Migrants from Pakistan can be categorized by the main destinations, which also determine the type of migration. Migrants to North America and Europe mostly plan to stay in the host countries for the long term and move overseas with their families. Migrants who do not have the opportunity to migrate to developed countries, especially low-skilled and semi-skilled labourers, migrate to work temporarily. Popular destinations for these migrants are GCC countries, which do not allow permanent settlement of foreign workers. Consequently migration to these countries is usually short or medium term, typically lasting for four or five years, although migration can sometimes last 10–15 years through multiple contract extensions (Arif and Shujaat forthcoming).

Apart from the communities of temporary labour migrants in GCC countries, the largest Pakistani communities abroad are in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the United States of America, and Canada.

Out-migration from Pakistan dates back to the 1950s. The migrants at that time were predominately young men of the working age population seeking better opportunities in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. These types of migrants later sought jobs in other Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries as well.

In the past decade, between 10,000 and 20,000 Pakistanis migrated annually to the United States of America and only a comparatively small number of them returned. As shown in figure 1, in 2008, about 19,700 Pakistanis moved to the United States of America, 17,000 to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and 13,400 to Spain.

The Government of Pakistan has made a concerted effort to encourage Pakistanis to seek employment abroad as way to combat unemployment, reduce poverty and earn foreign exchange through remittances. The Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis established a number of divisions, such as the Overseas Employment Corporation (1976), the Overseas Pakistanis Wing (1978) and the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (1979), to help improve the welfare of Pakistani nationals residing abroad.

Temporary labour migration processed through the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment increased steadily in the past decades. The number of temporary migrant workers rose from an average of 140,000 per year in the early 1990s to more than 400,000 in 2008 and 2009 (see table 1).
The main destination countries for temporary labour migrants from Pakistan, who were processed through the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment, are GCC countries. In the past decade, about 85 per cent of all labour migrants went to the two main destination countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. However, notably, Italy has recently emerged as a prominent destination country (see table 1).

The wages of Pakistani labour migrants in Western Asia are, on average, five to eight times higher than what they would receive in their home country. They also remit, on average, 78 per cent of their salaries, contributing significantly to the livelihood of family members who stayed behind (Overfeld and Zumot 2010).

Remittances from Pakistanis working abroad make an important contribution to the country’s economy. According to the State Bank of Pakistan, Pakistan received $8.7 billion in remittances in 2009, the equivalent of 5.4 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) (World Bank 2010). Remittances from GCC countries have constituted nearly half of all of the remittances Pakistan receives from its nationals worldwide.

The skill composition of Pakistani workers in Western Asia has not changed during the past few decades, with the majority of the people migrating to the
region being categorized as low skilled, followed by semi-skilled, skilled and the highly qualified workers (Arif and Fujaat forthcoming). In 2008, a total of
85 per cent of Pakistani migrant workers were employed in construction, of which 47.8 per cent of them were low-skilled workers (Pakistan Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment 2010).

Recently, migration patterns have started to shift slightly, tilting towards skilled categories, including technicians, agriculturalists, electricians, steel fixers, mechanics and salespersons (Abrar 2005). This trend, however, is creating shortages of various categories of skilled and semi-skilled workers in the domestic labour market, resulting in a ‘brain drain’ (ILO 2004).

The number of female labour migrants from Pakistan is not known as no sex-disaggregated data are made available by official agencies. But, according to anecdotal evidence, the number of women migrating on their own to work abroad is very low. Women under 35 years need to seek permission from the Ministry of Manpower to migrate work abroad.3

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the number of people leaving Pakistan seeking asylum in the European Union or North America increased (Gazdar 2007). In 2009, there were about 35,000 Pakistanis living with refugee status abroad; the majority of them were in Canada, Germany, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America.


3 See www.unescap.org/esid/meetings/migration10/Proceedings.pdf.