JEDDAH: IRFAN MOHAMMED
Published — Wednesday 24 April 2013
Last update 24 April 2013 5:56 am
The Pakistan government is concerned about the potential loss of remittances from Saudi Arabia, which has the largest Pakistani expatriate community in the world.
This concern was raised here by Feroze Jamal Shah Kakahel, Pakistani federal minister for human resources development and overseas Pakistanis. He was in Jeddah to perform Umrah hortly after attending an international migration conference in Istanbul, Turkey.
Kakakhel discussed Saudi Arabia’s new labor laws and the grace period granted by Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah.
President Asif Ali Zardari has lauded the gesture of King Abdullah to allow a three-month period for all expatriate workers to rectify their work status in Saudi Arabia, the minister said.
In an interview with Arab News, Kakakhel said Pakistan respects the Kingdom's labor laws and its Saudization process and Pakistan workers have played an important role in developing the Saudi economy.
He, however, appeared concerned about workers that they would not have enough time to rectify their work status in the country.
Kakahel said he hoped the Saudi government would show further flexibility on this core issue.
Kakakhel said that Saudi Arabia is currently the largest job market for skilled and semi-skilled Pakistani workers. The minister said that remittances of Pakistan expatriates from Saudi Arabia play a crucial role in the Pakistan economy.
He said a possible abrupt return home of large numbers of Pakistani expatriates from Saudi Arabia could pose a challenge for Pakistan.
Kakakhel said that the Pakistan ambassador in Riyadh and consul general in Jeddah had met with high-ranking Saudi officials to expedite procedures for Pakistanis whose visas had expired. He said Pakistan diplomats are also taking up these issues with regional governors in the Kingdom.
Kakakhel said that his ministry was fully prepared for overseas Pakistanis to vote in the May 11 elections, but the final decision has to come from the Supreme Court and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP). He said there has been a delay in delivery of the machine-readable passports in Pakistan, which is the prime grievance of overseas Pakistanis.
“Overseas Pakistanis are the backbone of the country’s economy. They should enjoy the same rights as those back home, including the right to vote.”
Kakakhel said that 6.45 million Pakistanis are working abroad, of whom 96 percent are in the Gulf region. Less than 1 percent of this overseas workforce has been allowed to work in European countries, which he termed as "discrimination."
He said workers from Pakistan and other countries in the region should be allowed to work in Europe based on merit. This would reduce illegal migration, he added.