Recruitment of Pakistani Workers for Overseas Employment: Mechanisms, Exploitation and Vulnerabilities

This study in Pakistan was commissioned against the backdrop of growing concern globally about the particular vulnerability of both regular and irregular migrant workers to exploitation, trafficking and forced labour. It was undertaken to inform dialogue between Asian sender and Middle Eastern destination countries, at a Gulf Forum on Temporary Contractual Labour held in Abu Dhabi in early 2008, along with a sister study addressing similar questions in Bangladesh.

The influx of foreign workers to Gulf countries over the last few decades has created a unique situation in the region, with the majority of the labour force comprising non-nationals. This study was undertaken through fieldwork in November – December 2007. It involved interviews and focus group discussions with both returned and prospective migrant workers in selected sender Districts, private recruitment agents and other key informants.

The study sheds new light on different aspects of the recruitment process and employment of Pakistani male migrant workers leaving the country for employment in the Gulf States. It shows that the majority of the workers secure their jobs through private recruitment agents, known in Pakistan as Overseas Employment Promoters, while others are assisted by their friends and relatives, and others get their visa directly from the employer. Despite the many legal and regulatory protections in place, it appears that exploitation does occur, for example through charging of fees well in excess of the official rates, re-signing of contracts on arrival in the destination country and payment of lower wages than were promised. Evidence showed that unregistered sub-agents played a very significant role in the recruitment process, especially in the recruiting of semi-and unskilled workers in rural areas. Nonetheless, for many returnees, migration was a positive experience, allowing them to remit savings far in excess of what they would have earned at home. The study makes a number of recommendations to further enhance the benefits of overseas migration for the individual migrants and for the country as a whole, and to reduce the risk of migrants falling victim to the illegal practices which still unfortunately prevail.