people’s” desire to emigrate.
“A migration wave occurs when a deep economic crisis in the field of production, employment, inflation, and other issues coincides with other crises,” Moaidfar said. “It means, for example, that this person or persons have reached the point where their political system is not sufficient to overcome an economic crisis, or they feel that nepotism is used instead of meritocracy.”
According to the Iranian Migration Observatory, about 2.2 million Iranians, accounting for some 3.3 percent of the population, left the country for work or other reasons last year. The vast majority — 62 percent — do not want to come back after leaving, with more than 90 percent saying they distrust the government’s pledges of opportunities at home.
With neighboring countries experiencing rapid growth, Iranian officials are expressing fear that the country could become “an island devoid of opportunities.”
Mehdi Ghazanfari, the head of the National Development Fund, said in a recent interview with an economic publication that the lure of life abroad could leave Iran without “manpower and opportunities” and that “the day will come” when the country will become a training center for other countries’ workers.