Pakistan needs to understand the dynamics of overseas migration and develop appropriate policy response
Overseas migration of the workforce has been an important dimension in addressing employment and development issues. It plays an important role in the economic progress and prosperity of individuals as well as nations -- both countries of origin and destination.
The economic contribution of migration, especially towards poverty reduction, employment generation and women empowerment is extensive. It is also an effective mechanism of transferring new skills to labour sending countries on the return of their migrant workers. Indeed, on return the migrants bring knowledge and skills as well as social capital to their countries. Further, the remittances sent by migrants, on the one hand provide livelihood to their families and on the other hand provide funds for development.
At macro-economic level, the remittances sent by migrants help in building foreign exchange reserves and providing balance of payment support. Host countries also receive substantial macro-economic benefits through mitigation of labour shortages, enrichment of human capital and augmentation of economic activities. It is, therefore, an important source of economic growth and development for individuals as well as nations. Indeed, all migrant workers -- irrespective of their status -- contribute to growth and prosperity of destination and countries of origin.
The remittances sent by migrant workers provide decent living to their families back home; they are also an important source of foreign exchange earnings for the country needed for development, building foreign exchange reserves and providing balance of payment support. Thus, benefits accruing to individuals and economy as a whole are to be maximised through promotion of safe migration and increasingly focusing on sending educated, trained and skilled men and women. The migration is, therefore, multi-dimensional phenomenon which requires coordinated approach in its management.
The pattern clearly indicates that the Gulf countries remain the destination for majority of migrating workers. Other important countries of destinations are: Oman, Kuwait, Bahrain and Qatar. The trend of Pakistani workers going to South East Asian countries -- Malaysia and Singapore -- and East Asian countries including South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Japan, Europe and United States, however, remains low. It is worth mentioning that the South and East Asian countries have of late emerged as important destinations for workers from many labour exporting countries.
Pakistan is responding to the demand for skilled and unskilled labour of different occupational categories to the destination countries. Over three and a half thousand Technical Education and Vocational Training (TVET) institutions -- polytechnics, and technical and vocational training centers -- both in the public and private sector have been established.
An analysis of the domestic labour supply indicates that currently we have surplus supply of managers and administrators, agriculture professionals, agriculture workers, lawyers, business and financial professionals, business and financial associate professionals, clerical and secretarial occupations, bookkeeping professionals, technical skill holders, plant and machinery operators, construction workers, artisans and support professionals, caterers, security professionals and workers, craft makers, accountants, technicians, carpenters, mechanics and electricians.
Over 9.60 million Pakistani workers went abroad for work during 1971-2017. Overseas migrants are largely production workers; semi-skilled and skilled. Wages of such workers are low compared with technical and professional workers.
According to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, 946571 Pakistani workers went abroad in 2015. In 2016, the number has gone down to 839353. The decline in numbers continued in 2017 and up till August, it was 345833 raising a serious concern for the authorities. We are expecting to see 40-45 per cent decline in the numbers which will surely cause damage to the remittances and economy.
It is evident that despite the substantial flow to these countries, there are fluctuations in which countries are the top destination, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Even our major country of destination - Saudi Arabia - has witnessed a decline in terms of the number of Pakistani workers’ migration in recent years i.e. number of migrant workers in 2016 are 462598 and 102920 in 2017(up till August).
It is a cause of serious concern as the Kingdom continues to remain a dominant source of employment for foreign workers in the Gulf region. Oman, Qatar, Kuwait, Libya and Korea are other countries where number of migrants has declined. The decrease in migration to Saudi Arabia, however, is being compensated by increasing flows to the UAE. Bahrain and Malaysia are also countries where migration flow, albeit from a low base, is increasing.
The choice of destination country is mainly influenced by the easy access to a job market, the wage structure and the nature of jobs available. The job market in the GCC region has shown great fluctuation in terms of the placement of Pakistani workers through the formal channel.
The question that irritates many policy makers in the country is that despite knowing well enormous demand for expatriate workers in the: i) Gulf region, ii) South East Asian countries, iii) East Asian countries, iv) countries with point system, such as: Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom, v) European countries, vi) Northern America, and vii) even mode-IV under WTO regime, why as yet we have not been able to respond well?
Indeed, there are a number of issues -- rather challenges -- that merit attention in order to understand the dynamics of migration and developing appropriate policy response to deal with them. The most important of them is the availability of information regarding migration and migrants. The cost of migration, training opportunities to potential migrants and promotion of migration through diplomatic channels as well as through Community Welfare Attaché (CWAs) are other issues which need attention.
The demand for skills is rising in majority of the labour importing countries and multi-skilling is preferred over uni-skilling of migrants. The overwhelming majority of Pakistani workers are either unskilled/semi skilled or at best skilled. But the quality of training and productivity are largely low. No wonder, half of the migrants are content with low paying jobs at times taking over a year to earn enough to recover the cost of migration. English language proficiency and working knowledge of the language of the host country continues to remain inadequately responded.
The Emigration Ordinance and Rules need to be reviewed in light of new developments at the country, regional and international levels and to better address the challenges to the regulation of the recruitment industry and to improve the system for addressing grievances in Pakistan and abroad. The concentration of migrant workers in one destination region can lead to a dangerous dependency on the jobs (and remittances) that could easily be affected by economic recession or some future regional conflict.
To promote female employment abroad, new rules are needed. There is a need to train female workers for the professions in which they would feel safe and secure. The appointment of female community welfare officers should be considered in selected host countries. The monitoring of working and living conditions of female workers should be institutionalised by Pakistani embassies and consulates, with participation of Pakistani communities. An awareness campaign should be launched on the safe channel of female migration.
The government should address the issue of exorbitantly high migration costs to avoid exploitation of workers, especially those who are low skilled. An accountability, monitoring and enforcement mechanism with strict compliance of existing laws and regulations must be put into place to bring down the actual migration cost in line with the legal framework.
There is a need to expand pre-departure training for migrant workers and ensure that it properly takes place. Prospective migrant workers should be able to easily access brochures of useful information to end exploitation.
Pakistan today, with a long history of migration notwithstanding, finds itself challenged in terms of improving capacity of its workforce to tap the vast employment potential in the South East and East Asian as well as industrialised countries.