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Friday, July 19, 2024

A guideline for the rights of overseas Pakistanis

Barrister Pansota talks about the rights of overseas Pakistanis that everyone should know about and explains to us in terms of judicial perspective as well. He further talks about the voting rights of overseas Pakistanis and international practices of diaspora management.

According to Gabriel Sheffer diaspora is defined as: “ethnic minority groups of migrant origins residing and acting in host countries but maintaining strong sentimental and material links with their countries of origin—their homeland”. Repositioning casts multiple familial, psychological, religious, political and cultural imprints on the lifestyle of migrants, their dependents as well as recipient societies. After 9/11, migrants’ relationship to respective host countries has turned rather intricate and tricky.

Stereotyping, uncalled for prejudices, and connecting Pakistanis with the doings of extremists have dampened their sense of self-esteem. Even then, overseas Pakistani have mostly stayed positively engaged and have strived to measure up to the host societies’ expectations.

Over the last sixty years or so, multinational corporations (MNCs) have ventured into “boundary-less businesses.” Present day MNCs have accumulated phenomenal power, which they employ to substantially impact state policies, both within states and internationally. MNCs’ economic stakes have significantly impacted the patterns of transnational and international human movements. For profit and business growth considerations, the MNCs relocate their enterprises across nations; resultantly, migration patterns alter.

Read more: Stop electoral discrimination against overseas Pakistanis!

A look at diaspora management 

In addition, social media and the internet play noteworthy roles in networking diaspora communities in the world. Social media has greatly augmented the psycho-social aspect of diasporas over the entire world. “The burgeoning phenomenon of globalization stresses the importance of five global tribes (Jews, British, Japanese, Chinese and Indians); the success of these nations depended upon their ethnicity”. Pakistan is in the top six countries sending migrant workers abroad.

It is also in the six developing countries with the highest migration flows”. The number of overseas Pakistanis far exceeds the official figure of seven million. Pakistanis living abroad contribute “around five percent of Pakistan’s GDP through remittances i.e., about US$ 19 billion per annum”.

Powerful drivers for relocation are socio-economic conditions before migration; encounters in the host country and society; quality of social and family connections back home; and the predicament of when to return, or not to return at all. These form part of the overall matrix of push and pull factors impacting the decision of non-resident Pakistanis’ quality of engagement in Pakistan and abroad.

China has set a good example in diaspora management. It has evolved an important role for overseas ethnic Chinese by integrating them into the national economy. What modern China is today, is because of the contribution by overseas Chinese. Among other well performing examples are Indians; Mexicans; Filipinos; Thais; Malaysians; South Koreans; and Bangladeshis. While Pakistani diaspora is doing well when measured against contemporary models, there are gaps between existing and optimal performance.

Read more: Govt approves Rs 25,000 funeral grant for overseas Pakistanis

Profile of Pakistani Diaspora

Overseas Pakistanis are, by and large, effervescent societies in many countries located in the US, Europe, Canada, Australia, Asia, Africa, etc. They contribute effectively in the economic, social and political uplift of countries of their residence. A number of Pakistanis have climbed up the ladder to fairly high levels of political activities in America and Europe. A segment comprises of those who have relocated to the United Kingdom, where they reside as second/ third generation migrants, similarly, some have migrated to Canada and the US to begin a new life.

Yet another stream is part of the temporary workforce in the Middle East (ME), mainly in Arab-Gulf Cooperation Council (AGCC) states to enhance their earnings. Still another cluster is of Pakistani students, studying and residing at a number of universities, largely in Western countries. Of these, some return to Pakistan on completion of their degrees to benefit Pakistan out of their acquired knowledge and know how; while the rest choose to live in their host countries almost permanently.

The expanse of mobility of the Pakistani emigrants is global—over 150 countries. A huge proportion of overseas Pakistanis hold dual nationality. In host countries, they are making up the human resource shortfall in labor as well as professional categories besides augmenting the services sector. They also make contributions in ethnocultural diversity. They take part in political lobbying and also join various interest and pressure groups etc. By and large, they remain sensitive to national aspirations back home, and do whatever they can, to uphold the national point of view on important matters and issues confronting Pakistan.

Keeping in view the importance of its overseas persons, the Pakistani government had formed the “Ministry for Overseas Pakistanis”. Its task was to frame policies to improve working conditions of overseas Pakistanis and facilitate their re-integration when they finally return home. The “Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development was established on 7 June 2013 through the merger of erstwhile Ministry of Human Resource Development and Ministry of Overseas”.

Read more: Is the current i-Voting system for overseas Pakistanis secure?

The Ministry “makes policies for employment promotion abroad; takes measures for the welfare of Pakistani Emigrants and their dependents in Pakistan; and coordinates with provincial governments to align national labour laws with Pakistan’s international obligations on labour standards”. The Ministry manages the “Complains Management System for Migrant Worker and Overseas Pakistanis” and coordinates with “Overseas Pakistanis Grievance Commissioner cell in Wafaqi Mohtasib”.

The number of overseas Pakistanis is big enough to transform into a socio-political entity in their own right while keeping their primary focus on sustaining goodwill of the host county toward them, and contributing towards national development back home. A large chunk of Pakistanis working abroad comprises the unskilled and semi-skilled workforce. Though just a meager portion falls under the professional category like engineers, doctors, professors, bankers, etc., at the same time, some Pakistanis are running large enterprises quite successfully in the US, UK, UAE, and Europe.

