International migration has many forms and aspects, and trends change historically. For Pakistan, out-migration is today important, since overseas Pakistanis send home sizeable amounts of money. But not all aspects of migration are beneficial to the various sending and receiving countries. In future, Pakistan should influence the trends more actively.
My first long-term contract outside Norway was for the United Nations in Kenya. I remember that my local colleagues were always envious when I was going back to Norway on holiday and for business in Europe. But they did not know that most of the year, the weather is relatively cold in Europe – unlike the perfect climate in Nairobi with about 25 degrees the year around. In Kenya, moreover, we lived in spacious houses or apartments with lush flowering gardens. And we could afford to take meals in expensive restaurants and go on ‘safaris’. In high-cost Norway, our lifestyle would be more modest.
But nobody was envious when I went on missions to other African countries, although the African capitals were all great and interesting cities. Perhaps, mostly for foreigners, who could afford the best travel arrangements specifically paid for by their employers.
Last week, I received a phone call from a Pakistani-Norwegian friend, who, after five years in Pakistan, had decided to return to Norway. He and his Pakistani-born wife had planned to settle there permanently, considering a wider range of educational options for their children and the possibility of a better income for the family, and the rest of the welfare state advantages.
My friend called to say that it way lonely in Oslo. He said: “People are busy and proper; they are efficient, individualistic and selfish; they follow all rules, almost in regimental ways, even when the summer warmth makes people more easy.”
“There are no electricity cuts, ever, in Norway, but there are communication cuts, always,” he added. In a concluding and broad comment, he maintained: “Pakistan has its problems and Norway has its problems.”
In Islamabad, I met another ‘new Norwegian’, Ziaur Rehman, who shares his time between his country of origin and Norway. He married his Norwegian-Pakistani wife well over 10 years ago. Together with other relatives, they run a family restaurant at Kjelsaas in Oslo.
Zia says that he belongs to a new breed of immigrants, who have a foot in two or more countries. He has not quite left his homeland, and he has only settled partially in the new land. He feels at home in Islamabad and in Karachi, where he grew up, and also in Oslo, where his wife and children live. This set-up is likely to be more and more common in future: migrants have loyalty to their families more than their countries. But it is, probably, good for both countries and it is part of globalisation.
In a newspaper article published a few days ago, the writer took up the issue of Pakistan sending a large number of workers and immigrants abroad. True, Pakistan receives remittances that are, indeed, important to its foreign exchange earnings and economy in general. Yet, it is costly for Pakistan first to educate their young men and then let them go when they are ready for jobs. The investments may well outweigh the value of remittances.
In addition, emigrants, who leave the land, tap Pakistan for valuable labourers, skilled workers and highly trained experts. Those who travel abroad are usually in their best years and they should have contributed at workplaces at home, in politics and social connections.
Next, some foreign countries are eager to offer scholarships for higher and advanced degrees to the best and brightest from Pakistan. The US is particularly good at it, and it is also good at keeping top candidates there. And if they return to Pakistan, they become very America-friendly with professional and development attitudes that are often negative to Pakistan.
The Higher Education Commission (HEC) has policies to encourage candidates to return home upon graduation abroad, especially university teachers, who have been sent abroad for advanced degrees. But there seems to be a need for further rules and regulations. Linkages between the sending and receiving countries should be developed further and incentives should be given so that Pakistanis will return home after their stint abroad.
I hope Pakistan’s new government will study the overseas education and work issues. It would be important to evaluate, sector-wise and overall, to what extent Pakistan gains or loses from the several million Pakistani citizens working and living abroad. It is too simplistic to look at remittances only.
We live in a time when most migrants go from the south to north and east to west. People travel from countries that are less developed economically to those that are more developed. The US, Europe and Australia are the main recipients of immigrants and foreign workers. Smuggling and trafficking are also serious problems.
The pull and push factors of the current migration trends are likely to continue for some more decades. But the types of migration may become more mixed. Zia represents one new type, but there are many others. The other anecdotes above shed light on attitudes.
The world’s economic growth is fastest in Asia and Africa. In a few decades, it is likely that trade and investment in the ‘new’ countries and continents will lead to new migration trends. Perhaps, the Europeans will migrate to the south?
We know that migration trends change over time. It is only 150-200 years since America was populated by large floods of people from other continents, especially from Europe. Norway, for example, sent 800,000 emigrants to the US from 1825-1925, at a time when its population was just in the range of two to two and half million people. However, a quarter of the Norwegian-Americans returned despite the fact that USA was the land of hope and liberty for most; but for others, it was seen as a crude and uncultured land of capitalism and lawlessness.
China, Asia, Africa, Brazil and so on, have economic growth and will be the melting pot in future. Yes, we will be for and against many things there, impressed and displeased. But it will create new opportunities, too, for many people, and mostly positive experiences for countries that receive immigrants.
Pakistan must consider its migration policies. A higher percentage of its great and creative labour force and experts should stay at home, not go overseas as immigrants and foreign workers. Global cooperation includes people, not only capital. After all, the main resource any country has is its human resources. It is the people and their ideas and impulses that create development.
About the writer: Atle Hetland is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.