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Nature and extent of returning flow of overseas workers.

Nature and Extent of Returning Flow of Overseas Workers

Migration for economic reasons has been in practice from times immemorial but that evidenced from various Asian countries to the Middle East oil exporting countries during mid-seventies to almost early eighties has been unprecedented in magnitude and also in nature as all the out migrants were contract workers mostly for a specific period and against specific projects. Moreover, they were not allowed to take their families and dependents with them and further had no right to purchase any property in the host country.

This outflow of contract workers had a welcome impact on the labour surplus and poverty-ridden manpower exporting countries and dramatically affected the domestic employment and the balance of payment situation. For example, during the years of Fifth Five Year Plan of Pakistan (1978-83), as much as one third of the increase of its fast growing labour force found employment in the Middle East. Gross outflow as a percentage of the incremental labour force in 1982 were 45 per cent for the Philippines, 40 per cent for the Republic of Korea, 26 per cent for Thailand and about 33 per cent for Sri Lanka. In case of India, though the overall impact was marginal, direct impact was concentrated in the state of Kerala, where it was as high as 50 per cent.

In Pakistan in 1971 the number of workers outmigrating through legal channels was only 3534 which accounts only to 0.21 per cent of the total stock upto 1990. The figure gradually rose over the years and reached 41,690 in 1976 with a corresponding rise in the proportion to 2.67. Thereafter an abrupt rise was perceived in 1977 when the percentage proportion touched the level of 8.32 and remained in the limits of 7.43 (1979) to 9.97 per cent in (1981) upto 1983. After that it started showing declining trends. However, since 1986 it has been picking again, though the improvement is not that significant.

The outmigration played its due role towards alleviating unemployment from the country. for example, the proportion of outmigration to the total unemployed labour force was about 28 per cent in 1977. Even in 1990, when the outmigration is not of the magnitude experienced in its climax period, its proportion to the total unemployed labour force is about 12 per cent.

The apprehensions that a decline in the outmigration had started after 1982 have been confirmed by various surveys conducted by the Manpower Division and Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF) from 1982-87. The situation has further deteriorated by the returnees of the Gulf Crisis in 1990.

The situation when the outmigration has been reversed by the net return migration has its policy implications for the labour market as well for the economic activities in the country. But no policy can be formulated in the absence of the reliable statistics.

With this background in view, this paper aims to find out the magnitude of the return migrants and their characteristics. For this, the secondary data have been used and the extensive use of the airport surveys conducted in various years from 1982-87 has been made. If not otherwise specified, the term returning migrants in this paper has been used for those in-coming migrants who have come back on the expiry of their contract abroad.

Scheme of Presentation

The first section of the paper briefly deals with the outmigration. In second section, an effort has been made to work out the magnitude of the return migrants, whereas the last part of the paper presents a number of recommendations.


The emigration of the workers had long continued, and the people were going abroad by their own efforts, the government in the mid-seventies took every possible effort to channelize the manpower export. Table-I below provides data of the emigrants from 1971. But it would be seen that the figure shot up from 41,690 in 1976 to 1,40,522 in 1977. It was partly due to a greater demand in the host countries of the Middle East, and partly that now the government had adopted appropriate measures to register the outmigrants. Column(3) of the table provides the proportion of the emigrants to the total stock upto 1990. Column (4) gives the total number of the unemployed labour force in respective years, whereas in the last column the proportion of the emigrant workers to unemployed labour force for the corresponding year has been worked out.

Table : TABLE I Percentage Share of Outmigration to the Total Stock and Total Unemployed Labour Force - (1971-1990)
 %Share to Total Unemployed
 No. of the Total Labour Proportion
Year Emigrants Stock Force of 2 to 4
1971-76 104459 6.02 - -
1977 140522 8.32 0.59 23.8
1978 130525 7.73 0.73 17.9
1979 125507 7.43 0.07 12.9
1980 129847 7.69 0.92 14.1
1981 168403 9.97 0.95 17.7
1982 142945 8.47 1.00 14.3
1983 128206 7.59 1.06 12.1
1984 100407 5.95 1.05 9.6
1985 88461 5.24 1.04 8.5
1986 62642 3.71 1.02 6.1
1987 70219 4.16 0.90 7.8
1988 84840 5.03 0.94 9.0
1989 98683 5.85 0.97 10.2
1990 115520 6.84 1.00 11.6
 1688185 100.00

Source: For Emigration Statistics, BE+OPF; For unemployment labour force; E.S. 1989-90 P. 105.

