Fewer jobs for Pakistanis in Middle East

Published: January 31, 2016



Once a happy hunting ground for job seekers, Pakistanis have seen work prospects in Gulf countries shrink dramatically in recent years, most prominently in war-hit countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.

According to figures submitted in the National Assembly recently, as many as 8.7 million Pakistanis have found work overseas between 1971 and 2015, over 84 per cent of which has been in Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia has been the most popular destination catering to 4.3 million Pakistanis (49.4 per cent of all overseas workers) and hence a top source of foreign remittances ($2.89 billion between July-December 2015 according to State Bank).

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The second largest country to host Pakistani workers has been the United Arab Emirates where 2.8 million have found work between 1971 and 2015.

Jobs in Kuwait, which had provided employment to 109,951 Pakistanis from 1971 to 2002, have shrunk dramatically in the years following the Arab Spring with only 132 Pakistanis given jobs in 2014 before rising slightly to 155 in 2015.

Despite being a major contributor for remittances, the US has seen only 4,760 Pakistanis find work between 1971-2015, while 12,170 were working in the United Kingdom during this period.

The story in crisis-hit countries, however has been quite different.

Iraq hosted 68,133 workers from 1971 to 2001. After US troops invaded the country in 2003 to oust strongman Saddam Hussain, the war had meant little to no job prospects.

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But the situation began to improve 2012 onwards with 2,651 workers having found work there. According to the data provided by the Bureau of Emigration and overseas Employment, 32 Pakistanis found work there in 2012, jumping to 951 in 2013 and 1,041 in 2014. However, the rise of the Islamic State group in 2015 and the corresponding counteraction saw a corresponding fall in Pakistani workers going to Iraq with only 625 people going there during this time.

Syria, where Islamic State has a large footprint and has seen extended global counteraction from the likes of US, France, Britain and now Russia, saw no Pakistanis find a job there in the past five years. That is not to say, however, that Syria was ever a happy hunting ground for Pakistanis with only 346 people finding work there between 1971 and 2011.

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It was a similar story in war-hit Libya. Before Muammar Qaddafi fell in 2011, 72,610 people had found work there. And while the trend was on the rise for a while after the dictator was killed, doubling from 1,872 in 2012 to 4,543 in 2013. However, increasing fighting saw that fall from 2,121 in 2014 to just eight in 2015. At the height of the fighting in 2014, around 7,040 Pakistanis had to be evacuated from the country. Around 700 Pakistanis remained in Sirte which were advised in August 2015 to leave as the situation there deteriorated.

Unrest and uprising in Yemen has also affected the Pakistani labour force there. According to the bureau, only 22 Pakistanis were employed in Yemen last year as a coalition of Gulf countries took on rebels. This was down from 137 Pakistanis who found employment there in 2014. As many as 5,420 Pakistanis had found employment in Yemen from 1971 to 2015. Renowned economist Kaiser Bengali blamed the government for not doing enough to ensure protections for Pakistanis working abroad, and for failing to create economic conditions within the country to stop the workforce drain.

“I know many textile sector industrialists in Karachi who have shifted their focus to stock business instead while those in iron and steel industry are now importing goods from China,” Bengali said as he explained how jobs within Pakistan were shrinking and causing more people to explore prospects abroad.

He warned that conflict in oil-rich Arab countries could render a large section of Pakistanis jobless who would have no option but to return home, at which point the country would have another economic crisis on its hands.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2016.

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Reader Comments (10)

  • Ali S
    Jan 31, 2016 - 10:33AM

    It is simply insane that our govt relies on Arab countries’ remittances to run its country rather than fixing its own industries and encouraging Pakistanis to find work here.Recommend

  • AJ
    Jan 31, 2016 - 12:44PM

    Well……Its basically fewer jobs for everyone due to the crisis. The impact will be felt even more in the next couple of years as combined crisis of the war and the oil prices hit home. Recommend

  • hmm
    Jan 31, 2016 - 1:08PM

    only 4760 finding jobs in USA in 40 years??????

    …seems like at least one zero is missing if not two zeros!!!!!!!!!…

    I myself have almost 100 relatives working there….!!!!Recommend

  • roadkashehzada
    Jan 31, 2016 - 3:39PM

    33 people found work in 2012??? if i sit and start counting, i think i know more than that who found work there. i think there is change in methodology of counting people. may be more people are avoiding protector. but overall its true the numbers are declining. but we should see it as a opportunity. skilled people are picked by foreign companies leaving semi/non skilled people who cant even fix a corolla.Recommend

  • mason
    Jan 31, 2016 - 5:18PM

    Seems Pakistanis are only good enough to be blue collar workers in the ME. You can blame the obsession with India and the resources that takes away from education and health.Recommend

  • Saad
    Jan 31, 2016 - 5:46PM

    Illegals cannot be accurately counted.Recommend

  • shazada zahid malik-loan
    Jan 31, 2016 - 6:06PM

    The writer could have added that those that will return will have no jobs leading to law and order situation. All the governments, including the military dictator led, have done nothing to promote industrialization. They have very little love for the country or its people – military or civilian – Allah help Pakistan and her people.Recommend

  • buba
    Jan 31, 2016 - 7:41PM

    Despite being a major contributor for remittances, the US has seen only 4,760 Pakistanis find work between 1971-2015,
    Obtaining a work related VISA into the USA is difficult process – generally limited to high skill jobs where the employer can demonstrate he has been unable to fill the job from domestic market. International competition for those jobs is intense. On the bright side those who are fortunate to get those jobs tend to make good money.Recommend

  • Random Passerby
    Feb 1, 2016 - 6:34AM

    Only 4760 finding jobs in USA since 1971!

    These numbers are way off. I guess they are only counting people who have registered themselves with Protectorate of Immigrants, and not many people do it.Recommend

  • Haji Atiya
    May 6, 2016 - 10:29AM

    For a country where even taking a periodic census has always been problematic, if not impossible, I would have grave doubts about these figures churned out by the Bureau of Emigration !Recommend

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