Experts stress 'right policies' to prevent brain drain, boost Pakistan IT exports

Special Experts stress 'right policies' to prevent brain drain, boost Pakistan IT exports
Pakistani employees of online marketplace company Kaymu at work in Karachi on November 19, 2015. (AFP/File)
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Updated 02 January 2023

Experts stress 'right policies' to prevent brain drain, boost Pakistan IT exports

Experts stress 'right policies' to prevent brain drain, boost Pakistan IT exports
  • Many countries offer digital nomad visa with huge benefits, which experts say may attract Pakistan's talented youth
  • Asia Pacific ICT Alliance says holding of “Oscars of IT industry” in Pakistan opens regional business opportunities

KARACHI: Pakistani and regional information technology (IT) experts have stressed the continuity of “right policies” to stop the brain drain as the South Asian nation struggles to achieve a $3 billion export target this current fiscal year.   

Pakistan’s IT exports posted a growth of 5 percent to $233 million on an annual basis in November 2022, but it was 10 percent lower than the peak of $260 million in March 2022.   

The country's overall IT exports stood at $1.09 billion during the first five months of this fiscal year — July to November — while official data suggested the IT ministry had set an export target of $3 billion for the year.  

But officials at the Asia Pacific ICT Alliance (APICTA) — an association of information and communication technology communities nominated by member economies in the region to promote innovation and encourage the development of indigenous ICT solutions for the global market — call for the continuity of policies and incentives for not only local digitization, but also for the growth of exports from Pakistan.   

“Polices need to be aligned in such a way that it makes trade easier for the participants — in terms of overseas travel and permits, tax incentives and relaxations,” APICTA Chairman Stan Singh told Arab News from Malaysia on Friday. 

“If you don’t have the right policies, don’t digitize or transform businesses. How you are going to tell the world that you are a digital nation?” 

APICTA consists of 16 member countries, including Pakistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macao, Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam.   

Last month, the association held its annual awards program, referred to as the “Oscars of the IT industry,” for the first time in Pakistan.   

Singh, who led the 160-plus participants at the event, said he was “much impressed by Pakistan’s hospitality” and expressed confidence that the event would enhance the possibility of Pakistani companies’ cross-border forays.     

“Pakistan has won a number of awards and if the winners go to any of the [economies] or countries for cross-border business, telling them that they are winners of APICTA, the chances are that the ice is immediately broken because APICTA, over 20 years, has put a lot of value,” he said.   

The APICTA chairman observed that Pakistan exported a lot of software products to Western countries, while the forum offered opportunities for regional exports.  

“Pakistan exports a lot of software to the West, nothing is wrong with it, but APICTA also opens markets for Pakistani companies in the region as well where [the] potential is huge,” Singh said. 

On the other hand, Pakistani IT experts, lamenting the imposition of tax on foreign income, termed the continuity of policies a "big challenge." 

“The continuity of the policy is [a] big challenge in Pakistan it should be made in consultations with the right stakeholders, and if the right stakeholders are not looped in, the policies will not be friendly for the right audience,” Badar Khushnood, a former chairman of Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA) and convener of APICTA, told Arab News.   

“[The] big challenge is to tell them you can’t compare IT industry with traditional industries because you need to compare Pakistan’s IT industry to other economies [that] are offering similar or better benefits.”  

Agreeing with Khushnood, Singh said the policies should be aligned in a manner that should fit an international perspective.   

“How you can perhaps make the policy a bit more palatable is not just from the perspective of the people that are going to be using it, but also the people who are coming in contact from external sources into this context,” he explained.   

Khushnood warned if Pakistan did not offer the "right set of policies," it would compel IT professionals to migrate, expediting the brain drain in the South Asian country.  

“Pakistani talent can migrate to Estonia, Portugal, Indonesia, or any other country that now offers a special visa, called a digital nomad visa,” he said.   

"They offer tax-free breaks and encourage young people, as their own population is aging, whereas Pakistan has started taxing IT for their foreign income." 

Singh noted that since IT was now becoming a big part of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the nation and was going to create an impact, therefore, associated problems must be addressed at the grassroots. 

“If you don’t protect the young talent now, maybe five years down the road, you are going to be looking at some of the businesses and realize what happened to all your talent,” Singh said. 

“That way, you are left out and [will] be losing the GDP as well, because [local talent] is now going somewhere else and running businesses.”   

The APICTA chief stressed not looking at IT as the enabler of business, but as the business itself.   

“We have been talking about IT as the enabler of business [but] ICT is not the enabler; it is the business, embedded in every business that you talk about. It is changing the landscape and changing the game,” he said. 

To a question about Pakistan’s tapping Middle Eastern markets, Singh expressed optimism and said a “huge potential exists in the Middle East” for IT exports.