Islamabad airport
Islamabad International Airport. The exodus during the first seven months of 2023 (January to July) has seen 450,110 Pakistanis leave their homeland in pursuit of work opportunities abroad, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment. Image Credit: Twitter file

Islamabad: More than 450,000 Pakistanis have left their country in search of better job opportunities overseas in the first half of 2023, according to official data.

Nazeer Ahmed, a young banking professional, left his job and departed for the United Kingdom last year in search of a brighter future.

“The economic conditions and uncertainties left me no choice. I had to find a way out,” Ahmed said.

“The salaried class is working hard, but the disparity between what we earn and what it takes to have a decent life continues to widen” he explained.

Ahmed’s decision reflects a growing trend among educated Pakistanis seeking opportunities abroad to escape the ongoing economic crisis at home.

The exodus during the first seven months of 2023 (January to July) has seen 450,110 Pakistanis leave their homeland in pursuit of work opportunities abroad, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.

This includes a diverse mix of individuals from various professional backgrounds and qualifications.

Exodus of the educated and skilled

The emigration bureau’s latest data revealed that among the departing workforce, a substantial 12,787 individuals were categorized as ‘highly qualified,’ highlighting the country’s significant brain drain. As many as 26,405 individuals considered ‘highly skilled’ and 164,155 ‘skilled’ workers have also ventured abroad in 2023 alone. Nearly 198,000 ‘unskilled’ Pakistani workers also joined the migration wave in the hopes of securing employment overseas.

Where are Pakistani workers headed to?

Saudi Arabia emerged as the primary destination for Pakistani migrant workers, with 205,515 choosing the kingdom as their new workplace. The UAE followed closely with 121,745 relocating to the country, also known as ‘second home’ for many Pakistanis. Other Gulf countries, including Oman (34,140), Qatar (35,637) and Bahrain (7,441) also witnessed a significant influx of Pakistani workforce.

Beyond the Gulf region, a total of 16,166 opted for Malaysia, while China recorded 990 arrivals from Pakistan. Smaller number of Pakistani workers also headed to South Korea, Japan, Cyprus, Germany, the United Kingdom, Greece, Italy, and Romania.

Top 5 destinations for Pakistani workforce (Jan to July)
Saudi Arabia - 205,515
UAE - 121,745
Qatar - 35,637
Oman - 34,140
Malaysia 16,166

Diverse occupation of immigrants

The diversity of professional occupations among the departing workforce is striking. A significant majority is opting for labour-intensive roles as 192,188 individuals went abroad under the Labourer category.

The positions such as driver (96,466), technician (12,491), salesman (14,599), and electrician (9,847) also account for notable portions.

Meanwhile, 5,811 agriculturalists, 7,031 carpenters and 4,998 cooks also sought opportunities abroad.

Educated professionals, including engineers, doctors, IT specialists and accountants are also emi-grating at a faster pace.

The first half of 2023 saw 23,623 managers, 4,705 engineers, and 1,925 doctors contribute their expertise to overseas markets.

Migration trends

Last year, more than 832,000 Pakistanis left the country of 241 million, marking the highest emigration number since 2016 when 839,353 moved abroad. The year 2015 saw the highest level of migration as 946,571 Pakistanis left in search of opportunities abroad. This trend saw a moderate decline between 2018 and 2021.

The official emigration figures might underrepresent the trend as they exclude those pursuing ed-ucation abroad or utilizing alternative immigration channels. A Pakistani student in late 20s, who departed for Canada six months ago, said he worked two jobs in Pakistan but still couldn’t make enough for the family. “This record inflation is wreaking havoc on the middle class. We face constant financial volatility as our purchasing power and affordability continues to fall every day.”

As the trend of Pakistani workers seeking greener pastures abroad continues to grow, experts have raised concerns about its impact on the nation’s workforce and economy. The government has been urged to create domestic employment opportunities and policies to encourage the return of skilled expatriates to contribute to the country’s development.