WITH lack of employment opportunities in Pakistan, more and more people skilled in various sectors are opting for a career as provider of online freelance services. The field has become a booming industry despite the financial crunch in the country as well as globally.

The Covid outbreak was, indeed, a nuisance for everyone, but, as the saying goes, every dark cloud has a silver lining and that was the case with Covid and its impact in terms of an exponential boost to the global freelance economy. Luckily, Pakistan was no exception.

Freelancing is making inroads in Pakistan at a rapid pace which is evident from Payoneer’s Global Gig-Economy Index Q2 2019 wherein Pakistan was the world’s fourth fastest growing freelance market having 47 per cent growth in freelance earnings.

The digital payment gateway in its ‘Freelancer Income Report 2020’ said most Pakistanis under the age of 35 years have been joining freelance work, which is more than the global average of 70pc. The report says despite an increase in co-working spaces in the country, 81pc Pakistani freelancers prefer to work from home, as freelance economy offers unparalleled growth opportunities.

According to a May 2021 report, Pakistani freelancers received more than Rs4 billion since January 2020 from abroad during Covid only through one local mobile wallet service which partnered with a foreign digital payment firm.

However, for Pakistani freelancers there are still stumbling blocks when it comes to receiving payments from their clients abroad, especially when some online marketplaces or other platforms offer only PayPal as the payment receiving option, which is more convenient than most digital payment gateways for any freelance service provider.

The American multinational financial technology company operating an online payments system does not offer services in Pakistan mainly owing to money laundering concerns. But as Pakistan is now expected to be taken off the so-called ‘grey list’ of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), these concerns would not hold water anymore. The government should take up this matter with PayPal authorities, asking them to provide services in Pakistan to facilitate the local freelancers.

This may not be too difficult since American online shopping giant Amazon has reopened its marketplaces last year for Pakistani sellers after a break of several years.

Needless to say, PayPal offers its services in several countries which have either gone bankrupt or are not freelancing giants, such as Somalia, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. It is ridiculous that Sri Lanka, which is practically in the middle of an economic collapse and clearly moving towards a social upheaval, is among the countries where PayPal services are available. But Pakistan, despite being among top five freelancing markets globally, does not have the service available.

Once the country moves off the FATF grey list, I see no hitch in getting PayPal convinced to open its services to facilitate Pakistani freelancers. This would be beneficial to the local freelance community, and will also help boost business all around, which means it will be a win-win situation for all stakeholders.

The government should take firm steps to make the online payment platform accessible in Pakistan. This may ostensibly look a petty issue of an online community, but that is not the case, especially in the present testing times.

This I say because having this digital payment service in the country will help Pakistan receive the much-needed foreign exchange to revive its moribund economy which badly needs remittances, especially when Pakistan’s interbank market has almost run out of dollars.

Mohsin Mumtaz
Chiniot

Published in Dawn, July 4th, 2022

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