The share of emigration for the years 1971-76 was only 6.02 to the total stock, which increased to 8.32 in 1977 and reached the climax in 1981, when it was 9.87. Thereafter a declining trend started. After reaching 3.71 in 1986, it began to pick up again, and gradually has been showing increasing trends.

The proportion of the total number of emigrants to the total number of unemployed labour force suggests how important the emigration has been for Pakistan. Though the statistics on the employment status of the emigrants before migrating for employment abroad are not available, but there is no denying the fact that in the absence of the emigration, the unemployment rate would have been too high, creating problems for the country.


The skill composition of the emigrants migrating during 1986-90 (Table-II) shows that about half of them were skilled whereas 38.71 were unskilled. Professionals were 7.3 per cent. Although five years data in this respect is quite insufficient to capture the structural change of the skill composition of the emigrants, yet it would be seen that the proportion of the unskilled labour under-went a downward change over this period whereas that of skilled labour improved, which affirms the general feeling of the people that the infrastructural build-up tempo in the manpower importing countries has now declined and in future other categories of workers would be required. But rather the making rosy plant for manpower export based on more branches, it is strongly recommended to undertake research regarding the requirements of the workers overseas and to prepare the plans accordingly. [Tabular Data Omitted]

Return Flow of

Overseas Workers

The nature of outmigration to the Middle East oil producing countries during the mid-seventies upto the early eighties was of unique characteristic, to which history cannot offer any match. Firstly, it was a colossal exodus from different countries to one region for a search of job for a specific period and against specific projects. Secondly, the overseas workers were neither conferred with citizenship, now were allowed to take their families with them. Hence, resultantly they were destined to return to their country of origin. However, some other factors caused the recession in the oil-producing countries making the return flow a little earlier.

The oil prices fell in the international market in early eighties, causing a decrease in oil revenues, making incumbant upon the host countries to slash down their developmental out-lays, causing a setback to the overseas workers. Development of human resource as well as the immigration policies in the host countries, not allowing the overseas workers to stay beyond a certain time limit made their impact felt in the form of decreased demand for overseas workers.

In Arab countries, contracts are generally awarded to the lowest bidders, which in the past generally meant either Japanese, Europeans, or American companies or the consortia. They would generally bring in their own management, whereas production workers were recruited from Asian countries. With the passage of time South Korean firms also appeared successful in such biddings and consequently preferred their own nationals for recruitment.

Another important aspect of this problem is that the majority of the emigrants from Pakistan were engaged in the construction work and the completion of the construction work were destined to come back. Besides, minimum wages fixed for the emigrating workers in Pakistan and procedural delays in sending the workers discouraged the foreign employers to recruit Pakistani workers.

Thus, the emigration number which had touched the 1,68,403 figure started showing the declining trends after that. The return migration and the apprehensions pertaining to it had become the talk of the town in early eighties, but no one was informed enough to say with certainty the actual magnitude of the returning migrants, in the absence of precise statistics available in the country as no agency of the government maintains any record of the returning migrants. To overcome this serious data gap a number of steps were taken by the government and the related agencies to ascertain the changing trends. To determine the rate of return migration, the airport surveys were conducted for collecting the data from the incoming passengers. The variables on which the data were collected regarded the reasons for coming back, period of their stay abroad and a bit of information regarding their occupation abroad etc. The first such survey was carried out in 1982 by the Ministry of Labour, Manpower and Overseas Pakistanis in collaboration with the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation (OPF). This was followed by another survey in 1984. As a part of the ILO/ARTEP Pakistan Migration Project, two airport surveys for one month's duration, each were conducted in April and October, 1985. Subsequently the OPF started its own airport surveys in 1986. In that year two surveys, one in January and the other in November, were conducted followed by one more survey in 1987.

The importance of such statistics cannot be over-emphasised as they have their own policy implications. For example, keeping into view the rising trends of out migration, very optimistic projects of net outmigration for the Sixth Five Year Plan (1983-88) were made, which proved quite illusory giving a set-back to the planning process obliging the revision of the plan targets time and again during the plan period.

In the subsequent paragraphs, an attempt had been made to work out the extent of the return flow of the overseas workers. For this purpose an extensive use of the ....... airport surveys has been made. It may be noted that these surveys were not based on the scientifically drawn samples of the returning migrants and due to their inherent limitations could not be relied upon to yield conclusive details about the size, magnitude and other aspects of the returning migrants. However, in the absence of any other reliable source, these may help to estimate the size of the return migrants and indicate some of their basic characteristics.

