Overseas Pakistanis: An Under Exploited Potential

Print Friendly

Air Commodore (R) Khalid Iqbal TI(M)*

*The author is a retired Air Commodore of Pakistan Air Force and its former Assistant Chief of Air Staff. Presently he is Chairperson of Think Tank “Pakistan Focus”. A variant of this paper was read in an International Conference on Migration and Displacement (ICMD 17) November 14-16 2017; organized by Government College University Lahore, under the caption “Potential and Prospects of Pakistan’s Diaspora: Plugging the Holes in Push and Pull Factors”. The paper has since been updated.


(Pakistan’s diaspora is large and assorted. The actual figure is larger than official count of over seven million 7, scattered in more than 150 countries— almost all over the world. Overseas Pakistanis make palpable as well as impalpable contributions to their home and destination countries. All put together, overseas Pakistanis underwrite roughly five percent of their home country’s “Gross Domestic Product” (GDP) through monetary transmittals i.e., about US$ 19 billion per-annum 2; this amount is fairly close to Pakistan’s export earnings 3. Also, overseas Pakistanis are the country’s wandering informal ambassadors who represent the factual impression of Pakistan.

Though some individuals of Pakistani origin have achieved laurels in the service of their countries of residence and have risen to prominence socially, economically and politically 4, majority of Pakistani migrants are of blue collar category, employed in “3-D jobs―dirty, dangerous and degrading” 5. Although a number of UN conventions and resolutions exist for safeguarding the legitimate rights of migrants, Pakistan has chosen not to sign these legal instruments, hence limiting its recourse with regard to safeguarding Pakistani migrants’ rights 6. Moreover, in the long-term perspective, there is need for value addition to our Human Resource and shifting focus from predominantly blue-collar errands to principally white-collar jobs—from an unskilled labour to a skilled work force, from technician to engineer & from assistant to executive, etc. Some other countries are managing their diasporas more effectively and efficiently 7. Pakistan could learn a lot from international best practices and balance out its pull and push factors for drawing optimum benefits.

The aim of this paper is to adapt and adopt from contemporary trends and present policy recommendations for effective and efficient diaspora management by Pakistan. The objective of this paper is to carry out a thorough appraisal of several aspects of overseas Pakistani community for evolving a vision for its better management with due regard to efficiency and for grasping its true potential through cross-disciplinary inputs coupled with comparative assessment with regard to other countries with similar diaspora profiles, especially those which have better managed their overseas communities and have gainfully utilized them in their national development agenda.

This study focuses on two research questions: Do we expect only money from our diaspora; or, do we also need to take a holistic approach and focus on socio-political aspects and national development? And, could Pakistan government’s better engagement with its diaspora open up avenues for faster national development at home and lasting soft image projection abroad? – Author)


According to Gabriel Sheffer diaspora is defined as: “ethnic minority groups of migrant origins residing and acting in host countries but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin—their homeland” 8. Repositioning casts multiple familial, psychological, religious, political and cultural imprints on the lifestyle of migrants, their dependents as well as recipient societies. After 9/11, migrants’ relationship to respective host countries has turned rather intricate and tricky. Stereotyping, uncalled for prejudices, and connecting Pakistanis with the doings of extremists have dampened their sense of self-esteem. Even then, overseas Pakistani have mostly stayed positively engaged and have strived to measure up to the host societies’ expectations.

Over the last sixty years or so, multinational corporations (MNCs) have ventured into “boundary-less businesses.” 9 Present day MNCs have accumulated phenomenal power, which they employ to substantially impact state policies, both within states and internationally. MNCs’ economic stakes have significantly impacted the patterns of transnational and international human movements. For profit and business growth considerations, the MNCs relocate their enterprises across nations; resultantly, migration patterns alter. In addition, social media and internet play noteworthy roles towards networking diaspora communities in the world. Social media has greatly augmented the psycho-social aspect of diasporas over the entire world. “The burgeoning phenomenon of globalization stresses the importance of five global tribes (Jews, British, Japanese, Chinese and Indians); the success of these nations depended upon their ethnicity” 10. Pakistan is in the top six countries sending migrant workers abroad 11. It is also in the six developing countries with the highest migration flows” 12. The number of overseas Pakistanis far exceeds the official figure of seven million. Pakistanis living abroad contribute “around five per cent of Pakistan’s GDP through remittances i.e., about US$ 19 billion per annum” 13.

Powerful drivers for relocation are: socio-economic conditions before migration; encounters in the host country and society; quality of social and family connections back home; and the predicament of when to return, or not to return at all. These form part of the overall matrix of push and pull factors impacting the decision of non-resident Pakistanis’ quality of engagement in Pakistan and abroad.

China has set a good example in diaspora management. It has evolved an important role for overseas ethnic Chinese by integrating them into the national economy. What modern China is today, is because of the contribution by overseas Chinese 14. Among other well performing examples are: Indians; Mexicans; Filipinos; Thais; Malaysians; South Koreans; and Bangladeshis. While Pakistani diaspora is doing well when measured against contemporary models, there are gaps between existing and optimal performance 15.

