Migration: opportunity or challenge | Political economics

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Rthe broadcasts have become the major source of foreign exchange earnings in Pakistan. In the last fiscal year, these brought in nearly $30 billion, mostly through labor migration from Pakistan.

Over the past decade, remittances have remained the second largest source of foreign exchange earnings after exports. After the eruption of the Covid-19 pandemic, remittances took the top spot despite many migrant workers returning to Pakistan after being laid off.

Over the decades, remittances have been a relatively stable source of foreign exchange earnings, unlike direct investments and portfolio inflows. In recent years, too, remittances have been more stable than aid inflows. The contribution of remittances as a percentage of GDP was 3.91% in 2005. Today, they represent 8% of GDP. Thus, dependence on remittances has increased dramatically. This spared the country the risk of default on external accounts.

Ban Ki Moon, the former Secretary General of the United Nations once said: “Migration is an expression of the human aspiration for dignity, security and a better future”.

Pakistan is one of the top 10 emigration countries in the world. Nearly 6.3 million people, more than three percent of the population, are emigrants.

Official data for the past four years shows that the dominant trend of emigration from Pakistan is to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, mainly due to proximity and employment opportunities for less skilled workers. However, there was a visible drop in 2020 due to Covid-19.

The data also highlights the fact that the skill mix of Pakistani workers going abroad has not changed significantly over time. It is mainly skilled workers and unskilled labor who manage to find jobs abroad. The proportion of highly educated and highly skilled labor remains low. The wages of unskilled, semi-skilled and even skilled workers are much lower than those of high-skilled and highly-skilled labor. The current flow of remittances depends on the first category.

The majority of Pakistani emigrants belong to rural areas of Punjab. Of the approximately 10 million Pakistanis working abroad, 51% are from Punjab, 26% from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, 10% from Sindh and 1% from Balochistan. Most of these foreign workers are employed as low-skilled or semi-skilled workers in construction, hotels and restaurants or work as domestic workers.

Even so, Pakistan ranks among the remittance-receiving countries. He ranked 8and in the world according to World Bank statistics for the year 2011. It rose to 7th place in 2018-19.

School migration is an important facet of Pakistani emigration. There is significant student mobility out of Pakistan, as evidenced by a large increase in the number of Pakistani students abroad.

The most common motivation for resettlement has long been the desire for a better life. People move in the hope that they will do better in another environment. Sometimes they are forced by extreme circumstances. Migrants around the world leave their homes for a variety of reasons: they may seek better jobs or access better health care; they may be fleeing famine, war or natural disasters; or fleeing persecution and seeking political and religious freedoms they do not enjoy at home.

Pakistan is one of the largest emigration countries in the world. The causes are complex, involving a variety of Pakistan-specific variables, including poor economic progress, a precarious security environment, frequent natural disasters and political instability. As a result, opportunities for higher education and skilled careers are scarce. Additionally, Pakistan has a large expatriate community abroad; many Pakistanis have family in other countries and wish to reunite with them. In many parts of Pakistan, the scarcity of economic development and employment opportunities compels decisions.

School migration is also an important facet of Pakistani emigration. There is significant student mobility out of Pakistan, as evidenced by a large increase in the number of Pakistani students abroad.

The main destinations, which also influence the type of migration, can be used to identify Pakistani migrants. Migrants to North America and Europe generally want to stay in their host country for a long time before moving to another country with their family.

Migrants who cannot resettle in developed countries, especially low-skilled and semi-skilled workers, migrate temporarily for work. GCC countries, which do not allow permanent settlement of foreign employees, are popular destinations for these migrants. As a result, migration to these countries is often of short or medium duration, lasting on average four to five years. However, this can sometimes be extended to ten to fifteen years through contract renewals.

Pakistani migrant workers have contributed to its economy through remittances. Pakistanis most often migrate abroad for work. Labor migration has been historically relevant in Pakistan, where foreign exchange earnings from remittances were greater than the sum of earnings from other sources. These remittances contribute to the country’s strategic currencies.

Flip the coin and let us see the other side of the picture. Return migration is also an important aspect of migrants’ lives. Many return to start a new life in their native country and reconnect with their hometown. Return migration can also be forced. However this is not always the case. People have to return to their country of origin due to legal constraints such as host countries not allowing them to stay longer. “Assisted or independent return to the country of origin, transit or another country based on the returnee’s voluntary decision” is defined as voluntary return. It can be spontaneous or helped in some way.

Spontaneous return is “the voluntary and self-sustaining return of a migrant or a group of migrants to their place of origin, usually without the support of states or other international or national assistance”, according to the United Nations. Voluntary return and reintegration assistance is “administrative, logistical or financial support, including reintegration assistance, to migrants who cannot or do not want to remain in the host country and who choose to return in their country of origin”.

Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which brought economic activity to a halt and led to the closure of many businesses, the year 2020 turned out to be one of the most trying years across the world. Following the layoffs, many migrant workers returned to their home countries. According to government data, most expatriates returned to Pakistan from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Oman and Saudi Arabia.

Reintegration, the process that enables returnees to re-establish the economic, social and psychosocial relationships necessary to maintain life, livelihoods and dignity and achieve inclusion in civic life after returning from work abroad, has been recognized as an important aspect of global migration dynamics.

The International Organization for Migration asserts that reintegration can be considered sustainable when returnees achieve levels of economic self-sufficiency, social stability within their communities and psychosocial well-being that enable them to cope with the (re)migration factors. This reinstatement often depends on circumstances beyond their control.

In the context of Pakistan, returnees encounter a deteriorating economic situation, rising inflation, soaring commodity prices, erosion of disposable incomes, high unemployment, lack of institutional funding and poor social safety nets. They are often ill-prepared upon their return because they have limited access to the information needed to equip them to deal with changes that may have occurred in their home country during their absence.

A comprehensive migration management strategy should include safe and dignified return as well as long-term reintegration plans. Programs should be launched to help migrants who are unable or unwilling to stay in host or transit countries and seek to return to their country of origin.

Migrants stranded in host or transit countries, migrants in an irregular situation, regular migrants, asylum seekers who decide not to pursue their claims or who are found not to be in need of international protection, and migrants in vulnerable situations, such as victims of trafficking, unaccompanied migrants and separated children or migrants with health needs should be the main beneficiaries of such reintegration assistance programmes.

One such programme, called Reintegration of Returnees to Pakistan, is currently being implemented. This is an initiative of the TVET Sector Support Program that provides reintegration assistance to Pakistani returnees, especially young adults, who voluntarily return to their country of origin. This initiative helps them and the local community to reintegrate economically after their return to Pakistan through career and entrepreneurship counselling, employment promotion, prior learning recognition and training and competency-based assessment.

To benefit from the return of migrants through investments, remittances, increased productivity and skills transfers, the country must develop effective policies and launch effective programs for their sustainable reintegration.


The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad

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