Interestingly, much less research has gone into ascertaining the cumulative impact that the Pakistani diaspora has made on Pakistan in various forms like remittances, philanthropy, financial support to political parties, human resource development, etc. Pakistani emigrants affiliate with and regularly donate financially to their favorite political parties in Pakistan. The net political and socio-economic impact of the Pakistani diaspora on Pakistan remains, at best, patchy. Their contribution is not optimally channelized by the government.

The collective impact of contribution towards the uplift of Pakistan could be augmented phenomenally if the Pakistani diaspora is grouped on the basis of host countries, and areas for contribution are identified for each such group keeping in view respective peculiarities and specialties. As a next step, their areas of contribution may be assimilated and synchronized with the area-specific needs and developmental objectives of Pakistan.

Many overseas Pakistanis possess exclusive and substantial material/non-material assets that could be galvanized for beginning suitable business/institutional programs in Pakistan. Some overseas Pakistanis own and operate multi-billion dollar organizations abroad. They could be motivated to employ their financial resources and organizational expertise for replicating twin setups in Pakistan.

Read more: Voting rights to overseas Pakistanis in next general elections

Per capita contribution by each blue collar Pakistani worker is around US$ 2000 per person annually. The corresponding figure for each Chinese emigrant is around US$ 6000. The occupational contour of the Pakistani diaspora is in need of institutional intervention by the public sector so that their skills could be upgraded.

Motives for Relocation

Economic uplift through better paid jobs is the top pull factor in skilled migration. The reasons behind the brain drain are untenable economic conditions, lack of appropriate openings in one’s own country as compared to the abundance of resources in destination countries, higher salaries and better living standards for their families. A case study of Mirpur reveals that causes of migration are: “inequality of income distribution, poverty in the home country, and social, political and environmental reasons”.

Studies have brought fore the changing dynamics of relocation like residency issues, ease or difficulty in getting citizenship in host countries, ease of religious assimilation or otherwise, and shifting fulcrum of opportunities versus challenges that Pakistani migrants usually face in their countries of residence. The primary motive for relocation is: to secure means of basic livelihood and ensure a better-quality lifestyle for themselves as well as for their dependents back home.

The option to return back is driven by the availability of comparative opportunities back home, and the readiness of host countries to keep them, alongside family compulsions. Wherever the host countries are willing to retain them, their chances of returning are rather remote, and they either come back grudgingly or make an all-out effort to call in their relatives as a replacement from the countries that are keen to return them; later, they themselves attempt to either return to the same country or go elsewhere.

Read more: Overseas Pakistanis to get inheritance certificates abroad through biometrics

Analysis of Pakistan’s human resource pattern 

The top three recipients of Pakistani workers are Saudi Arabia, UAE and Oman. The global financial slowdown has impacted economies worldwide; the phenomenon is affecting Pakistan‘s remittances as well. With Saudi Arabia going to the IMF for a paltry US$ 10 billion facility, the indicators are that remittances from the Middle East are likely to decline. A large number of Pakistani workers have prematurely returned from Saudi Arabia and some other Middle Eastern countries due to financial hardship and deteriorating workplace conditions.

However, at the same time, China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is emerging as a great opportunity, which is likely to open additional probabilities towards China and in the direction, One Belt and One Road (OBOR) grows. Pakistan needs to focus on fully exploiting the evolving prospects.

Pakistan has had phenomenal growth in officially recorded labor exports. The ongoing decade alone has seen average annual labor exports grow more than 150 percent. But the latest data released by Pakistan’s Bureau of Overseas Employment shows that growth is now slowing down. According to the statistics released by the bureau, Pakistan’s labor exports in the first seven months of 2017 have averaged about 43,300 persons per month, as against a monthly average of 70,000 and 79,000 during 2016 and 2015 respectively.

A comparison with other labor exporting economies reveals that the market is being gradually chipped away by Bangladesh and India. Detailed country-wise annual labor export statistics for India are not publicly available, but Indian labor—especially in the white-collar and skilled blue-collar category—has been effectively elbowing out Pakistani workers. In Bangladesh’s case, her labor export to Saudi Arabia–which absorbs half of Pakistan’s officially recorded labor exports to date – stood at 143,913 in the year 2016.

However, in just the first seven months of 2017, Bangladesh has exported 341,294 workers to the kingdom; while Pakistan has struggled to export only 89,624 workers in 2017 (averaging 12,803 per month) to KSA as against 462,598 in 2016 (averaging 38,549 per month). The main reason why Bangladesh has been able to chip away Pakistan’s share is the recent lifting of the ban imposed on Bangladeshi workers in 2008. During the period of the ban, only 139,587 Bangladeshi workers proceeded to Saudi Arabia; whereas Pakistan sent 2.07 million workers to KSA during the same period.

Read more: MBS orders release of Pakistani prisoners in KSA jails

After lifting the ban that followed the visit of the Prime Minister of Bangladesh to KSA in June 2016, Saudi investors have entered an agreement with the Bureau of Manpower and Employment and Training (BMET) in Dhaka, Chittagong, Manikganj and Mymensingh. Bangladesh and KSA have also signed a labor pact, according to which 500,000 Bangladeshi domestic workers would proceed to KSA. For this purpose, 1000 recruitment centers are operational for enabling prospective overseas workers.

