Facilitating overseas workers
PAKISTAN is one of the largest labour exporting countries in the region. Rising amounts of remittances from the overseas workforce are a major source of income not only for their families but also for the national exchequer. According to information provided by the Bureau of Emigration, during 1971-2014, around 7.8 million Pakistanis proceeded abroad for employment, with a majority of them concentrated in the Middle Eastern countries. Around 49% of total expat workers are in the Middle East, with Europe following with 28.2% and US 16%. Thanks to the efforts of around 2000 licensed Overseas Employment Promoters, manpower export has increased from 0.62 million in 2013 to 0.75 million in 2014. Saudi Arabia and UAE top the list of countries preferred by millions of Pakistani job seekers aiming for employment abroad. The latest data shows that about 50% manpower export is to UAE while more than 37% of total manpower export goes to Saudi Arabia. The number of workers registered for Saudi Arabia has increased from 0.2 million in 2013 to 0.3 million in 2014. In 2014, UAE and Malaysia hired more Pakistanis as compared to the previous year.
Newspapers are full of reports that Pakistanis proceeding abroad have to face a lot of difficulties in completing the necessary paper work, including certifications of various kinds, verification of documents and protectorate stamp. Before travelling, emigrants have to go through a long process of applying for a National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP), getting the protectorate stamp which involves paying fees at different bank branches, filling in affidavits and attaching copies of various documents. While the normal fee for a NICOP and protectorate stamp comes to around Rs9,000, sometimes people have to pay as much as Rs25,000 to agents to get the work done. Expatriates have long complained that their contribution to the national economy has never been truly acknowledged. Cases have happened where Pakistanis leaving for work abroad have been turned away from the airport moments before departure.
Against this background, it is good news that the government has al last awoken to the problems of overseas Pakistani workers and made a new arrangement under which multiple government agencies have agreed to depute officers for addressing the complaints of expatriates. The FIA, Directorate General of Immigration and Passports, Bureau of Immigration and Overseas Employment, Ministry of Religious Affairs, Overseas Pakistanis Foundation, Civil Aviation Authority and other agencies will collaborate to man facilitation desks at the country's nine international airports. The system has reportedly been rolled out at Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi airports.
According to a representative of the federal ombudsman, complaints related to attestations of educational certificates can be addressed online. From now on most of these issues will be sorted out right at the airport. NADRA and the protectorate office will depute officers for necessary approvals and banks will collect fees at the airports. The registrar of the grievance commission for overseas Pakistanis has in a Press statement clarified that under the new system of checking everything online no one will be allowed to raise unnecessary objections. However, it is still unclear whether the humiliating practice of asking working women to bring NOC from their families will be abolished or not. There are no laws to bar a woman wanting to go abroad for work with a valid visa, yet she is asked to submit signed affidavits stating she is single. In case she is married, she needs an NOC from her husband, who has to appear before the Protectorate of Emigrants. This rule which is diligently enforced by the seven protectorates around the country creates a lot of difficulties for women going abroad for work.