Pakistan’s remittances from Saudi Arabia remain high despite economy slowdown
Statesman Report
KARACHI: Saudi Arabia remains the main source of Pakistan’s remittances despite global business shutdowns amid the coronavirus pandemic, central bank data showed.
Overseas Pakistani workers sent about $18.78 billion back home between July 2019 and April 2020, 5.5 percent more than in the previous fiscal year, with $4.4 billion remitted from Saudi Arabia alone, according to a statement issued by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).
Contrary to the expectations of most economists that money inflows would decline as many workers have been furloughed and repatriated amid the pandemic, $451.4 million was sent back home from Saudi Arabia by Pakistani workers — 5.4 percent more than last year and only 0.2 percent less than in March 2020, SBP data showed.
Total remittances the country received in April amounted to $1.79 billion, 5.5 percent less than in the previous month.
The US emerged as Pakistan’s second largest remittance contributor after Saudi Arabia, with inflows of $401.9 million in April, followed by the United Arab Emirates with $353.8 million, and the United Kingdom with $226.6 million. According to experts, there has been an increase in the use of official channels for money transfers in the wake of international flight suspensions and movement restrictions.
“As the airline industry is not operational, people who used to send money through personal contacts have resorted to the official channels,” Muzamil Aslam, senior financial expert, told Arab News.
But since layoffs are still expected to affect overseas Pakistanis, a government intervention may be required to further discourage unofficial transfers to sustain money inflows from abroad.
“Sustaining remittances with expected job losses abroad requires an unprecedented intervention to bring between $5 billion and $10 billion of hawala or hundi money through legal channels,” said Dr. Khaqan Hassan Najeeb, former adviser at the Ministry of Finance.
Hawala and hundi are informal ways of transferring money across borders.
Najeeb told Arab News that incentive programs such as lotteries could help put an end to illegal money transfers.
According to the Ministry of Finance, from July withholding tax exemption will be introduced for incoming remittances, while National Remittance Loyalty Program will be launched in September in collaboration with major commercial banks and government agencies to incentivize remitters.
Middle Eastern countries are major job markets for Pakistani workers. Since the beginning of this year alone, the region has provided employment to more than 171,500 Pakistanis — nearly 105,000 in Saudi Arabia alone, according to the Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment.
Concerns are rising, however, whether workers will still be able to seek overseas jobs, as labor markets, also in the Middle East, have been upended by the coronavirus outbreak.
“More than 100,000 visas were issued prior to COVID-19. Some 65,000 people were ready to fly, but now their future is uncertain,” said Ikram Qureshi of the Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).
“Around 70,000 workers have already registered themselves for repatriation from the Middle east region,” he added.