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Comfort level of Pakistani professionals in Gulf

Comfort level of Pakistani professionals in Gulf

PAKISTANI professionals working in the Middle East are nervous over the murky regional situation as polarisation intensifies, security challenges amplify and the economies of oil exporting countries adjust to the oil price slump. A few have already returned home but many more are mulling exit if the situation worsens.

“Air was thick with tension and there was no point waiting. We actually decided to move out of the Middle East in 2010 when Arab spring broke out. Relocating took time but I am glad that we moved in and out of Jeddah at our choice and convenience,” an executive who quit job and returned last year to Pakistan from Saudi Arabia told Dawn.

“The long-drawn conflicts were already taxing Gulf economies but the oil price trend has been mounting pressure that I believe could further destabilise the region,” he added.

It is a fact that the oil price crash has hit hard Middle Eastern economies already reeling under pressure of conflicts and political turmoil. Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq and now the growing rift between Iran and Saudi Arabia threatens whatever stability remains in the region.

From $110 in June 2014 oil price has dipped to current $30 a barrel while the region was facing a complex and difficult situation. Most market experts find the outlook of oil grim at least in the short-run.

Anecdotal evidence suggests the comfort level of Pakistani professionals in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Qatar is eroding. However, no migration has been reported in the category of unskilled and semi-skilled Pakistani workforce in the Arab world.

The inflow of remittances is rising from the Middle East though the pace of increase has moderated somewhat lately in case of Saudi Arabia, according to the State Bank data.

The data released last week showed that the total remittances during July-December 2015 posted a growth of 6.26pc. As compared to $9.1bn during the corresponding period last year, overseas Pakistanis remitted $9.7bn in the first half of this fiscal year. Much of the growth in overall remittance inflows comes from large inflows from Middle Eastern countries.

Dr Nadeem Javed, Chief Economist Planning Commission, did not see any conflict in perception and evidence. “I find the perception perfectly logical, though we need not worry as long the trend is limited to a very narrow class of elite professionals in the Gulf countries. The contribution of this class in remittances is miniscule. And I don’t think that the working class cares for intangibles as long they are getting their pay cheques,” he commented while talking to Dawn.

On the possibility of the migrants choosing Lahore over Karachi to resettle, he thought the reasons were obvious. “I think more than anything the security perception is the deciding factor.”

Dr G.M. Arif, Joint Director at Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, who has been working on issues related to overseas Pakistani workers with a focus on the Middle East, found the perception interesting and worth probing.

“This is a relevant observation that deserves to be monitored and studied not only because remittances are crucial for the country’s balance sheet but also because of its social ramifications,” he said.

“Pakistani workers in the Arab countries are bound by law to leave the country on completion of their contractual period. So far since mid-1970s as many as eight million Pakistanis went to that region but at no point their population exceeded three million. It implies that they have been returning. We know very little about what do they do on their return and if they resettle in their hometown.”

“Yes any change in behaviour of Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia should matter more because it hosts the biggest chunk of them in all categories,” he said over phone from Islamabad.

Some retired senior executives who had options to settle in the West chose to return to Pakistan but not necessarily to their home city.

“I have decided to make Lahore my new home. It is the capital of most happening province where I wish to start a business in collaboration with my friends,” Syed Nasim Ahmed, a Karachiite, who worked at a senior position in the establishment of a member of Saudi Royal family, told Dawn from Lahore.

“Yes I could have bought citizenship of any country but legal status is not sufficient in the face of rising hostilities in the West towards Muslims. Besides, money transfer rules are too stringent and any slippage can land the whole family in trouble.”

“I worked very hard all my life, have earned well and saved. I think I deserve respect, peace and stability,” he added.

Published in Dawn, Business & Finance weekly, January 18th, 2016

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