These efforts by Bangladesh are similar to those made by Indian premier Modi who had been wooing UAE for Indian labor exports amongst other bilateral investment deals. The future for Pakistani labor exports appears uncertain. The UAE and KSA alone account for about 84 percent of Pakistan’s total labor exports to date, since 1971. With oil slowing down, alongside an uptick towards the infrastructure and services sector in these economies, Pakistan can only be expected to face tough times ahead.

Oil and gas firms in the GCC are in the process of downsizing, whereas the construction sector is also slowing down. The sectors still demanding expat labor include health, hospitality, recreation, entertainment, human resources, automotive industries, sales, accounting, finance, procurement and information technology – the least of which is expected to witness a spike in demand in the coming years. In the case of goods exports, Pakistan’s labor exports also lack value addition. To date, 42 percent of Pakistan’s labor export is unskilled, and 9 percent is semi-skilled, and barely 6 percent are in the highly qualified and highly skilled category.

While there have been some improvements in the lower skill spectrum (unskilled to skilled) of Pakistan’s labor export in recent years, the country still sends barely a handful of ‘highly qualified’ and ‘highly skilled’ category labor.

The rights of migrants 

A major chunk of Pakistani migrants is engaged in “3-D jobs: ― dirty, dangerous and degrading”. Protective international laws in the form of conventions and UN resolutions exist with regard to migrants’ rights. However, Pakistani migrants cannot benefit from such statutes as Pakistan has not signed these. Lack of legal framework limits the number of channels that could be invoked for securing requisite rights for Pakistani migrants at the government-to-government level.

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Securing migrants’ rights in their countries of destination remains an Achilles heel for dispatching countries; given the fierce competition from other countries that are always willing to enter into an agreement with recipient countries on lower wages and harsher terms and conditions in their enthusiasm of edging out those who are already working there, seeking worthwhile rights focused packages takes secondary place as compared to acquiring and or retaining the market slice. This is what the Indian and Bangladeshi governments are doing. Ironically, even liberal democracies neglect legislation on migrant‘s rights.

“Pakistani communities are mostly residing in ghetto-like housing conditions. The younger generation is struggling to secure their basic human rights in the host/destination countries. As the Pakistan government has the policy to encourage labor migration through regular channels, it is becoming aware of the need to address the issues arising in this area and the problems of labor migrants. Pakistan has also become a part of the Colombo Process (CP), which is a regional consultative Process on the management of overseas employment and contractual labor for countries of origin in Asia.

The Process is led and governed by ministerial consultations, providing a great opportunity to its member states as well as to observers and external organizations of a non-binding and informal environment to engage in dialogue and cooperation on issues related to labor migration that are of common interest. To date the consultations have revolved around three themes: “Protection of and provision of services to migrant workers; Optimizing benefits of organized labour migration; and Capacity building, data collection and interstate cooperation”.

Though there have been some successes, yet numerous challenges haunt adequate protection of legitimate rights of foreign workers, like exposure to asymmetrical migration, illegal recruitment practices, inadequate social security and welfare support to families of migrants and scant reintegration facilitation upon return. CP offers a “unique opportunity for member countries and observers to address certain challenges. At the global level, acknowledging the current shortcomings of the international approach to migration, the UN has established the “Global Commission on International Migration: (GCIM)” for providing guidance on how “the international community and the UN, in particular, should address migration issues”.

Read more: Pakistan becomes the leader of manpower export in 2020 in the region

Another legal instrument that encourages an “international approach to migration” is the “UN Convention on Migrant Workers’ Rights” and the “International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families”. The latter offers a “Human Rights-based approach.” It is amongst the most important migration related initiatives by the UN. It benchmarks migrant rights for all migrant workers and their family members, the World over. This Convention handles documented as well as undocumented migrants. It emphasizes that even undocumented migrants are human beings, and hence “deserve respect for their fundamental human rights”.

Though the “United Nation Convention on Migrants’ Rights” came into force on July 01, 2003, the number of signatory countries remains rather limited. To become effective, this convention “requires ratification by many more states, including immigrant receiving developed countries and emigrant sending countries like Pakistan. Also from the point of justice, these “communities’ rights are often compromised” as “they are mostly in 3D occupations and often not having the status of citizenship, they are not part of representation in labor unions or for government benefits. Migrant rights are also not highlighted by dispatching governments due to other reasons: competition in labor market often results in exploitation; lack of regulated legal frameworks and channels; increase in xenophobia and racism; lack of protective mechanism,” etc.

International practices

Estimates have it that the Indian emigrants’ count varies between 30 and 22 million. They are sprinkled over all continents—more than 180 countries. The Government of India had also coined groups like “Persons of Indian Origin” (PIOs); and “Overseas Citizens of India” (OCIs). The term PIO was withdrawn on January 09, 2015, and this category was merged with Over Seas Citizens of India (OCI). As per the Ministry of External Affairs(MOEA), there are approximately 30.8 million Indian persons residing outside India.

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India leads the World numerically in diaspora count, “with over 15.6 million according to United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs”. Statistics of May 2012 indicate the “population of Overseas Indians, as about 21,909,875, comprising of 10,037,761 Non Resident Indians (NRI) and 11,872,114 Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) respectively, inhabiting about 180 countries” During 2013-14 remittances were $75 billion; a hefty 19 percent hike from the previous year i.e. US$ 66 billion.

