Missed opportunities and ignored priorities


Rashid A Mughal

HOW do you define a ideal country to live in ? Who do you call a successful nation ?. Obviously the quality of life which includes good Law and order environment, perfect infra-structure (roads, sewage, power, gas, etc), easy availability of necessities of life( easy access to food, healthcare ,education etc) and above all a considerate government and good governance form the basic core of fundamentals which help you decide where to live. Such a government plans its priorities, set its goal and direct its efforts to achieve those. The aim is to give a decent quality of life to its nationals. Proper planning is the sine qua non for any policy, given the economic fundamentals of a country. The economic growth may be export driven, consumer consumption driven, services driven and/or investment driven. What suits one country may not work for the other. Therefore the country planners and policy makers have a daunting task to frame policies in keeping with its available resources. Talking about our country, we have a long history of missed opportunities and ignored priorities. The most important being Export of Manpower from Pakistan.
Asia plays a significant role in global migration trends. Being the most populous continent on the planet, it is home to two of the most populous nations in the world, namely India and China, and many Asian countries are still in a phase of strong population growth with a large pool of young people, even if this trend is slowing down or, as in the case of Singapore, China and Thailand, has come to an end. Beyond this, Asia is also home to countries that are still struggling to tackle poverty issues, political unrest, and economic growth. These factors all play a role in the emigration of an estimated 77 million Asians worldwide. The majority of Asian emigrants end up in the Middle East, North America and Europe respectively. While significant portions of Asian emigrants permanently migrate to North American and European countries, labour migration from and within Asia itself is paramount to the region’s economy. The Philippines, India, Pakistan and China are still the biggest countries of origin. And this may be surprising to many but the main destination for Asian workers is the Middle East. Saudi Arabia remains a major receiving country for the Philippines, India and Pakistan. Within the ASEAN region, Singapore is also a major receiving country for the Philippines, Indonesia and Bangladesh. Labour migration within Asia itself is seen as a temporary trend with foreign workers choosing to work for a few months up to a few years before returning home. Most do not resettle in receiving countries. However, with the majority of workers being low-skilled workers who filled labour gaps in receiving countries, especially in the construction industry, labour migration has posed quite a few challenges to governments in Asia.
Nevertheless, labour migration has its benefits not only to receiving countries but also to sending countries. Asia is also home to a significant number of high-skilled emigrants who choose to migrate to more developed countries, like those in North America and Europe. A defining characteristic of high-skilled migrants from Asia is their high education level. China, India, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines are a major source of these highly skilled workers that move to countries in North America and Europe. Unfortunately Pakistan lags behind in this area due to ignorance at the government level as proper policies have not been put in place. In fact government’s ignorance is the main reason that we are witnessing persistent fall in the number of workers getting jobs abroad. In 2016,2017 and 2018, number of Pakistanis who were sent abroad for employment was 839358, 494286 and 382439 as compared to Bangladesh’s 1.2 million, 850,000 and 570,000.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of labour migration is the inflow of remittances to sending countries. Low-skilled and high-skilled Asian emigrants often earn significantly more in their destination countries than they would in their home countries. In some countries within the region this represents a significant contribution to the country’s GDP. Top remittance-receiving countries in Asia include India, China, Philippines, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Nepal and Thailand. In 2015, India saw an inflow of USD 72.2 billion while China received USD 63.9 billion and the Philippines USD 29.7 billion respectively.
These three countries are also the top remittance-receiving countries in the world. Inflows of remittances into developing countries leads to increased investments in health, education, and small businesses. Excluding China, remittances to low and middle-income countries ($462 billion) were significantly larger than foreign direct investment flows in 2018 ($344 billion). Among countries, the top remittance recipients in 2018-19, were India with $79 billion, followed by China ($67 billion), Mexico ($36 billion), the Philippines ($34 billion), and Egypt ($29 billion) and Pakistan(21.8 billion).In 2019, remittance flows to low- and middle-income countries are expected to reach $550 billion, to become their largest source of external financing. Labour migration from Asia will continue to grow as advanced countries continue to deal with labour shortages and aging populations. However, for receiving countries, beyond filling labour gaps, the inflow of skilled labour helps the country’s local labour markets strengthen human capital and talent pools. For sending countries, the flow of remittances back to families and communities mean that local economies also have the opportunity to grow and poverty issues are tackled.
We need to have a aggressive marketing policy for employment of our skilled and unskilled workers and highly qualified professionals. It is extremely sad that government is seeking IMF and World Bank loans with too many strings attached but is not paying attention to an opportunity which has been thoroughly ignored due to callous attitude of the previous governments. If the number of workers going abroad for jobs goes up, so will the remittances and the large current account gap that we are facing today can be substantially reduced if we set correct and timely priorities. As a first step, the government should establish a task force on Manpower Export to be headed by a professional who knows the subject well and whose integrity is beyond question. He should be given free hand to overhaul the entire system and remove bottlenecks and frame policies to enhance flow of Manpower Export. Signing bilateral agreements with friendly host countries is absolutely the need of hour which hitherto has been completely ignored.
— The writer is former DG (Emigration) and consultant ILO, IOM.

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