Profile of Pakistani Diaspora

Overseas Pakistanis are, by and large, effervescent societies in many countries located in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, Asia, Africa, etc. They contribute effectively in the economic, social and political uplift of countries of their residence. A number of Pakistanis have climbed up the ladder to fairly high levels of political activities in America and Europe. A segment comprises of those who have relocated to the United Kingdom, where they reside as second/ third generation migrants, similarly, some have migrated to Canada and the US to begin a new life. Yet another stream is part of the temporary work force in the Middle East (ME), mainly in Arab-Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC) states to enhance their earnings. Still another cluster is of Pakistani students, studying and residing at a number of universities, largely in Western countries 16. Of these, some return to Pakistan on completion of their degrees to benefit Pakistan out of their acquired knowledge and knowhow; while the rest choose to live in their host countries almost permanently.

Expanse of mobility of the Pakistani emigrants is global—over 150 countries. A huge proportion of overseas Pakistanis hold dual nationality. In host countries, they are making up the human resource shortfall in labour as well as professional categories beside augmenting the services sector. They also make contribution in ethno- cultural diversity. They take part in political lobbying and also join various interest and pressure groups etc. By and large, they remain sensitive to national aspirations back home, and do whatever they can, to uphold the national point of view on important matters and issues confronting Pakistan.

Keeping in view the importance of its overseas persons, the Pakistani government had formed the “Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis”. Its task was to frame policies to improve working conditions of overseas Pakistanis; and facilitate their re-integration when they finally return home. The “Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development was established on 7 June 2013 through the merger of erstwhile Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Overseas” 17. The Ministry “makes policies for employment promotion abroad; takes measures for the welfare of Pakistani Emigrants and their dependents in Pakistan; and coordinates with provincial governments to align national labour laws with Pakistan’s international obligations on labour standards” 18. The Ministry manages the “Complains Management System for Migrant Worker and Overseas Pakistanis” and coordinates with “Overseas Pakistanis Grievance Commissioner cell in Wafaqi Mohtasib” 19.

The number of overseas Pakistanis is big enough to transform into a socio-political entity in their own right, while keeping their primary focus on sustaining good will of the host county toward them, and contributing towards national development back home. A large chunk of Pakistanis working abroad comprises of unskilled and semi-skilled workforce. Though just a meagre portion falls under the professional category like engineers, doctors, professors, bankers, etc., at the same time, some Pakistanis are running large enterprises quite successfully in the US, UK, UAE, and Europe.

Interestingly, much less research has gone into ascertaining the cumulative impact that Pakistani diaspora has made on Pakistan in various forms like: remittances, philanthropy, financial support to political parties, human resource development, etc. Pakistani emigrants affiliate with and regularly donate financially to their favourite political parties in Pakistan. The net political and socio-economic impact of Pakistani diaspora on Pakistan remains, at best, patchy. Their contribution is not optimally channelized by the government. Collective impact of contribution towards uplift of Pakistan could be augmented phenomenally if Pakistani diaspora is grouped on the basis of host countries, and areas for contribution are identified for each such group keeping in view respective peculiarities and specialties. 20 As a next step, their areas of contribution may be assimilated and synchronized with area-specific needs and developmental objectives of Pakistan.

Many overseas Pakistanis possess exclusive and substantial material/non-material assets that could be galvanized for beginning suitable business/institutional programmes in Pakistan 21. Some overseas Pakistanis own and operate multi-billion dollar organizations abroad. They could be motivated to employ their financial resources and organizational expertise for replicating twin setups in Pakistan.

Per capita contribution by each blue collar Pakistani worker is around US$ 2000 per person annually. The corresponding figure for each Chinese emigrant is around US$ 6000 22. The occupational contour of the Pakistani diaspora is in need of institutional intervention by the public sector so that their skills could be upgraded 23.

Motives for relocation

Economic uplift through better paid jobs is the top pull factor in skilled migration. The reasons behind the brain drain are: untenable economic conditions, lack of appropriate openings in ones own country as compared to abundance of resources in destination countries, higher salaries and better living standard for their families 24. A case study of Mirpur reveals that causes of migration are: “inequality of income distribution, poverty in the home country, and social, political and environmental reasons” 25.

Studies have brought fore the changing dynamics of relocation like: residency issues, ease or difficulty in getting citizenship in host countries, ease of religious assimilation or otherwise, and shifting fulcrum of opportunities versus challenges that Pakistani migrants usually face in their countries of residence. The primary motive for relocation is: to secure means of basic livelihood and ensure a better-quality lifestyle for themselves as well as for their dependents back home. The option to return back is driven by availability of comparative opportunities back home, and readiness of host countries to keep them, alongside family compulsions. Wherever the host countries are willing to retain them, their chances of returning are rather remote, and they either come back grudgingly or make an all-out effort to call in their relatives as replacement from the countries that are keen to return them; later, they themselves attempt to either return to the same country or go elsewhere.

