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Wednesday May 22, 2024

The escape plan

By Nauman Ahmad Bhatti
December 24, 2022

At least one of your acquaintances is either preparing to take an IELTS test or is applying for a work visa. The language coaching centres are overflowing and the visa consulting business is booming. The candidates are determined to move out of the country.

The worsening socioeconomic situation in Pakistan is forcing the youth to pursue opportunities abroad. The number of Pakistanis leaving the country has tripled in 2022; and 765,000 people have left Pakistan so far this year. With the continuously deteriorating situation, it won’t be surprising if the figure further increases, which it surely will.

There are mainly three reasons behind such a resettling rush. Jobless graduates are looking for employment opportunities to make a befitting living abroad. In the hope to acquire better education, students are seeking admissions in foreign institutes. And then there are people who want to seek asylum abroad due to multiple reasons.

Students that are after study visas are not only looking for education but also employment afterwards. Permanent residence in a particular foreign country in the long-run is a goal common in all. Students are ready to enrol in poor educational institutes, some with standards lower than an average Pakistani university. Highly qualified youth readily accept odd jobs abroad. They believe that minimum wage in Western countries is still better than a nine-to-five in Pakistan, and rightly so. This desperation shows how bad their future perception is.

Increasing unemployment is not the only reason people seek to move. A culture of harassment and persecution is being structurally laid out. Tolerance towards different religious and political worldview is shrinking. The ‘if you’re not one of us, you’re out of us’ approach is growing. Freedom of expression is being suppressed.

In 2021, around 25,000 people applied for asylum in other countries. The UK Home Office reported that the asylum seekers cite multiple reasons in their applications. These are mostly related to human rights abuse. Some of those are illegal arrests, forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, religiously-driven persecution, political victimization, etc. Such practices have increased in 2022. In countries with better socio-economic conditions, the diaspora aids in promoting the soft image of its mainland. But the future Pakistani diaspora will only portray poor economy, political instability and extremism thriving back home.

Apart from the elite, comprising politicians, bureaucrats, judges and the top brass, the only people happily living in Pakistan are the ones earning in dollars – people working on the internet. YouTubers, freelancers, IT experts, etc are some examples. By generating a dollar-based income they contribute to the country’s foreign reserves. Even they are not properly facilitated. Their struggle can be estimated from the fact that many tech giants, like Amazon, Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal, still do not operate in Pakistan. This limits online resources. Even for them staying put is grim. One of the ways to stop this outflow of intelligence is to invite these companies home; this would induce skilled labour to stay.

Let it be echoed in the highest echelons: enough with these useless degrees! More than half of our educational system is accustomed to the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ formula. Our educational institutes are producing skill-less graduates. This aids in joblessness. Let the skilled labour multiply their skill by training more youth. The Covid pandemic has manifested us with a work-from-home etiquette. We need to grow from this prerequisite in an environment where IT professionals are enabled to earn online.

The current economic growth model is nothing but a poverty trap. It only ensures a rise in the poor’s poverty and the wealthy’s wealth. This needs to stop or Pakistan will literally be reduced to a ‘One Per Cent Republic’ as thought of by Miftah Ismail.

The social contract has been undermined. The brain drain is proof that successive governments have failed to provide for the people’s needs. As a result of the political circus going on, trust in the government is fading away. Emigrating is the last resort for many people.

The Pakistani patriotic spirit that once lured the diaspora back home has also vanished over the past few years. Unfortunately, this drain is nowhere near an end. No omen in the economic and political spectra offers an incentive to the highly frustrated youth preparing to leave this country.

‘Economic default’ is the common threat found in the youth. Excessive borrowing and importing has crippled the economy. The government is usually thrilled about people pursuing jobs abroad. Politicians in the past have been spotted boasting about such a high scale emigration. They consider it an achievement. They hope to survive on the remittance-generated economy. Little do they know that no one has the intention to be back. Once they settle abroad, they will seek to adjust their families with them. What of remittance?

The writer is a freelance contributor. He tweets @naumanbhatti_1 and can be reached at:

naumanahmadbhatti@gmail.com