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April 16, 2021

Covid-19 hits hard Pak human resource export

Top Story

April 16, 2021

Migrant workers busy in Gulf project. File photo.

ISLAMABAD: COVID-19 has massively affected Pakistan’s human resource export to the all-important Arab countries -- Saudi Arabia and the UAE in particular -- that account for a major part of the country’s remittances.

The UAE’s work visa ban for Pakistanis, imposed in November last year, continues, apart from some exceptional cases, and far fewer visas were issued during this period. In the first week of February, Saudi Arabia has also suspended entry to the Kingdom from 20 countries including Pakistan --with the exception of diplomats, medical practitioners and their families and some others -- to help curb the spread of COVID-19.

The Saudi ban is expected to stay for at least another one month. While the UAE had imposed a direct ban on work visas for 13 countries, including Pakistan, Saudi Arabia’s entry ban too is hitting hard Pakistan’s human resource export to the brotherly country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s aide on overseas Pakistanis and human resource development Zulfi Bukhari when contacted told The News that the premier has already intervened in the case of the UAE’s work visa ban and some sort of breakthrough is expected after Ramazan. He said that the UAE had started issuing visas for government and semi-government workers but their number is small.

Director General Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment (BEOE) Kashif Noor when contacted said that following Prime Minister Imran Khan’s contact with the UAE rulers, foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi had visited Abu Dhabi. Kashif Noor said that though the UAE ban is unannounced, Qureshi was told that they would consider Pakistan’s request for lifting the ban on work visas for Pakistani workers. Noor, however, said that he has been told only a few days ago that a major UAE company, Transguard, has issued some visas for Pakistani workers.

According to Noor, Covid is the major reason for the present halt in the export of Pakistan’s human resource to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. He said that there is a huge difference between the pre-COVID and post-COVID human resource export figures for these countries. However, the human resource export to countries like Bahrain, Oman and Qatar has increased.

Kashif Noor told The News that he has already sent a proposal to the health ministry to impose a policy of administering Corona vaccinations to Pakistani workers so that the host country would allow them entry in connection with their jobs.

For Pakistani workers as well as for remittances to the country, Saudi Arabia and UAE matter a great deal. Annual home remittances from the UAE amount to approximately US$ 3.5 billion -- second only to Saudi Arabia from where Pakistani workers remit around US$ 5.5 billion annually Authorities here are unclear about why this decision was taken by the UAE, which has a long history of contributing to the well-being and prosperity of Pakistan and its people.

UAE’s ban in November 2019 had surprised many here -- also for the reason that while Pakistan was banned, India, which has been far more severely hit by Covid, was not placed in the list of targeted countries.

There are some who speculate that there is more than meets the eye about the ban on Pakistani workers by the UAE. Besides Saudi Arabia, UAE has been traditionally quite generous in helping Pakistan in different ways including opening its jobs market to a huge number of Pakistanis.

The UAE rulers have also established many humanitarian and welfare projects in the education, health and infrastructure sectors in various parts of Pakistan. The UAE has also been contributing generously towards emergency relief programmes for national disasters in Pakistan, such as the devastating 2005 earthquake and the floods of 2010. Last year, the UAE sent three aid planes containing more than 40 tons of critical medical and food supplies to assist Pakistan’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Additionally, the UAE had deposited US$ 2 billion in the State Bank of Pakistan to stabilise Pakistan's fiscal and monetary situation. Under the UAE’s Pakistan Assistance Programme, more than 200 humanitarian and development projects worth US $600 million have been successfully completed in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.