Analysis of Pakistan’s Human Resource Pattern

The top three recipients of Pakistani workers are Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman 26. Global financial slowdown has impacted economies worldwide; the phenomenon is effecting Pakistan‘s remittances as well. With Saudi Arabia going to the IMF for a paltry US$ 10 billion facility  27, the indicators are that remittances from the Middle East are likely to decline. A large number of Pakistani workers have prematurely returned from Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern countries due to financial hardship and deteriorating workplace conditions. However, at the same time China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is emerging as a great opportunity, which is likely to open additional probabilities towards China and in the direction One Belt and One Road (OBOR) grows. Pakistan needs to focus on fully exploiting the evolving prospects 28.

Pakistan has had a phenomenal growth in officially recorded labour exports. The ongoing decade alone has seen average annual labour exports grow more than 150 percent 29. But the latest data released by Pakistan’s Bureau of Overseas Employment shows that growth is now slowing down 30. According to the statistics released by the bureau, Pakistan’s labour exports in the first seven months of 2017 have averaged about 43,300 persons per month, as against a monthly average of 70,000 and 79,000 during 2016 and 2015 respectively 31.

A comparison with other labour exporting economies reveals that the market is being gradually chipped away by Bangladesh and India. Detailed country-wise annual labour export statistics for India are not publicly available, but Indian labour—especially in the white-collar and skilled blue-collar category—has been effectively elbowing out Pakistani workers. In Bangladesh’s case, her labour export to Saudi Arabia–which absorbs half of Pakistan’s officially recorded labour exports to date – stood at 143,913 in the year 2016. However, in just the first seven months of 2017, Bangladesh has exported 341,294 workers to the kingdom; while Pakistan has struggled to export only 89,624 workers in 2017 (averaging 12,803 per month) to KSA as against 462,598 in 2016 (averaging 38,549 per month). The main reason why Bangladesh has been able to chip away Pakistan’s share is the recent lifting on the ban imposed on Bangladeshi workers in 2008. During the period of the ban, only 139,587 Bangladeshi workers proceeded to Saudi Arabia; whereas Pakistan sent 2.07 million workers to KSA during the same period. After lifting of the ban that followed the visit of Prime Minster of Bangladesh to KSA in June 2016, Saudi investors have entered an agreement with the Bureau of Manpower and Employment and Training (BMET) in Dhaka, Chittagong, Manikganj and Mymensingh 32. Bangladesh and KSA have also signed a labour pact, according to which 500,000 Bangladeshi domestic workers would proceed to KSA. For this purpose, 1000 recruitment centers are operational for enabling prospective overseas workers 33.

These efforts by Bangladesh are similar to those made by Indian premier Modi who had been wooing UAE for Indian labour exports amongst other bilateral investment deals. The future for Pakistani labour exports appears uncertain. The UAE and KSA alone account for about 84 percent of Pakistan’s total labour exports to date, since 1971. With oil slowing down, alongside an uptick towards infrastructure and services sector in these economies, Pakistan can only be expected to face tough times ahead 34.

Oil and gas firms in the GCC are in the process of downsizing, whereas the construction sector is also slowing down. The sectors still demanding expat labour include: health, hospitality, recreation, entertainment, human resources, automotive industries, sales, accounting, finance, procurement and information technology – the last of which is expected to witness a spike in demand in the coming years. In case of goods exports, Pakistan’s labour exports also lack value addition. To date, 42 percent of Pakistan’s labour export is unskilled, and 9 percent is semi-skilled, and barely 6 percent are in the highly qualified and highly skilled category  35.

While there have been some improvements in the lower skill spectrum (unskilled to skilled) of Pakistan’s labour export in recent years, the country still sends barely a handful of ‘highly qualified’ and ‘highly skilled’ category labour.

Migrant Rights

A major chunk of Pakistani migrants is engaged in “3-D jobs: ― dirty, dangerous and degrading” 36. Protective international laws in the form of conventions and UN resolutions exist with regard to migrants’ rights. However, Pakistani migrants cannot benefit from such statutes as Pakistan has not signed these. Lack of legal framework limits the number of channels that could be invoked for securing requisite rights for Pakistani migrants at government-to-government level. Securing migrants’ rights in their countries of destination remains an Achilles heel for dispatching countries; given the fierce competition from other countries that are always willing to enter into agreement with recipient countries on lower wages and harsher terms and conditions in their enthusiasm of edging out those who are already working there, seeking worthwhile rights focused packages takes secondary place as compared to acquiring and or retaining the market slice. This is what the Indian and Bangladeshi governments are doing. Ironically, even liberal democracies neglect legislation on migrant‘s rights.

