By Shahid Iqbal
Published in DAWN on November 21, 2020
KARACHI: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has warned over possible forced repatriation of overseas workers that could create grave problems for the economy urging the government to evolve a comprehensive strategy to deal with the situation.
“While the short-to-medium-term focus seems appropriate given the abruptness of the Covid-19 crisis, the government must also frame a long-term view and adopt a comprehensive national migration policy,” the central bank noted in its recently released State of Pakistan’s Economy 2019-20.
The existing framework does not share any comprehensive action plan to address the problems of migrant workers in case of forced repatriation, it added.
The annual report provided a comprehensive account on overseas Pakistanis and possible grave situation emerging from forced repatriation of workers particularly in the Gulf region.
Over 100,000 overseas jobs for which the recruitment process was going on in the country was disrupted due to Covid-19 and is not going to recover unless the recruiting projects are revived.
“Around 50,000 Pakistani migrants faced layoffs in different countries. These jobs may not be recovered in the short term and are thus extremely vulnerable,” it added.
Using data compiled by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment (BEOE), the report said that around 60,000 Pakistanis were recruited for overseas work, but could not proceed abroad due to travel restrictions and suspension of flight operations. The BEOE also categorises these jobs as extremely vulnerable.
In addition to these, 50,000 emigrants (Azaad Visa excluded) returned on paid or unpaid leaves as of June 20. These workers have not been laid off, but their job continuation entails risk, said the report.
In case of forced dismissals, workers also did not receive compensation, and other dues and therefore found it difficult to arrange travel expenses on their own. The recent figure of stranded Pakistanis in different destinations is highly skewed towards the Gulf region with more than 91 per cent in only two countries, i.e., Saudi Arabia and the UAE, said the report.
During April-June, the national airline flew 490 special flights and repatriated 90,308 citizens during April-June, said the report.
Even before the Covid-19, important migrant destinations, including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and others, had started internal reform processes and took comprehensive measures to encourage recruitment of local workers.
“Now, with the Covid-19 crisis, the demand contraction and a dull crude oil market has further weakened the economic outlook of oil-exporting economies. Under such circumstances, a complete return to pre-Covid migrant employment levels does not appear in sight, at least over the next two years,” said the report.
A number of countries, including Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico and Sri Lanka, have been following national frameworks for the reintegration of returning workers under national migration legislation and policy frameworks.
In coming months, thousands of repatriated Pakistanis will require similar reintegration assistance in the form of financial support, entrepreneurship facilitation, skill up-gradation and job resumption, said the report.
“A well-planned and coordinated strategy is needed at provincial and federal level to address social and economic consequences of mass repatriation and cater to the basic needs of the returned migrants,” said the report.
The government must improve governance framework in migration-related operations to improve policy effectiveness, the SBP advised.
“As per the International Labour Organization (ILO) assessment, such operations in Pakistan currently face multiple challenges, such as the absence of properly designed systems, weak standard operating procedures, inadequately trained assigned staff and coordination weaknesses among different departments,” said the report.