The Indian model of managing Indian immigrants 

The preamble on the website of MOEA pertaining to overseas Indians states:“India has the second largest Diaspora in the world. Yet, it is difficult to speak of one great Indian Diaspora. In the last three decades of the 20th century the character of migration began to change and a new diaspora led by high skilled professionals moving to the Western world and semi-skilled contract workers moving to the Gulf, West and South East Asia emerged”.

The Indian government does not permit people of Indian origin residing in other countries to opt for citizenship of their country of residence. It is compulsory for them to hold Indian passports. The term NRI is applicable only to those who opt to retain Indian passports. The term NRI came into frequent usage during the 1980s when India, short on foreign exchange, made an effort to enhance remittances by instituting additional incentives like tax and interest reimbursements in their bank dealings alongside discounts to citizens of India having remittances and other income from abroad. Indian passport holders living abroad continuously for about 42 weeks were entitled to be called NRI. 

Those working in the ME stand no chance of getting citizenship of the countries they work in, even if they wish. Non-Arabs are not naturalized in the GCC even if they are born there. Most expatriates cannot even take along their wives and children. India supports this configuration as such workers remain under compulsion to send money to their families, which is a large part of their wages.

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They are also not allowed to own any property in host countries. Thus, they have no incentive to invest in host countries. Most of these Indians are engaged in lower category jobs and have to look back towards their home countries where they would finally have to return after the expiry of their work tenure. Single male migrants are in fact economic transients. Financial target is the fundamental objective they must achieve before returning back home.

Migrants living elsewhere (except GCC/ ME), are not under compulsion to return home. Keeping in view the kind of comprehensive engagement they end up in, it is not easy for many of them to call quits. This is what is called brain drain, whereby highly skilled professionals leave forever.

While efforts of the Indian government are focused on regulating and mobilizing the homeward flow of remittances from overseas Indians, the overseas Indians are also putting forth their demands for various concessions and preferential provisions of some of the services and facilities. On top of this is their yearning for dual citizenship. While Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh have met this demand, India has not yet reconciled to this demand. To ward off persistent pressure, the Indian government had constituted a “High Level Committee” towards the closing of the 1990s to reassess the dual citizenship issue and its associated aspects. This committee submitted its recommendations in 2002.

Dual Citizenship demand was not accepted. The Indian government came up with a middle ground offer by coining two categories called “Persons of Indian Origin” (PIO) and “Overseas Citizens of India” (OCI). India began issuing “passport-looking like cards” to Indians living abroad and having non-Indian citizenship. This was to facilitate travel to India without the hassle of visa acquisition. Some other demands too were acceded. For example, the creation of an independent “Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs”, was a big step. However, this ministry was later merged with the Ministry of External Affairs in 2016.

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The right to vote is not yet granted to the PIOs and OCIs. NRIs do enjoy this privilege as they chose to hold Indian passports. However, the practical value of this privilege is zero as NRIs are not allowed to cast their ballot in their country of residence either through Indian Missions or through the postal arrangement. They are required to travel to their respective constituency for casting their vote; which is not economically viable.

On recommendations of the High Level Committee, a celebration of the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Overseas Indians’ Day), in different Indian state capitals has been formalized since 2003. It is celebrated during January every year.

The Chinese model of Diaspora management 

Approximately 46 million “ethnic Chinese” live outside the Peoples Republic of China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau; this accounts for 3.4 percent of the entire Chinese population. To compare it size-wise, 3.9 percent of Pakistanis reside abroad. Both countries face similar challenges with regard to optimum grooming of diaspora and then efficient harvesting of benefits.

Read more: Chinese Entrepreneurship: Lessons for Pakistan?

The Chinese model is a recent phenomenon, commencing in the 1980s and coinciding with China’s opening up to the World economy. Thereafter China perceived its diaspora as a valuable strength and proactive policies were formulated to reap maximum benefits. President Deng Xiaoping effectively tied Chinese overseas with the developmental strategy and goals of the country.

During the “Open Door Policy” era (1979-1985), roughly 350,000 Chinese proceeded abroad, some for specified tenures and the rest permanently. In November 1985, an enabling law was introduced, entitled “The Regulation Concerning Chinese Citizens Going Abroad and Returning”. It declared travel abroad as a basic right of every Chinese citizen. Restrictions on travel and migration were steadily loosened and the overseas flow of Chinese grew progressively during the 1990s. Conditions of getting prior invitations from abroad and prior domestic approval from the “Bureau of Public Security” were waived off in 2002.

Since the 1980s, attention was focused on the dependents and relatives of Chinese living abroad called “domestic overseas Chinese.” They were employed for liaison with the Chinese living abroad. Their rights were secured in the Constitution of 1982.

Moreover, steps were taken in 1990 to grant preferential rights to Chinese returning from overseas as well as their relatives through legislation: “Law of Protection of the Rights and Interests of the Returned Overseas Chinese and the Relatives of Overseas Chinese.”These included “special admission quota for institutions of higher education”. The Government also evolved policies of attracting investment from overseas Chinese. By the 1990s, China had started to appeal more forcefully to overseas Chinese, and the outreach expanded to include all ethnic Chinese.

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The participation of overseas Chinese in national development was facilitated through “strategic choice of the so-called “Special Economic Zones” (SEZs), all of which were located in Guangdong and Fujian, the traditional emigration areas that were closely interlinked with the Chinese in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macau, and Southeast Asia. Since 2000, the Chinese state and local governments have changed the SEZ model to knowledge-intensive development models, building hi-tech industrial development parks, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) laboratories, and other Research and Development (R&D) facilities and crucibles, to attract new generations of diasporic Chinese to invest in China”.

