ISLAMABAD: Amid a slump in the economy and hyperinflation, a large number of Pakistanis, particularly the younger population, are trying to move abroad in search of employment and scholarship opportunities.

According to a media report, more than 450,000 Pakistanis have left for various countries during the first quarter of 2023.

The outflow of Pakistanis can be witnessed by visiting passport offices and immigration centres where long queues of passport and visa seekers can be seen these days. A large number of young people are also trying to move abroad on educational scholarships.

However, some circles described this huge outflow of people including the skilled citizens a good omen, saying these people would become a good source of additional foreign remittances in Pakistan.

During visits to passport offices, this correspondent observed almost a twofold increase in the number of applicants seeking passports to move to different destinations across the world.

Official reveals almost twofold increase in number of passport applications

“Earlier, we were receiving 25,000 applications from all over the country in a day but now this number has increased to over 45,000 daily,” a senior official of the Passport and Immigration Department told Dawn.

He said the influx of applications increased over the past three months.

“Most of the applicants are said to be job seekers in various countries, especially the Middle East,” he said, adding that pilgrims were also included in the total number of applicants.

The official said the Passport and Immigration Departmenthad a capacity of issuing 25,000 to 27,000 passports in a day; therefore, the daily backlog of applications had come to 13,000 to 15,000. In view of the situation, the Passport and Immigration Departmenthas reduced the timing of receiving applications till 1pm to curtail the number of applications.

One of the reasons for this sudden jump in the number of passport seekers was that former interior minister Rehman Malik had enhanced the validity of passports from five to 10 years in 2013 and a large number of such passports expired this year, and their holders make a significant chunk of applicants rushing to the passport office for renewal of their travel documents.

A source in Gerry’s, a private company which processes visa applications on behalf of some embassies, said the number of visa applications had increased manifold.

The overcrowded parking area of Gerry’s International on Park Road in Chak Shahzad corroborates the claim made by the private company’s employee.

Meanwhile, the British Council (BC) is also receiving a large number of applications both for student and work visas. As a result of a growing number of applications, the BC is presently arranging three tests of Ielts (a language test required for visa) in a week, an official of the council said.

A total of 2,500 visa seekers had taken part in the last exam, the source said, adding that a rise in the number of visa seekers had been witnessed over the last two months.

The source said besides Ielts, about 600 applicants appeared in the UK VIA visa test both for study and work visas. A separate test for work visas is also conducted which is called the ‘Life Skill Test’. In this test, which is taken twice a week, 80 to 100 applicants usually participate.

Recently, caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar highlighted the ‘positive’ aspect of Pakistanis going abroad for better opportunities and called this trend both a challenge and an opportunity for the nation.

Presiding over a recent meeting of the federal cabinet, the prime minister said that professional education and vocational training programmes should be prepared on a par with needs of the international markets.

Earlier this month, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Jawad Sohrab Malik urged the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to take in over one million Pakistanis annually for Saudi Vision 2030.

“Currently, about 5 million Pakistanis proceed to Saudi Arabia annually. There is a real prospect of this figure rising to over one million,” Mr Malik added.

Published in Dawn, October 22th, 2023