Net Flow of Overseas Workers

Various airport surveys conducted during 1982-87 indicated (Table-3) that the proportion of the permanent returnees to the total arrivals during the survey month varied from 22.03 per cent to 17.38 per cent. The proportion of the return migrants decreased from 22.03 to 17.38 between 1982-84. Then it increased to 26.42 per cent in 1987. But the subsequent surveys, a declining trend was perceived.

Table : TABLE - III Distribution of Total Number of Passengers Covered by Reason of Return
 Total No. of Permanent
 No. of Migrants Returnees
Year of Passengers on Leave/ at the Expiry
Survey Covered Short Visit of Contract
1982 43750 34111 9639
 (100.00) (77.97) (22.03)
1984 45025 37198 7827
 (100.00) (82.62) (17.38)
1985 43929 32321 11607
 (100.00) (73.58) (26.42)
1986 46038 36369 9669
 (100.00) (79.00) (21.00)
1987 34556 28734 5822
 (100.00) (83.15) (16.85)
TOTAL: 42659 33746 8913
 (100.00) (79.11) (20.89)

Source: Manpower Division and OPF Note: Average of the two surveys carried out each in 1985 and 1986 have been worked out.

On the basis of these monthly returnees the yearly net flows for the respective years have been calculated, (Table-IV). Though the statistics show the net outmigration for 1982 and 1984, however the decreasing trend is quite discernible. In 1885 and 1986 there was a net return migration of 50,823 and 53,387 for the years 1985 and 1986 respectively. Though the net outmigration was seen in 1987, yet the magnitude was not significant. On the average the inflow of workers was worked out to be 1,06,954 during 1982-87 and the outflow of workers for the corresponding period was 92,935. However, the net return migration came out to be quite significant i.e. 14,019. The size of the return migrants, considered together with existing unemployment and already accentuated backlog of unemployment may exert pressures within the domestic labour market.

Table : TABLE - IV Yearly Net Outmigration for the Various Years
 Yearly Net
 No. of Outmigration
Year Migrants Outflow
1982 115668 142945 +27277
1984 93924 10047 + 6483
1985 139284 88461 -50823
1986 116028 62641 -53387
1987 69684 70219 + 355

Mean of the

5 years 106954 92935 -14019

Source: Government of Pakistan, Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment (BE & OE) * Includes the emigrants sent through Overseas Employment Corporation (OEC)

Period of Stay Abroad

The other strong variable on which the airport surveys collected information regards the period of stay of the overseas workers abroad. The comparative statistics of various surveys suggest that most of the contract workers stay for more than three years. For example in Table-V, it transpires that on the average 50 per cent of the respondents had stayed abroad for more than three years. Rather this percentage was 61.38 per cent according to the 1987 survey. It was followed by the persons who had stay for two years and one year, respectively. These statistics are of significant importance, projecting the return migration for future.

Table : TABLE - V Percentage Distribution of the Return Migrants by Period of Stay Abroad
 Total No. P E R IO D O F S T A Y More
Survey of Passengers One One Two Three than
Year Covered Year Year Years Years Three
1982 43750 12.84 22.4 20.35 - 44.33
1984 45025 8.87 28.14 18.91 - 44.13
1985 43929 1.81 11.29 21.41 16.17 48.78
1987 66876 2.76 11.29 15.00 9.51 61.38
 6.8 17.3 18.5 12.1 50.0

Source: ILO/ARTEP (1989) Impact of Out and Return Migration on Domestic Employment in Pakistan. - Farooq-i-Azam (1987) Report on Airport Survey for Survey for Monitoring Return Migration in 1986-87. Note: For 1985 averages of two surveys have been given. - Some of the figures may not add up to 100 as some people either did not respond, or some were reported to have stayed for respective period.

Distribution of Returnees

by Age Group

The distribution of the respondents by age group is given in Table-VI and Table-VII which provide information regarding the surveys conducted in 1982-85, and 1986-87 respectively. This is due to the incomparable age group.

Table : TABLE - VI Distribution of Return Migrants by 1982-85

Group 1982 1984 1985
 9639 7827 117.91
15-24 13.87 11.12 6.52
25-34 51.12 50.74 47.54
35-44 25.68 26.08 34.33
45-54 7.72 10.51 9.08
55 & above 1.61 1.55 1.65

Table : TABLE - VII Distribution of Return Migrants in Age Groups
Age 1986 1987
Less than 21 0.48 0.72
21-25 10.36 9.44
26-30 19.46 28.51
31-35 15.20 24.37
36-40 19.30 20.49
41-45 15.41 9.17
46-50 16.33 4.50
51-55 2.74 1.53
More than 55 0.65 1.24
Un-specified 0.05 0.04

Source: Farooq-i-Azam, (1988) Report on Airport Survey for Monitoring Return Migration: 1986-87. Note: The values for 1986 are averages of the two surveys. All values are in percentages.