As China joined the “World Trade Organization (WTO)” in 2001, the role of overseas Chinese became increasingly important – as the focus shifted to the inflow of capital as well as technological know-how, business connections, and talent.

New emigrants mainly consist of four categories: “students-turned-migrants or those who stayed outside of China after graduation; emigrating professionals who sought residence in Western countries based on educational credentials and professional experience; chain migrants or those who joined their families and relatives who have obtained foreign citizenship or permanent residency status abroad; and undocumented immigrants or those who used the channel of human smuggling or who over-stayed their temporary visas”.

The Chinese government concentrated on these new emigrants with regard to engaging them in national development. The objective of its policies was: “bringing the transnational Chinese migrants back to the domain of the nation-state and projecting the nation-state agendas to the diasporic Chinese communities, comprising ‘Four Modernizations’, namely agriculture, industry, national defence, and science and technology”.

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Moreover, a new approach of sending a higher number of students overseas was initiated. Out of these, over 60 per cent got employed abroad through immigrant visas after finishing their studies. The previous state slogan of ―” returning to serve the country” was rephrased as ―” serving the country”, which meant overseas Chinese could participate in national development while living abroad as well. At the same time incentives to return were substantially reinforced through “green cards for professionals with portable skills and the creation of a number of industrial parks that were specifically intended to employ the students-turned-migrants”.

A “Green Card” or permanent residential permit was launched in 2004 with a preference for high skilled returnees with international exposure. Two years later, in 2006, another policy was adopted to encourage the return of exceptionally talented overseas Chinese. In this context, three categories were particularly enticed to comeback: “those who could contribute to technological and social advancement, those who could advance China‘s connectedness to the world, and those with global experiences and an international scope”. Moreover, in 2008, “one-thousand-talents scheme” was launched.

It offered attractive compensations to incentivize top scientists and the like, to return to China. China maintains an effective two way contact with overseas Chinese. Effective multi-level institutions have been set up to handle overseas Chinese affairs.

Overseas Chinese have contributed in a big way in modernizing their country. If we look back to the reform era, over two-third of the entire foreign capital inflow originated from ethnic Chinese. Most of the capital flow and raising of business entities between 1978 and 1994 originated from ethnic Chinese. They have phenomenally contributed towards FDI.

In comparison to India, China’s remittances have been much higher. Overseas Chinese brought in 70 percent of all FDI into China during 1990-2005, while the Indian overseas community sent in a meager contribution—less than 10 per cent of total foreign capital flow to India. Over the years, the Pakistani diaspora has been contributing about 5 per cent of the country’s GDP, which has been varying between US$ 13-20 billion per annum. It nearly equals the export earnings of Pakistan. 

Read more: Dynamics of the Multifaceted Pakistan-China Relationship

Pakistan has formalized dual nationality treaties with 16 countries. But dual nationals are not permitted to run for public office, bureaucratic office, military, and the judiciary, which has caused significant debate.

 Do overseas Pakistani have the right to vote?

Overseas Pakistani’s are an asset to our Country. They contribute a great deal to our country. The Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 also protects and recognizes the rights of Overseas Pakistanis. As our Constitution is a sacred document it caters to the needs of Overseas Pakistanis also.

As per Article 4 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 “It is an inalienable right of every citizen to be dealt with in accordance with law”. Likewise as per Article 17 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 “which provides for Freedom of Association and the Right to Form a Political Party even overseas Pakistanis have been conferred the right to vote”.

Rights of Overseas Pakistanis: a Judicial Perspective:

Overseas Pakistani’s are our asset and their rights have been duly protected by our Courts in Pakistan. A few of the instances whereby the rights of Overseas Pakistanishave been protected by our Superior Courts in Pakistan are as follows:

A Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case titled as Muhammad Ibrahim Sheikh Versus Government of Pakistan through Secretary Ministry of Defence and others reported as PLD 2018 SC 133 being seized of with a matter pertaining to the interpretation of the provisions of the NARDA Ordinance 2000 in the context of issuance of National Identity Cards (NIC’s) to Dual Nationals for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) which were identical to the regular National Identity Cards issued to those who held only citizenship of Pakistan was pleased to hold that All citizens of Pakistan, resident or non-resident (the latter including dual nationals under S.14(3) of the Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951) were to be issued NICs and holders of such cards were to enjoy the same rights, privileges and benefits, etc. being citizens of Pakistan”.

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  • Similarly, a Full Bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the case titled Farhat Javed Siddiqui and 15 others Versus Government of Pakistan and others reported as PLD 2018 SC 788 while dilating upon the provisions of the Election Act 2017 along-with Article 17 of the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan 1973 was pleased to hold that “S. 94—Constitution of Pakistan, Art. 17—Overseas Pakistanis—Entitlement to vote in General and Local Bodies Elections—Overseas Voting Solution (Internet Voting)—Overseas Pakistanis had been conferred with the right to vote as per Art. 17 of the Constitution.


