Greener pastures

January 01, 2023

According to a recent survey 37 percent of Pakistan’s population wants to leave the country and settle abroad.

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n a recent announcement, the Canadian government unveiled a bold plan to promote immigration to the country. The goal is to welcome 500,000 immigrants every year for three years so that a total of 1.5 million new immigrants are expected to arrive in the country by 2025. The policy statement has garnered significant attention and is seen as a proactive approach to address the issues related to the country’s future workforce needs and economic growth. The plan has received a mixed response, with some praising such an approach to immigration and others expressing concerns.

Around 7.6 million Pakistanis are currently living abroad, making the Pakistani diaspora one of the largest in the world. A significant number of these non-resident Pakistanis, around 4 million, are located in the Persian Gulf region. Many of them do not plan to return. There are a variety of reasons for this including economic opportunities, education and personal or professional fulfilment. It is important to note that every individual’s decision to stay abroad or return home is likely to be influenced by several factors and circumstances unique to them.

According to a recent survey by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, 37 percent of Pakistan’s population wants to leave the country and settle abroad. This desire is particularly high among young males aged 15-24, with 62 percent of respondents in this age group wanting to leave. The desire to leave is higher in urban areas, at 40 percent, compared to 36 percent in rural areas. The survey also found that the desire to leave is highest in Balochistan (42 percent) and lowest in Punjab (35 percent). The main reasons cited for wanting to leave were economic opportunities and the possibility of a better standard of living. 44 percent of respondents said they wanted more respect than they got in the home country. A similar survey by Gallup Pakistan in June 2021 had found that 26 percent of Pakistanis wanted to move abroad. The Gallup survey had also found that young Pakistanis under the age of 30 had a higher desire to leave the country than older respondents.

Many people have relatives who have left Pakistan to live in the US, UK or Canada. This desire to live in the West is not a new phenomenon. For many years, talented Pakistani professionals from a variety of fields have left the country in search of better opportunities. This is often because Pakistan cannot match their prospects in Western, and more recently Middle Eastern, countries. It is important for the country to address the underlying issues in order to retain its skilled workforce.

In Sindh and Balochistan, the desire for respect outweighed the desire for a better income as the main reason for wanting to leave.

For a long time, Pakistani students, and South Asians in general, have favoured degrees from foreign institutions. Every year, more than 50,000 Pakistani students go abroad to pursue higher education. United Kingdom, United States, Canada, China and Europe are among the popular destinations. Only a small fraction choose the top-ranked institutions in these countries.

The main theme in this is the lack of well-recognised educational facilities and recognition of talent in Pakistan. There is also an unsettling sense of dissatisfaction among many students that the educational system in Pakistan is inadequate in terms of preparing them for the challenges of an increasingly globalised world.

One of the primary reasons why skilled labour force from Pakistan emigrates is better compensation for their efforts and talents. However, better compensation is not the only driving force behind migration. Many people also seek a sense of social safety and economic stability for their families. These factors are among the main reasons for families to relocate. While a majority of Pakistani emigrants go to the Middle East, the US is still the most popular destination and Canada is rapidly gaining popularity. This is partly because the Middle East has become a less attractive destination in recent years.

The idea of a welfare state that provides affordable education and healthcare for families is an appealing one. The offer is hard to refuse for many Pakistanis who struggle to access basic necessities like food, transportation and health care.

Gen-Z is equally eager to go abroad. For them, settling abroad is a trend, not just for a sustainable future and better prospects, but also for the freedom to live the way they want and not having to conform to the societal norms in Pakistan.

Things have changed for the better in Pakistan, but the pace of change is slow. In comparison, the pace of change elsewhere appears to be much faster.

Pakistan has a serious issue of brain drain as highly skilled and educated individuals are leaving the country for better opportunities abroad in increasing numbers. The government recognises this as a problem and has been coming up with initiatives like prioritising skill development and training, in an effort to curb the trend. However, experts agree that addressing the root causes of brain drain will require a more comprehensive approach. This includes taking a hard look at the quality of life, employment opportunities and factors like social security, human development, gender equity and religious freedom that may be driving people to leave the country. In Sindh and Balochistan, the desire for more respect outweighed the desire for a better income as the main reason for wanting to leave. It is crucial for Pakistan to address these issues in order to retain its talent and build a stronger, more prosperous nation.

The writer is a journalist based in Karachi.

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