“Pakistani communities are mostly residing in ghetto-like housing conditions. Younger generation is struggling to secure their basic human rights in the host/destination countries. As the Pakistan government has a policy to encourage labour migration through regular channels, it is becoming aware of the need to address the issues arising in this area and the problems of labour migrants. Pakistan has also become a part of the Colombo Process (CP) 37, which is a regional consultative Process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour for countries of origin in Asia. The Process is led and governed by ministerial consultations, providing a great opportunity to its member states as well as to observers and external organizations of a non-binding and informal environment to engage in dialogue and cooperation on issues related to labour migration that are of common interest 38. To date the consultations have evolved around three themes 39: “Protection of and provision of services to migrant workers; Optimizing benefits of organized labour migration; and Capacity building, data collection and interstate cooperation 40.”

Though there have been some successes, yet numerous challenges haunt adequate protection of legitimate rights of foreign workers, like exposure to asymmetrical migration, illegal recruitment practices, inadequate social security and welfare support to families of migrants and scant reintegration facilitation upon return. CP offers a “unique opportunity for member countries and observers to address certain challenges. At the global level, acknowledging the current shortcomings of the international approach to migration, the UN has established the “Global Commission on International Migration: (GCIM) 41” for providing guidance on how “the international community and the UN in particular should address migration issues” 42.

Another legal instrument that encourages an “international approach to migration” is “UN Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights” and the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families”. The latter offers a “Human Rights-based approach.” It is amongst the most important migration related initiatives by the UN. It benchmarks migrant rights for all migrant workers and their family members, the World over. This Convention handles documented as well as undocumented migrants. It emphasizes that even undocumented migrants are human beings, and hence “deserve respect for their fundamental human rights”. Though the “United Nation Convention on Migrants’ Rights” came into force on July 01, 2003 43, the number of signatory countries remains rather limited. To become effective, this convention “requires ratification by many more states, including immigrant receiving developed countries and emigrant sending countries like Pakistan. Also from the point of justice, these “communities’ rights are often compromised” 44 as “they are mostly in 3D occupations and often not having the status of citizenship, they are not part of representation in labour unions or for government benefits. Migrant rights are also not highlighted by dispatching governments due to other reasons 45: competition in labour market often results in exploitation; lack of regulated legal frame works and channels; increase in xenophobia and racism; lack of protective mechanism,” 46 etc.


Indian Model of Managing Indian Emigrants

Estimates have it that the Indian emigrants count varies between 30 47 and 22 million. 48 They are sprinkled over all continents—more than 180 countries. The Government of India had also coined groups like “Persons of Indian Origin” (PIOs); and “Overseas Citizens of India” (OCIs). The term PIO was withdrawn on January 09, 2015 49 and this category was merged with Over Seas Citizens of India (OCI). As per the Ministry of External Affairs(MOEA), there are approximately 30.8 million Indian persons residing outside India 50. India leads the World numerically in diaspora count, “with over 15.6 million according to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs” 51. Statistics of May 2012 indicate the “population of Overseas Indians, as about 21,909,875, comprising of 10,037,761 Non Resident Indians (NRI) and 11,872,114 Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) respectively, inhabiting about 180 countries”  52. During 2013-14 remittances were $75 billion; a hefty 19 per cent hike from the previous year i.e US$ 66 billion. 53

The preamble on the website of MOEA pertaining to overseas Indians states: 54 “India has the second largest Diaspora in the world. Yet, it is difficult to speak of one great Indian Diaspora. In the last three decades of the 20th century the character of migration began to change and a new diaspora led by high skilled professionals moving to the Western world and semi-skilled contract workers moving to the Gulf, West and South East Asia emerged” 55.

The Indian government does not permit people of Indian origin residing in other countries to opt for citizenship of their country of residence. It is compulsory for them to hold Indian passports. The term NRI is applicable only to those who opt to retain Indian passports. The term NRI came into frequent usage during the 1980s when India, short on foreign exchange, made an effort to enhance remittances by instituting additional incentives like tax and interest reimbursements in their bank dealings alongside discounts to citizens of India having remittances and other income from abroad. Indian passport holders living abroad continuously for about 42 weeks were entitled to be called NRI. 56

Those working in the ME stand no chance of getting citizenship of the countries they work in, even if they wish. Non-Arabs are not naturalized in the GCC even if they are born there. Most expatriates cannot even take along their wives and children. India supports this configuration as such workers remain under compulsion to send money to their families, which is a large part of their wages. They are also not allowed to own any property in host countries. Thus, they have no incentive to invest in host countries. Most of these Indians are engaged in lower category jobs and have to look back towards their home countries where they would finally have to return after expiry of their work tenure. Single male migrants, are in fact economic transients. Financial target is the fundamental objective they must achieve before returning back home.

Migrants living elsewhere (except GCC/ ME), are not under compulsion to return home. Keeping in view the kind of comprehensive engagement they end up in, it is not easy for many of them to call quits. This is what is called brain drain, whereby highly skilled professionals leave for ever.