  • Where the right of Overseas Pakistanis to vote already existed as per the law and was duly recognized, it must necessarily be given due effect—Supreme Court observed that prima facie the mechanism of Internet Voting was found to be safe, reliable and effective for being utilized in a pilot project—Supreme Court directed that the results of the bye-elections (for the year 2018) and the vote count of the votes cast by the Overseas Pakistanis through the Internet Voting mechanism shall be kept separately and also secret till the time that the Election Commission was satisfied about the technical efficacy, secrecy and security of the votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis through the Internet Voting system; that in case such determination, made on the basis of reasons, was in the negative and the Election Commission was not satisfied about the integrity, safety and reliability of the systems and the votes cast through the same, the Election Commission shall exclude the segregated votes cast by Overseas Pakistanis from the official result of the bye-elections—Constitutional petitions were allowed accordingly”.


  • Likewise, in the case titled as Nasir Iqbal and others Versus Federation of Pakistan through Secretary Law and others reported as PLD 2014 SC 72 a Full Bench of the August Supreme Court of Pakistan while being seized of with a matter pertaining to the voting rights of Overseas Pakistani’s was pleased to hold that Art.17 (2)—Right to vote—Scope—Every citizen has right under Art.17 of the Constitution to vote to participate in the governance of country through their chosen representatives—Law provides people of the country, irrespective of their social ethical status and religious affiliation, to choose their representative in whom they repose confidence—Every eligible individual should be allowed to utilize the right to vote, irrespective of his caste or creed or any other consideration. It was further held that “—-Arts.17, 89 & 184(3)—Representation of the People Act (LXXXV of 1976), S. 103-A [as amended by Election Laws> (Amendment) Ordinance (IV of 2013)J—Electoral Rolls Act (XXI of 1974), Ss.47-A,47-B, 47-C, 47-D, 47-E, 47-F, 47-G, 47-H, 47-I, 47-J & 47-K [as amended by Electoral Laws (Amendment) Ordinance (IV of 2013)]—Fundamental rights—Voting rights of overseas citizens—Logistic arrangements, deficiency of—Scope—Overseas Pakistanis enjoyed the right to participate in the election process in terms of Art.17 of the Constitution being dignified citizens of the country.


  • Though residing outside the territory of Pakistan, such citizens could not be denied rights to vote on technical grounds i.e. logistic arrangements made outside the country for casting their votes—Once on having recognized that the facility could be extended to expatriates to exercise the right of franchise, further efforts/input of Election Commission of Pakistan was required to achieve the object in forthcoming General Elections conveniently—Supreme Court directed Election Commission of Pakistan to make all possible efforts to achieve the object, so the expatriates could also participate in forthcoming General Elections in the exercise of their fundamental rights conferred under Art.17(2) of the Constitution—Petition was disposed of accordingly”.

Read more: Overseas Pakistanis voting: what are the prospects and pitfalls?

  • In the case titled Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri Versus Federation of Pakistan through Secretary M/o Law, Islamabad and others reported as PLD 2013 SC 413 a Full Bench of the August Supreme Court of Pakistan while being seized of with a matter pertaining to voting rights of Overseas Pakistani’s was pleased to hold that “Art. 51(2)(c)—Electoral Rolls Act (XXI of 1974), S.6—Citizen of Pakistan living abroad holding dual citizenship—Overseas citizen of Pakistan—Right to vote in general elections conducted in Pakistan—Scope—Citizens of Pakistan living abroad, some of whom might be holding dual citizenship, could exercise their right to vote if their names had been incorporated in the electoral rolls—Such right was recognized under the Constitution”.

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  • In the case titled as Muhammad Yaqoob Versus Commissioner Lahore Division and others reported as CLC 2021 Lahore High Court 392 a Division Bench of the Lahore High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to Overseas Pakistani’s in terms of the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act 2014 was pleased to hold that “—-S.7—Intra Court appeal—Functions of the Commissioner—Interference in judicial functions—Scope—Question before High Court was whether the Commissioner was justified in constituting a committee to visit the site of the plots, thrash out revenue record, registration record, Record/Plan of Development Authority, Cooperative Department Record, Housing Society’s Record, etc., when the matter was already under adjudication before the courts of competent jurisdiction—Said order was issued on a complaint from the overseas Pakistani citizen—Validity—Government Agencies on the behest and directive of the Commissioner could not initiate proceedings against private persons by issuing them summonses/notices in order to resolve a civil dispute—Determination of third party rights was unequivocally a judicial function and could only be carried out by a court of law i.e. the judicature, and not by the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission or the Government Agencies, which formed executive organs of the State—Order passed by Commissioner regarding thrashing record amounted to interference in judicial proceedings pending in the Courts of law, where the parties were already appearing—Commissioner had transgressed his power/jurisdiction—Intra courts appeals were allowed”.


  • In the case titled as Shazia Khalid Versus Higher Education Commission and others reported as MLD 2021 Lahore High Court 868 a Single Bench of the Lahore High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to the High Education Commission Ordinance 2002 in the context of Overseas was pleased to hold that “—-Preamble—Constitution of Pakistan, Art.4—Equivalence of Ph.D degree—Degree was awarded to the Assistant professor of University through distance and online learning program from a foreign university under the scholarship granted by the University—Request of the petitioner (Assistant Professor) for equavelance of her Ph.D was refused on the ground that degree-in-question was not awarded to the petitioner by any of the chartered universities and that the petitioner had taken contradictory stance in her application form submitted before the respondent-HEC—Plea of the petitioner was that no objection was raised throughout the whole process of getting Ph.D degree—Validity—Record revealed that respondent-HEC had sought information from respondent-University during scrutiny of the application submitted by the petitioner before HEC and the respondent-university replied that change of foreign university by the petitioner was not known/intimated to them.


