Islamabad: The State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) cautioned that forced repatriation of overseas workers could cause serious economic problems, urging the government to develop 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 take a long-term view and adopt a comprehensive national migration policy,” the central bank said in its recently released State of Pakistan’s Economy 2019-20.
The current system does not share any detailed action plan to resolve the concerns of migrant workers in the event of forced repatriation, she said.
The annual report provided a detailed account of Pakistani overseas and the possible serious situation arising from forced repatriation of employees especially in the Gulf region.
Over 100,000 overseas jobs for which the recruitment process has been underway in the country have been interrupted by Covid-19 and will not be restored unless the recruitment projects are revived.
“About 50,000 Pakistani migrants have faced layoffs in different countries. These employment can not be restored in the short term and are therefore highly vulnerable,” he added.
Using data collected by the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment (BEOE), the study reported that some 60,000 Pakistanis had been recruited for overseas employment, but were unable to travel abroad due to travel restrictions and the suspension of flight operations. The BEOE also categorises these workers as highly insecure.
In addition, as of 20 June, 50,000 migrants (excluded from Azaad Visa) returned on paid or unpaid leave. These staff have not been laid off but the continuation of their work poses risks, the report said.
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.