Economic fallout: Travel bans, lockdowns shrink job opportunities for expats

By Waqas Ahmed
Published in The Express Tribune on February 01, 2021

ISLAMABAD: The pandemic-induced travel bans and lockdowns have direly reduced job opportunities for overseas Pakistanis. Due to the prevalent situation, only 224,000 Pakistanis got employment opportunities abroad in 2020 — a significant reduction from the pre-Covid times.

According to an official document received by The Express Tribune, Saudi Arabia reduced its work visas to Pakistanis by 196,374 in 2020 compared to 2019.

In 2020, Pakistan witnessed a reduction of 400,000 work visas globally, including those from friendly countries, compared to the tally of 625,000 in 2019.

Maintaining the streak, the UAE issued 157,000 less work visas while Oman reduced it by 18,000. Similarly, a reduction of 12,000 work visas was recorded from Qatar.

The highest number of workers went from Punjab. Around 118,000 skilled, unskilled and highly qualified workers made their way abroad from Punjab, while 77,318 went from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Meanwhile, 16,950 from Sindh, 1,869 from Balochistan and 1,894 from Islamabad found employment abroad in 2020.

According to the document, 1,130 doctors, 2,000 engineers, 1,334 accountants, 4,811 electricians and 3,000 managers were employed abroad last year.

The document showed that statistics of drivers and labourers were relatively at the higher side, 76,531 and 94,917, respectively.

According to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, international travel restrictions and lockdowns left more than 1.5 million overseas Pakistanis unemployed. The majority of the unemployed expats have now returned to the Gulf countries.

A senior official at the bureau told The Express Tribune that the process of registration of unemployed overseas Pakistanis has been completed on the portal developed by the government. “All the overseas Pakistanis registered at the portal have been provided with job opportunities through the youth programme, SMEDA, NEUTECH, Ehsaas Programme and other projects.”

The bureau officials also pointed out that the expiry of residency permits of overseas Pakistanis is one of the biggest challenges. However, they said that negotiations are underway at the governmental level with the Gulf countries, including the UAE.

The officials claimed that the bureau succeeded in gaining reemployment for Pakistanis in the countries where they were previously employed. The pandemic badly hit the building and construction industry, hotels and other related businesses, they said, adding that these sectors are yet to turn fully operational in foreign countries. “Due to the pandemic, not only the host countries are facing problems but also companies are facing difficulties in providing employment opportunities.”

Speaking to The Express Tribune, economist Nadeem Hussain said that the labourers in the Middle East, especially from Pakistan’s KP, have suffered the most. “They lost the jobs during the multiple rounds of lockdowns worldwide and were barely able to even survive there. And when they returned home, the local industries didn’t have the space to absorb them.”

The economist opined that the loss in remittances due to the COVID-19 joblessness is not quite apparent as of now. He attributed the stability to the government’s extra measures to attract overseas savings. “But we would see the impacts in the coming months and years.

The job losses would force thousands of overseas Pakistanis to turn to the informal economy. Reapplying for work visas would be a huge challenge.”

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