  • Overseas Scholarship Committee of the University, in the present case, had decided to release of scholarship amount subject to submission of reply from the HEC, however, such reply was not available on record on the basis of which (reply) the Committee approved the scholarship amount—Record was also silent about a change of study from one university to the other one by the university-respondent—Even the petitioner had not attached her complete documents while submitting an application for equivalence of her Ph.D. degree—High Court set aside the impugned letter refusing the request of (the petitioner) for equivalence of her Ph.D degree and directed the respondents to pass speaking order strictly after examining the record as well as hearing all concerned including the petitioner—Constitutional petition was disposed of accordingly”.

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  • In the case titled as Abdul Wali through Special Attorney Versus State Bank of Pakistan through Director Banking Conduct and Consumer Protection Department and 4 others reported as CLD 2020 Lahore High Court 147 a Single Bench of the Lahore High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to Overseas Pakistanis in the context of the Banking Companies Ordinance 1962 was pleased to hold that “—-S. 41—Offences in Respect of Banks (Special Courts) Ordinance (IX of 1984), S. 5—Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act (XX of 2014), S. 2(i)—Constitution of Pakistan, Arts. 4, 5, 9, 18, 23, 24& 260—“Overseas Pakistani”—Grievance, non-redressal of—Petitioner was an overseas Pakistani from whose Pakistani Bank account, significant amount was embezzled—Plea raised by petitioner was that State Bank of Pakistan did not proceed with the matter despite many complaints—Validity—If petitioner was an “overseas Pakistani” as defined under S. 2(i) of Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act, 2014 then being citizen of Pakistan he had inalienable rights defined under Arts. 23& 24 of Constitution, i.e., right to acquire, hold and dispose property and its protection—Every citizen had an inalienable right under Art. 4 of Constitution wherever he was and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan to enjoy protection of law and to be treated in accordance with law—High Court directed State Bank of Pakistan to inquire/examine matter and record in detail as per Banking Companies Ordinance, 1962 and after hearing parties, if case was made out against the Bank then grievance of petitioner was to be redressed—Constitutional petition was disposed of accordingly”.


  • In the case titled as Tariq Mehmood Versus Punjab Overseas Pakistani Commission and 2 others reported as PLD 2020 Lahore High Court 49 a Single Bench of the Lahore High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to Overseas Pakistani’s in the context of the Punjab Overseas Pakistani Commission Act 2014 was pleased to hold that —-Ss. 2(i), 3, 4 & 7-Constitution of Pakistan, Arts. 4, 5(2), 23, 24 & 260—Overseas Pakistani—Fraud in real estate—Fictitious sale deed—Complaint before Vice Chairperson of Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission (‘the Commission’) provided the petitioner/complainant was an overseas Pakistani as defined under S.2(i) of the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act, 2014 (‘the Act’), then being a citizen of Pakistan he had inalienable rights defined under Art. 23 & 24 of the Constitution i.e. right to acquire, hold and dispose of the property and its protection—Article 4 of the Constitution clearly provided that it was the inalienable right of every citizen, wherever he may be, and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan, to enjoy the protection of the law and to be treated in accordance with law and no action detrimental to the life, liberty, body, reputation or property of any person was to be taken except in accordance with the law.


  • Said Article clearly protected the citizens of Pakistan defined under Art.260 of the Constitution whether inside or outside Pakistan (wherever they may be)—Further Art.5(2) of the Constitution stated that obedience to the Constitution and law was the inviolable obligation of every citizen wherever he may be and of every other person for the time being within Pakistan—Petitioner through present constitutional petition had only sought direction against the Vice Chairman of the Commission to do what he was required by law to do—Section 7 of the Act empowered the Commissioner to transmit the complaint (of an overseas Pakistani) to a Government Agency—High Court directed that if the petitioner was an overseas Pakistani as defined under the Act, the Vice Chairperson shall refer the matter to the Commissioner of the Commission, who shall enquire/examine the complaint and the record in detail, and then after hearing both the parties, if a case was made out against those who provided the fictitious sale deed, the same shall be referred to the concerned Government Agency as per the Act/law, and grievance of petitioner shall be redressed within a period of one month—Constitutional petition was disposed of accordingly”.

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  • In the case titled Tanveer Chisti Versus City Police Officer and others reported as PLD 2020 Lahore High Court 453 a Single Bench of the Lahore High Court was pleased to hold that “—-Ss. 2(g) & 2(i)—Complaint filed by ‘Overseas Pakistani’ before the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission (‘the Commission’)—Pre-requisites—Commission, had to firstly, ensure that the person preferring a complaint to it, fell under the definition of “Overseas Pakistani”, before taking any step, under the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act, 2014 (‘the Act’) or proceeding with his complaint—For a complainant, this was the necessary foundational touchstone, which was required to be met, for putting in place the extraordinary forum to seek redressal of his grievance, against a Government Agency, and it was this very quintessential part, which was required to be determined, in the first instance by the Commission, before proceeding with the complaint, and adopting the mechanism of transmitting the same to the Government Agency while recommending initiation of disciplinary actions against the delinquent. —-S. 2(i)—Complaint filed by ‘Overseas Pakistani’ before the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission (‘the Commission’)—‘Overseas Pakistani’—Scope—Person merely having the nationality of another country but living in Pakistan permanently could not be termed as an Overseas Pakistani [for purposes of the Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act, 2014 (‘the Act’)].