While efforts of the Indian government are focused on regulating and mobilizing the homeward flow of remittances from overseas Indians, the overseas Indians are also putting forth their demands for various concessions and preferential provisions of some of the services and facilities. On top of this is their yearning for dual citizenship. While Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have met this demand, India has not yet reconciled to this demand. To ward off persistent pressure, the Indian government had constituted a “High Level Committee” towards the closing of 1990s to reassess the dual citizenship issue and its associated aspects. This committee submitted its recommendations in 2002. Dual Citizenship demand was not accepted. The Indian government came up with a middle ground offer by coining two categories called “Persons of Indian Origin” (PIO) 57 and “Overseas Citizens of India” 58 (OCI). India began issuing “passport-looking like cards” to Indians living abroad and having non-Indian citizenship. This was to facilitate travel to India without the hassle of visa acquisition. Some other demands too were acceded. For example, creation of an independent “Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs”, was a big step. However, this ministry was later merged with the Ministry of External Affairs in 2016 59.

The right to vote is not yet granted to the PIOs and OCIs. NRIs do enjoy this privilege as they chose to hold Indian passports. However, the practical value of this privilege is zero as NRIs are not allowed to cast their ballot in their country of residence either through Indian Missions, or through postal arrangement. They are required to travel to their respective constituency for casting their vote; which is not economically viable.

On recommendations of the High Level Committee, celebration of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Overseas Indians’ Day), in different Indian state capitals has been formalized since 2003. It is celebrated during January every year.

The Chinese Model of Diaspora Management

Approximately 46 million “ethnic Chinese” live outside the Peoples Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau 60; this accounts for 3.4 per cent of the entire Chinese population. To compare it size-wise, 3.9 percent of Pakistanis reside abroad. Both countries face similar challenges with regard to optimum grooming of diaspora and then efficient harvesting of benefits.

The Chinese model is a recent phenomenon, commencing in the 1980s and coinciding with China’s opening up to the World economy. Thereafter China perceived its diaspora as a valuable strength and proactive policies were formulated to reap maximum benefits. President Deng Xiaoping effectively tied Chinese overseas with the developmental strategy and goals of the country.

During the “Open Door Policy” era (1979-1985), roughly 350,000 Chinese proceeded abroad 61, some for specified tenures and the rest permanently. During November 1985, an enabling law was introduced, entitled “The Regulation Concerning Chinese Citizens Going Abroad and Returning”. It declared travel abroad as a basic right of every Chinese citizen. Restrictions on travel and migration were steadily loosened and overseas flow of Chinese grew progressively during the 1990s. Conditions of getting prior invitations from abroad and prior domestic approval from the “Bureau of Public Security” were waived off in 2002.

Since the 1980s, attention was focused on the dependents and relatives of Chinese living abroad called “domestic overseas Chinese.” They were employed for liaison with the Chinese living abroad. Their rights were secured in the Constitution of 1982. Moreover, steps were taken in 1990 to grant preferential rights to Chinese returning from overseas as well as their relatives through a legislation: “Law of Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Returned Overseas Chinese and the Relatives of Overseas Chinese.” 62 These included “special admission quota for institutions of higher education”. The Government also evolved policies of attracting investment from overseas Chinese. By the 1990s, China had started to appeal more forcefully to overseas Chinese, and the outreach expanded to include all ethnic Chinese 63.

The participation of overseas Chinese in national development was facilitated through “strategic choice of the so-called “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), all of which were located in Guangdong and Fujian, the traditional emigration areas that were closely interlinked with the Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Southeast Asia. Since 2000, the Chinese state and local governments have changed the SEZ model to knowledge-intensive development models, building hi-tech industrial development parks, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) laboratories, and other Research and Development (R&D) facilities and crucibles, to attract new generations of diasporic Chinese to invest in China” 64. As China joined the “World Trade Organisation (WTO)” in 2001, the role of overseas Chinese became increasingly important – as the focus shifted to inflow of capital as well as technological know-how, business connections, and talent.

New emigrants mainly consist of four categories: “students-turned-migrants or those who stayed outside of China after graduation; emigrating professionals who sought residence in Western countries based on educational credentials and professional experience; chain migrants or those who joined their families and relatives who have obtained foreign citizenship or permanent residency status abroad; and undocumented immigrants or those who used the channel of human smuggling or who over-stayed their temporary visas” 65. The Chinese government concentrated on these new emigrants with regard to engaging them in national development. The objective of its policies was: “bringing the transnational Chinese migrants back to the domain of the nation-state and projecting the nation-state agendas to the diasporic Chinese communities, comprising ‘Four Modernizations’, namely agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology” 66.

Moreover, a new approach of sending a higher number of students overseas was initiated. Out of these, over 60 per cent got employed abroad through immigrant visas after finishing their studies. The previous state slogan of ―” returning to serve the country” was rephrased as ―” serving the country”, which meant overseas Chinese could participate in national development while living abroad as well. At the same time incentives to return were substantially reinforced through “green cards for professionals with portable skills and the creation of a number of industrial parks that were specifically intended to employ the students-turned-migrants” 67.

