KARACHI: The export of manpower sharply dropped in the first half of the current calendar year, latest data from the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment shows.

In particular, the manpower export to Saudi Arabia in the first six months of 2017 was just 17 per cent of the total workers who went to the kingdom in entire 2016. Pakistan exported to Saudi Arabia 77,600 workers in January-June as opposed to 462,598 workers in entire 2016.

The drastic decrease can adversely impact remittances, which registered a year-on-year decline in 2016-17 after 13 years of growth. Inflows from Saudi Arabia during the last fiscal year dropped 8.3pc.

Job opportunities shrank in Arab countries after oil prices crashed

A major drop in the number of workers registered for overseas employment was witnessed mostly in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia, which is the biggest source of remittances. Pakistani workers based in the kingdom sent home $5.4bn, which was more than 28pc of total remittances that the country received in 2016-17.

Job opportunities shrank in Arab countries after oil prices crashed. Pakistan relies heavily on remittances to meet the current account deficit, which amounted to $12.1bn in the last fiscal year. Remittances from the Middle East amount to about 63pc of total remittances that Pakistan receives every year.

This leaves little hope for the country to maintain its foreign exchange reserves to ensure at least three months of import cover.

It is unlikely that the Middle East will welcome more Pakistani workers in the near future as oil prices have not recovered yet. This is alarming for the country that is already engulfed in a political crisis while its exports have been declining for the last four years.

Overseas workers have started coming back to Pakistan after losing their jobs. With mounting economic pressure, the Gulf countries are trying to provide the maximum number of jobs to Arabs. No official data is available for returning overseas workers. But sources claim that about 260,000 Pakistani workers returned home during the last couple of years.

According to the bureau, the manpower export to Malaysia was 3,243 in January-June as opposed to 10,625 in entire 2016.

Despite pressure on foreign exchange reserves, the government has not made any strategy to increase the export of manpower that can help bridge the trade deficit.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2017

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