Almost 5 million households or around 15 per cent of the total in Pakistan have a family member working abroad. These families would be seriously negatively impacted by a fall in remittances to Pakistan as would both the unemployment and poverty levels in the country. This was stated by Dr. Rashid Amjad, Director, Center on International Migration, Remittances and Diaspora, Lahore School of Economics at the start of a Webinar held on June 30th 2020.
The Webinar, entitled “COVID-19 and its Impact on Out and Return Overseas Labor Migration: major issues and concerns”, was organized by CIMRAD, Lahore School of Economics.
The discussion highlighted the varied impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on the current situation of overseas Pakistani workers and the government efforts to facilitate their orderly and safe return. Mr. Kashif Noor, DG of the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, elaborated upon the role that government agencies are playing in ensuring a smooth re-absorption of returnees, many of whom had to leave under fairly dire circumstances. He also reflected on future prospects of jobs for Pakistani workers in an increasingly competitive job market in the Gulf countries and elsewhere. While commenting on Pakistan’s experience, Dr. Piyasiri Wickramasekara, an international migration expert, appreciated the government’s efforts in this regard. He also emphasized the need for facilitating the overdue payments of workers and the protection of migrants in an irregular situation.
Remittances have been a lifeline for the Pakistani economy for several years. Covid-19 pandemic is expected to significantly dampen these flows as economic activity in countries from which majority remittances are received shrinks. Ms. Almazia Shahzad, presented her projections for future remittance flows, that are expected to decline by 21.2 percent in 2020 and 19.4 percent in 2021, from the earlier projections. Ms. Asma Khalid, Senior Economist at the State Bank of Pakistan, shared her expectation that the impact of Covid-19 on remittances will begin to show after June, and will mainly be visible in the next 12 to 18 months.
Pakistan has been one of the major countries sending migrants to the Gulf region, especially Saudi Arabia and the UAE. It sent a record 1 million migrant workers in 2015, followed by a major annual decline until the numbers increased to more than 600,000 in 2019. Dr. GM Arif, commented that the pandemic is likely to cause a big decline in new outflows, in addition to the large influx of returnee workers. As many as 1 million migrant workers may be expected to return back, primarily to Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
Dr. Asad Sayeed shared some additional thoughts about this matter. Finally, Dr. Nasra Shah presented her views on some of the unofficial and socio-cultural factors, such as the Kafala system in the Gulf and the global anti-immigration attitude in host countries, that are likely to affect the demand for future migrants, and Dr. Nasir Iqbal elaborated further on the ideas presented by her.
The webinar was attended by 40 participants from various countries including renowned migration experts from ILO, ICMPD, and some non-governmental organizations.