Brain drain is bad, but remittances are good; that is the Catch-22 of our economy. While many upper-middle-income groups are exploring immigration options, Pakistan’s remittances stem mainly from blue-collar workers such as labourers and drivers.
Almost half of the people emigrating are from Punjab, and nearly a third are from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, whereas Sindh’s and Balochistan’s numbers are relatively insignificant.
Sialkot and Gujranwala in Punjab have a high migration profile in terms of manpower export, whereas in KP, Swat, Mardan and Upper Dir contribute the most numbers, according to the Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment.
It is a no-brainer to say that people want to emigrate because they want better livelihoods and income opportunities. But the factors that motivate people differ. According to the report “Pakistan: Survey on Drivers of Migration by the International Organisation for Migration”, the top reason for migration in KP is unemployment, whereas for Punjab it is that family encourages it.
Transnational linkages matter as well. More than a third of respondents in the report said they gathered information about their intended destination through social media with friends or family abroad. Naturally, if a man’s brother is a driver in Saudi Arabia and his wife and kids live a relatively better life, he is more likely to want to emigrate as well.
According to the report, 70pc of respondents reported that they already had friends or family living in the intended destination. Thus it is a cycle: the more manpower that a province exports, the higher the likelihood of its residents seeking opportunities abroad.
Another factor is connectivity with an urban hub which makes accessing information and processing applications easier. These factors explain why Balochistan has few emigrants and Punjab has the most.
Manpower export and the wealth of remittances have an impact on agriculture as well. For example, in Gujrat, almost every middle-class family has a part of it settled abroad. Since the people are not dependent on agri-income, they do not invest, treating the farmlands as a perfunctory function rather than an income-generating enterprise.
Decisions are made based on personal circumstances, not whether it helps the country or locality. Inflation and joblessness in Pakistan is making emigration more attractive. As the educated look towards the West for better opportunities, the blue-collar workers strive for employment in the Gulf regions in the hopes of providing a better life for those left behind.
Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, May 22nd, 2023