  • Said Act provided a mechanism for redressal of grievance and protection for Overseas Pakistani only and not for every dual national—In order to invoke jurisdiction of the Commission, a person had to show that he was an Overseas Pakistani with Pakistani origin and he/she either permanently or temporarily resided outside Pakistan for employment, business or any other purpose as defined in the Act with the intention to stay there for an unspecified period.—-S. 7—Overseas Pakistanis Commissioner (‘the Commissioner’), powers of—Scope—Punjab Overseas Pakistanis Commission Act, 2014 (‘the Act’) did not authorize the Commissioner or the Government Agencies to either register a case or file a suit against a private person either on the complaint so filed, or on behalf of an Overseas Pakistani in any manner—Commissioner was empowered to only transmit a complaint received from an Overseas Pakistani to a Government Agency for redressal, or to refer any complaint of an Overseas Pakistani to the Ombudsman for further necessary action in accordance with the law.—-S. 2(i)—Constitution of Pakistan, Art. 4(1)—‘Overseas Pakistani’—No preferential treatment for resolution of disputes—Overseas Pakistanis, no matter wherever they may be, were subject to the same protection of the law as every other Pakistani without any discrimination—Equal was not preferential and thus Overseas Pakistanis were not given any preference for resolutions of disputes by the Government Agencies”.


  • In the case titled as Muhammad Lahrasib Versus Ghulam Ahmed Chaudhry through Legal Heirs and others reported as PLD 2019 Islamabad High Court 544 a Single Bench of the Islamabad High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to Overseas Pakistanis was pleased to hold that Moreover, it happens to be a reality that there is no effective accountability for the negligence of a counsel, though the law provides that the litigant who has been wronged has been may either file a complaint or sue for damages. An ‘Overseas Pakistani’, having on one to pursue his or her litigation in Pakistan, has no other option except for relying on the counsel who is engaged after exercising due care. It is ironic that a large number of litigation is pending in the courts wherein ‘Overseas Pakistanis’ have alleged to have been deprived of their properties through fraud and deceit. An Overseas Pakistani is indeed vulnerable and exposed to fraud and remains at the mercy of those in whom he or she has reposed trust and confidence”.

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  • In the case titled as Ambareen K.M. Thompson and 2 others Versus Federation of Pakistan through the Ministry of Interior, Islamabad and 2 others reported as MLD 2011 Karachi 1999 a Division Bench of the Karachi High Court while being seized of with a matter pertaining to Overseas Pakistanis was pleased to hold that “–-R. 15—General Clauses Act (X of 1897), S. 24-A—Constitution of Pakistan, Art. 199—Constitutional petition—National Identity Card, renewal of—Non-speaking order—Petitioners were aggrieved of the letter issued by authorities, whereby work permit was canceled and authorities did not renew National Identity Card for overseas Pakistanis—Validity—Discretion vested in Authority was to be exercised judiciously and not arbitrarily—Exercise of such discretion against the subject should have been based on sound principles of justice, equity, fairness and in accordance with the spirit of the provision in which it occurred and was not merely at the whims of the authority.


  • No doubt that the Government reserved to itself the discretionary power to accept or reject the request of the petitioners but while rejecting the request of petitioners, the Government was expected to act justly, fairly and reasonably, which the authorities did not do—High Court directed the authorities to take a decision at their own after providing the opportunity of hearing to petitioners—Constitutional Petition was disposed of accordingly”.

There is no doubt Overseas Pakistanis are our great assets and are our ambassadors. A Pakistani is a Pakistani whether he is local or abroad. Migration governance is an international issue. There are many ways to address it. The best way is to take the human rights approach, incorporating elements like justice, social cohesion and business ethics.

An overview

The Pakistani diaspora should be made stakeholders in the country‘s politics, economy and social life. We could take a leaf from the Chinese experience and carve an important role for them in the country‘s economy. Contributions of overseas Chinese have made modern China what it is today. Our national leadership must inspire the Pakistani diaspora in a similar way. Owning the diaspora abroad would heighten their self-esteem and sense of pride in Pakistan. This would also help them in securing their rights in host countries. And their empowerment back home would ensure their inclusion in all national affairs, in a befitting way.

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Our views about growth in population need a paradigm shift. We should stop viewing them as a liability and treat them as assets. The world has huge swaths of areas that are rich in natural resources and work opportunities but are scarcely populated. We need to enable our workforce through capacity enhancement and value addition. In the same context, there is a need for systematic effort for evolving a socio-economic framework to make returning back home a reasonably attractive option. Above all, the Pakistani diaspora is our roving emissaries presenting the real image of Pakistan. There is a need to inculcate such awareness at the individual and collective levels amongst our overseas brethren.


May Allah help and guide us all!

Pakistan Zindabad

Pakistan Paindabad!

The writer is an advocate supreme court practicing in Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi. He is a founding partner of Ahmed & Pansota (Advocates & Legal Consultants). He started his career with Cornelius, Lane & Mufti after doing Bar-at-Law from Inns of Court School Law, London, and was called to the bar at Lincolns Inn, London, in the year 2005. Barrister Pansota also figures as a legal analyst in the talk show called Capital View on PTV and appears on other national TV channels. He also writes for various newspapers on current legal issues. He tweets @pansota1.The views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.