A “Green Card” or permanent residential permit was launched in 2004 with preference to high skilled returnees with international exposure 68. Two years later, in 2006, another policy was adopted to encourage the return of exceptionally talented overseas Chinese. In this context, three categories were particularly enticed to comeback: “those who could contribute to technological and social advancement, those who could advance China‘s connectedness to the world, and those with global experiences and an international scope” 69. Moreover, in 2008, “one-thousand-talents scheme” was launched. It offered attractive compensations to incentivize top scientists and the like, to return to China. China maintains an effective two way contact with overseas Chinese. Effective multi-level institutions have been set up to handle the overseas Chinese affairs.

Overseas Chinese have contributed in a big way in modernizing their country. If we look back to the reform era, over two-third of the entire foreign capital inflow originated from ethnic Chinese. Most of the capital flow and raising of business entities between 1978 and 1994 originated from ethnic Chinese. They have phenomenally contributed towards FDI.

In comparison to India, China’s remittances have been much higher. Overseas Chinese brought in 70 per cent of all FDI into China during 1990-2005, while the Indian overseas community sent in a meager contribution—less than 10 per cent of total foreign capital flow to India. 70 . Over the years, the Pakistani diaspora has been contributing about 5 per cent of the country’s GDP, which has been varying between US$ 13-20 billion per annum. It nearly equals the export earnings of Pakistan. 71

Pakistan has formalized dual nationality treaties with 16 countries 72. But dual nationals are not permitted to run for public office, bureaucratic office, military, and the judiciary, 73 which has caused significant debate 74.



Push Factors

For optimum benefits from overseas Pakistanis, the following push factors need reinforcement: –

  • Migrants be familiarized with norms and customs of host country. They should be proficient and fluent in the language, be aware of social taboos, legal rights and the political style of their country of work.
  • Trends in global work markets be thoroughly analysed to determine the demand pattern of skills and then prospective emigrants should be trained for proficiency in such trades/ professions.
  • Lowering migration costs by reducing recruiting, and settling-down costs.
  • Enhancing migration benefits by enforcing minimum trade proficiency standards, strengthening social security measures, protection of migrants through welfare measures, etc.
  • Even a meagre contribution to a welfare fund by migrants could be channelized as a comprehensive insurance programme for all overseas Pakistanis.
  • Embassies of Pakistan should help in protecting migrants’ rights and dispute settlement with their employers. There is a need to create awareness about violation of rights and play an advocacy role to safeguard the rights of migrant individuals and communities.
  • Provide voting rights to overseas Pakistanis, especially those holding Pakistani passports.

Pull Factors

The following pull factors are likely to make retuning home more attractive: –

  • A Pakistan Diaspora Commission (PDC) may be established to induce and integrate the positive effect of Pakistani diasporas on homeland.
  • The envisaged PDC may study Chinese, Indian and other models to evolve a set of imaginative and proactive ways of integrating overseas Pakistanis into national development programs.
  • Effectively making use of returning migrants’ expertise by providing them assured and preferential venues for economic reintegration.
  • There is a need to reconcile that overseas Pakistanis could contribute in a significant way while they continue to reside abroad. A strategy should be formulated to coordinate synergize and integrate such effort.
  • Overseas Pakistanis’ policy should not be just remittance focused. There should be a comprehensive integrated policy to have their contribution in various other domains as well: social, development, political, etc.
  • Pakistan’s banking system should be revitalized to facilitate hassle free online transactions. This would dampen the trend of informal transfers like hundi, hawala, etc.
  • Tax relief incentives should be interlinked with remittances’ bench marks to entice the emigrants to send higher amounts.
  • Create avenues for secure and profitable investments in all sectors of national economy alongside simplifying investment procedures.
  • Returning migrants be provided fiscal incentives for setting up small and medium business; such relief could be in the form of tax holidays and other gestation period related concessions.
  • Investment instruments like “Overseas Saving Certificates” and “Overseas Bond” may be initiated.



Migration governance is an international issue. There are many ways to address it. The best way is taking the human rights approach, incorporating elements like: justice, social cohesion and business ethics.

The Pakistani diaspora should be made stakeholders in the country ‘s politics, economy and social life. We could take a leaf from the Chinese experience and carve an important role for them in the country ‘s economy. Contributions of overseas Chinese has made modern China what it is today. Our national leadership must inspire Pakistani diaspora in a similar way. Owning the diaspora abroad would heighten their self-esteem and sense of pride in Pakistan. This would also help them in securing their rights in host countries. And their empowerment back home would ensure their inclusion in all national affairs, in a befitting way. Our views about growth in population needs a paradigm shift. We should stop viewing them as a liability and treat them as assets. The world has huge swaths of areas that are rich in natural resources and work opportunities, but are scarcely populated. We need to enable our workforce through capacity enhancement and value addition. In the same context there is need for systematic effort for evolving a socio-economic framework to make returning back home a reasonably attractive option. Above all, the Pakistani diaspora are our roving emissaries presenting the real image of Pakistan. There is need to inculcate such awareness at individual and collective level amongst our overseas brethren.



