All in the numbers

Pakistanis constitute one of the largest migrant labour forces abroad. What exactly are the numbers?

All in the numbers


akistan is one of the largest labour exporting countries in the region. So far, more than 11 million Pakistanis have proceeded abroad for employment in more than 50 countries through official procedures since 1971, according to the figures available with the country’s Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment (BoE&OE).

Migration through illegal means or directly through marriage etc does not fall in the purview of the BoE&OE.

The migration of Pakistani workers is mostly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (96 percent), with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) hosting the majority.

The remittances by migrant workers to Pakistan reached close to $30 billion during 2022, of which a majority was sent from the Arab countries.

Job categories in which Pakistanis have been employed abroad include accountants, agriculturists, artists, blacksmiths, cable jointers, carpenters, clerks, typists, computer analysts, cooks, denters, designers, doctors, draftsmen, drivers, electricians, engineers, fitters, foremen/ supervisors, goldsmiths, labourers, managers, masons, mechanics, nurses, painters, pharmacists, photographers, plumbers, riggers, salesmen, stenographers, steel fixers, storekeepers, surveyors, tailors, teachers, technicians, waiters and welders.

The latest trends can be seen from the figures of the first two months of 2023. According to the data obtained from the BoE&OE, 127,400 Pakistanis left the country during this time. A breakdown of the statistics shows that 52,398 out of those who left the country in January and February were labourers while 29,989 were drivers. Those who left the country also included 1,396 engineers, 1,257 accountants, 549 doctors and 241 teachers. Out of the total, 61,321 people migrated to Saudi Arabia, 27,501 to the United Arab Emirates, 13,700 to Qatar and 11,060 to Oman.

After a fall in numbers mainly due to shutdowns and layoffs caused by low oil prices and Covid-19, a record 832,339 Pakistanis migrated out of the country in the year 2022 as several sectors opened up, especially the construction sector. Compared with the preceding year, there was a nearly 200 percent increase in Pakistanis who left the country in 2022. Of the 832,339 people who emigrated, 90,000 were doctors, engineers, information technology experts, accountants, agriculturists, managers and other skilled workers. Of these 799,507 went to the Middle East, including 514,909 to Saudi Arabia, 128,477 to the UAE, 82,380 to Oman, 57,999 to Qatar, 13,653 to Bahrain and 2,089 to Kuwait.

All in the numbers

The recruitment industry plays a key role in connecting jobseekers with work opportunities abroad, says the International Labour Organisation (ILO) document Fair Recruitment-Country Brief: Pakistan. The brief says that the recruitment industry in Pakistan has grown in recent years and as of 2019 comprised approximately 2,062 licensed overseas employment promoters (OEPs) and one public agency – the Overseas Employment Corporation (OEC). “It is estimated that in 2019, 47 percent of Pakistani workers migrated through their own efforts (mostly through relatives already abroad) and 53 percent emigrated through registered OEPs.”

The ILO document points out that a large network of informal/ unlicensed intermediaries also operate in this space – relied on by both OEPs and migrant workers to further facilitate the recruitment process. These subagents have been associated with charging excessive fees, failing to provide accurate information about their working conditions, and sometimes pushing migrant workers into irregular migration channels, it adds.

The ILO works closely with the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (MOPHRD), and its affiliate institutions in developing the government’s
emigration policy and capacity building. Collaborations with the ILO social partners and other stakeholders like the Pakistan Overseas Employment Promoters Association (POEPA) have been growing stronger.

By definition, an OEP is one who desires to engage, or to assist or to recruit any person to emigrate. They apply for a licence to the federal government and with the application furnish such information and documents, pay security and fee, at such time and in such manner as may be prescribed.

An overwhelming majority of Pakistani emigrants to GCC countries finds jobs in unskilled and low skilled sectors. This leaves better paid and skilled sector jobs for workers from other countries. There is a need to produce more skilled manpower in other than the conventional occupation sectors. This will help Pakistani emigrants compete for larger number of jobs offering better salaries.

Also, the returning emigrants can provide guidance to those aspiring for job hunts abroad – what to look for and what to avoid; and how. The common trend is that emigrants to the Arab region plan their stay there and return ultimately to rebuild their lives in their home country. The host countries do not offer citizenship to them so they save and send their earnings home and return one day. This is contrary to what migrants to other regions like the Europe, Canada and the US do. The latter strive to settle there permanently and, in some instances, even take their families along.

The writer is a staff reporter. He can be reached at

All in the numbers