Table VI shows that the majority of the returning migrants fall in the prime age. For example, according to 1982 survey returning migrants falling in age group 25-44 comprised 76.8 and 76.82 and 81.87 for 1984 and 1985, respectively.

According to 1986 and 87 surveys, 69.37 and 82.54 per cent pertained to combined age-group 26-45 in 1986 and 1987 respectively. Other age groups do not pertain the proportion that significant.

These figures indicate that because the greater proportion of the returnees fall in the prime age of their economic activity, they are do be treated as the assets rather than the liability, every effort should be made to acquaint them with the relevant information regarding the investment avenues available in the country. Further, as most of the returnees pertain to the production workers, thus they may not be having the entrepreneurial capabilities. An arrangement may be made to impart relevant training to the potential entrepreneurs among the lot.

Table : TABLE VI Distribution of Return Migrants by 1982-85

Group 1982 1984 1985
 9639 7827 117.91
15-24 13.87 11.12 6.52
25-34 51.12 50.74 47.54
35-44 25.68 26.08 34.33
45-54 7.72 10.51 9.08
55 & above 1.61 1.55 1.65

Place of Residence

The information about the place of residence is very important as the efforts to combat the problem can be addressed to these areas without the wastage of time and resources.

The above table-VIII that the majority of the returning migrants, according to the findings of the various airport surveys hailed from the province of the Punjab. This proportion was recorded 55.17 per cent in 1982, and 54.21 per cent in November 1985. It is followed by the province of NWFP and Sindh, claiming about 19 per cent each of the returnees. There is only a marginal difference between the two. The proportion of other provinces and areas is not that significant.

The manipulation of percentages for the years 1986 and 1987 are not directly comparable with the preceding years figures. However, there is a reverse trend for the returning migrants where a majority lies in the urban areas of Sindh instead of Punjab. The proportions for the years 1986 and 1987 are 91.45 and 87.70 per cent, which surely calls for the attention of the policy makers.

Distribution of Returnees

by Major Occupational Groups

Majority of the returnees belonged to production workers, and labourers but it is seen that their percentage share declined overtime from 1982 to 69.19 per cent in 1987. This may be due to the decreased stock of the production workers in the host countries after the completion of construction boom. This group is followed by sales/ service workers.

It is evidenced that though the majority of returning migrants belong to the urban areas, but in case of NWFP and Balochistan, and also in other regions the reverse situation is found. This type of variation has policy implications, and particularly when there is a wide literacy gap between rural/ urban areas.


Data Collection

The magnitude of returning migrants has been determined on the basis of ad hoc airport surveys, which already suffer from severe limitations in terms of faulty parameters and sampling errors. In this way, the estimation of return migrations based on an irregular and incomplete count is not longer valid for proper generalizations of data. Therefore, regular quarterly surveys need to be undertaken. Later on, yearly surveys need to be compiled on the basis of scientifically drawn sample surveys.

The Overseas Pakistanis Foundation has started collecting information from the returning migrants through dis-embarkation cards. But the information being collected through these cards are quite insufficient and needs modification, simplification, and addition of some other variables relating to returning migrants.

The introduction of transfer of residence facility may provide a good source for ascertaining the magnitude of returning migrants. Under the Custom regulations, a person who has lived abroad for a particular period can purchase from duty free shops personal and household effects free of custom. Therefore the custom forms filled in by them in this respect may give fairly complete information about the return flow of workers.

Research and Training Needs

While going through the data on the returning migrants, we find out that the structural changes have occurred overtime. This may serve as an indicator of the manpower requirements abroad. But due to faulty data we cannot prepare manpower export plan. We need some indepth studies to be undertaken in the country and also in different other countries, through our Embassies, to find out the proportion of the Pakistani workers and their composition. Moreover the development plans of the host countries required to be studied to assess the manpower requirements in those countries.

For the re-integration of the returning migrants in the economy we should train the potential employers by imparting entrepreneurial skills to them. For this purpose we need studies with respect to their education, training, their expertise and also the amount of saving that they can invest. In this way new job opening will be provided. [Tabular Data Omitted]
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Title Annotation:Pakistan's migrant contract workers
Author:Hayat, Khalid; Qamar, Nasim
Publication:Economic Review
Date:Jul 1, 1991
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