1- “Overseas Pakistanis”, Revolvy, Pakistani Diaspora, https://www.revolvy.com/main/index.php?s=Pakistani%20diaspora&item_type=topic

2- Ibid.

3- Abrar Hamza, “Pakistan’s trade deficit widens to 35-year high in FY16”, Daily Times, b., July 16, 2016. https://dailytimes.com.pk/69801/pakistans-trade-deficit-widens-to-35-year-high-in-fy16/

4- Murtaza Haider, “Have Bangladeshis overtaken Pakistanis in Britain?”, Dawn, March 11, 2015. https://www.dawn.com/news/1168865

5- Sabiha H. Syed, “Migrants’ Rights and Pakistani Diaspora Communities,” in, Conference proceeding of international conference, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 121-132. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

6- Zubeida Mustafa, “Human rights and Pakistan”, Dawn, June 09, 2010. https://www.dawn.com/news/540551

7- Valérie Wolff, Stella Opok Owusu, “Diaspora Engagement on Country Entrepreneurship and Investment Policy Trends and Notable Practices in the Rabat Process region”, Back ground paper, coordinated by the Secretariat of the Rabat Process, International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD)

8- Dr. Muhammad Hafeez, “Vision for Overseas Pakistanis 2050: Imperatives and Challenges”, in, proceeding of international conference, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 195-210. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

9- Ibid.

10- Ibid.

11- “India has largest diaspora population in world: UN”, Tribune, January 15, 2016 http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/nation/india-has-largest-diaspora-population-in-world-un/183731.html

12- Ibid.

13- Kazim Alam, “Pakistan pockets remittances amounting to $18.4b”, The Express Tribune, B. July 14, 2015. https://tribune.com.pk/story/920286/pakistan-pockets-remittances-amounting-to-18-4b/

14- Hu Yongqi and Peng Yining, “Sun Over Hawaii”, China Daily, October 09, 2011. http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/sunday/2011-10/09/content_13852115.htm

15- Farhan Bokhari, “Dangers of a widening gap between rich and poor in Pakistan”, Gulf News, August 27, 2016. http://gulfnews.com/opinion/thinkers/dangers-of-a-widening-gap-between-rich-and-poor-in-pakistan-1.1886193

16- Dana Vioreanu, “Top 5 Destinations for Pakistani Students Who Plan to Study Abroad Where to study”, MastersPoratl, June 02, 2017. http://www.mastersportal.eu/articles/2292/top-5-destinations-for-pakistani-students-who-plan-to-study-abroad.html

17- “Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis & Human Resource Development”, http://www.ophrd.gov.pk/

18- Ibid.

19- Ibid.

20- Muhammad Hafeez, “Vision for Overseas Pakistanis 2050: Imperatives and Challenges”.

21- Ibid.

22- Ibid.

23- Ibid.

24- Nadia Sajjad, “Changing Patterns of Migration: Brain Drain/Human Capital Migration,” in Conference proceedings, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 35-54. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

25- Ms. Saira Rehman, “Migration and Family Structures”, in, conference proceedings, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 55-62. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

26- Vaqar Ahmed and Muhammed Sohaib, “Diaspora and Economy: Effects of the Global Economic Slowdown on Remittances,” in, conference proceeding, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 133-153.  http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

27- “Saudi Arabia’s $10bn IMF loan and its implications”, Middle East Monitor, August 31, 2017. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20170831-saudi-arabias-10bn-imf-loan-and-its-implications/

28- “Opportunities and Challenges of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) and Implications for US Policy and Pakistan”, East West Centre, Huffpost, September 11, 2017. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opportunities-and-challenges-of-the-china-pakistan_us_59b6bad0e4b0e4419674c37

29- “Labour export losing steam”, BR Research Newsletter, September 11, 2017. http://www.brecorder.com/2017/09/11/368652/labour-export-losing-steam/

30- “Labour export losing steam”, BR Research Newsletter, September 11, 2017. http://www.brecorder.com/2017/09/11/368652/labour-export-losing-steam/

31- Source: Pakistan’s Bureau of Overseas Employment, quotes by BR Research Newsletter, September 11, 2017

32- Source: Pakistan’s Bureau of Overseas Employment, BR Research Newsletter, September 11, 2017.

33- Ibid.

34- Ibid.

35- Ibid.

36- Sabiha H. Syed, “Migrants’ Rights and Pakistani Diaspora Communities,” in, Conference proceeding, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 121-132. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

37- Nadia Mushtaq, “The Pakistani Diaspora in Europe and its Impact on Democracy Building in Pakistan”, International Institute for Democracy & Electoral Assistance (2010).

38- Ibid. “The first ministerial consultation for Asian labour-sending countries was held in 2003 in Colombo, Sri Lanka. Since then two subsequent ministerial consultations have followed in Manila, Philippines in 2004 and Bali, Indonesia in 2005 to review and monitor the implementation of previous recommendations and identify areas of future action. Since the third ministerial consultation in Bali, in 2005 several countries of destination — Bahrain, Italy, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have also started participating in the process.”

39- Ministerial Consultation, “Colombo Process”, http://www.colomboprocess.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=14&Itemid=11

40- Ibid.

41- “Summary of the Report of the Global Commission on International Migration” Department of Economic and Social Affairs, (United Nations: 2005).

42- Ibid.

43- UNSECO, “International Migration Convention”, http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/international-migration/international-migration-convention/

44- Sabiha H. Syed, “Diaspora, a Central Asian Perspective”, in “International Migration in Central Asia: Challenges and Prospects, ed. Fiona Coxshall”, (Almaty: UNESCO Almaty Cluster, 2005).

45- Patrick Taran, “Migrants‘ Rights and Role of Diaspora Communities,in International Migration in Central Asia: Challenges and Prospects”.

46- Ibid.

47- “UNDP‘s 2010 Report”.

48- The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, “Population of Overseas Indians”, http://moia.gov.in/services.aspx?ID1=300&id=m8&idp=59&mainid=23.

49- PIO Card Scheme Discontinued”, https://www.immihelp.com/nri/piocard/pio-card-scheme-discontinued.htm

50- Ministry of External Affairs (India), “ Population of Overseas Indian”, December 31, 2016.

51- United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, International Migration, “International migrant stock 2015: graphs: Twenty countries or areas of origin with the largest diaspora populations: (millions)”.https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/data/estimates2/estimatesgraphs.shtml?4g4

52- The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. “Population of Overseas Indians”. http://moia.gov.in/services.aspx?ID1=300&id=m8&idp=59&mainid=23 .

53- “Remittances from NRIs likely to exceed $75 bn in FY13: Study”, Economic Times, September 24, 2012, http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-09-24/news/34061902_1_remittances-nris-indian-currency .

54- Mohammed Abdul Kalam, “Indian Model of Managing Diaspora (Non-Resident Indians)”, in, conference proceeding, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 121-132. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

55- The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, “India and its Diaspora”, http://moia.gov.in/accessories.aspx?aid=10

56- “Definition of a Non-Resident Indian (NRI)”, Vakilno1,com https://www.vakilno1.com/nri/taxation/definitions.html

57- “Person Of Indian Origin (PIO)”. Bureau of immigration India, Government of India.

58- “Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) Cardholder”. Bureau of immigration India, Government of India.

59- Kallol Bhattacherjee, “Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs merged with MEA”, The Hindu, September 22, 2016. http://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/Ministry-of-Overseas-Indian-Affairs-merged-with-MEA/article13988242.ece

60- Hong Liu and Els van Dongen, “The Chinese Model of Diaspora Management”, in, Conference proceedings: “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute: 2013) 174-194. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

61- “The State of the Worlds Refugees 2000, Chapter 4. http://www.unhcr.org/3ebf9bad0.pdf

62- “Law of the People’s Republic of China on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Returned Overseas Chinese and the Relatives of Overseas Chinese Who Remain in the Homeland”, Overseas Chinese Affairs Of Shanghai, Law & Regulation, October 17, 2017. http://qwb.sh.gov.cn/shqb/english/laws/userobject1ai1252.html

63- Shaio H. Zerba, “The PRC’s Overseas Chinese Policy”, June 2008, Theses, Naval Post Graduate School, Monterey, California.

64- Hong Liu and Els van Dongen, “The Chinese Model of Diaspora Management”.

65- Ibid.

66- “Four Modernizations Era”, https://depts.washington.edu/chinaciv/graph/9confour.htm

67- Dr. Hong Liu and Els van Dongen, “The Chinese Model of Diaspora Management”.

68- “In 2010, the system was amended to include certain types of dependents and those buying real estate. Currently, efforts are made to simplify the application process. In October 2012, it was also announced that requirements for applications will be lowered”. See ―”Green Cards Easier to Acquire for Overseas Chinese” , http://english.cri.cn/6909/2012/10/17/2982s727597.htm

69- Liu and Dongen, “The Chinese Model of Diaspora Management.”

70- “Foreign investment numbers in China, like emigration numbers, need to be approached with caution, as the same pattern of ―overestimation due to Hong Kong and Macau numbers being included occurs frequently. There is problem of scattered data as well”.

71- Muhammad Hafeez, “Vision for Overseas Pakistanis 2050: Imperatives and Challenges”, , in, Conference proceeding of international conference, “Potential and Prospects of Pakistani Diaspora”, (Islamabad Policy Research Institute ( IPRI): 2013) 195-210. http://www.ipripak.org/potential-and-prospects-of-pakistani-diaspora/

72- “These countries are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, the United Kingdom, and the USA.

73- Constitution of Pakistan, 1973, article 63 (1) (c). https://www.google.com/search?q=constitution+of+pakistan&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&client=firefox-b-ab

74- These countries are Australia, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, France, Iceland, Italy, Ireland, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, the United Kingdom, and the USA”.