Overseas Pakistanis deserve incentives

By Saira Rizwan

For last two years, overseas Pakistanis (OP) are being discussed, but for all the wrong reasons. The talks of encouraging OP to invest in Pakistan are reminiscent of ‘cash cow’ treatment and takeover of foreign currency account. The politicians and travelling class ofPakistan takes them nothing more than voters and ‘Bed and Breakfast’ hosts for their overseas visits. Back in Pakistan, the exploitive treatment of OP starts at the airports and continue during their stay in Pakistan, which only ‘ends’ with their departure. The National Policy for OP should include following areas to win wholehearted support of OP and their families in nation building and increasing remittances.

The organizations for OP should serve overseas Pakistanis. A past 30 year media reports show that funds have been mismanaged, looted and wasted by the governments, banks and the OP organizations. Reportedly, the boards of OP organizations in illegal investments have lost billions of rupees, but there is no accountability. The housing schemes are in shambles. Insurance system for OP is fractures, insufficient and lacks comprehensive schemes. The fate of OP at the hands of foreign missions is no different may it be counselor services, legal aid, healthcare or education of their children. Media reports show that OP are losing their properties to land mafia, housing schemes, and corrupt practices. OP have made payments in dollars and Euros but there is no sign of handing over of plots/houses/business property. Unfortunately, it is going on with the collusion of corrupt members of police, land department and judiciary. The killings of abducted victims despite paying ransom discourages OP from visiting and investing in Pakistan. The abduction and release of OP and/or their family members for ransom must end. India has introduced effective steps to protect overseas citizens, their properties and investments. There is a need to put in place an effective security mechanism to win back the confidence of the OP.

OP children should be facilitated in professional education. The new admission criteria in Pakistan’s professional colleges has negatively impacted education of OP children especially girls. Entrance exam is a good system but it has left thousands of OP children out of professional education. It needs to reviewed because the majority of OP working in remote areas are forced to home school their children due to non-availability of schools or colleges. Science students (FSc) are adversely affected due to non-availability of books, guidance, and hostel facilities in major cities.

They have to do self study and take exams in major cities. Female students are worst hit in such cases as they are neither sent to Pakistan nor major cities. Government should accommodate children of OP in other countries in professional colleges of Pakistan. There should be separate entrance exam for OP. The professional college entrance test should be simpler and centrally conducted at provincial/state level for admission in all professional colleges of the province and quota seats in other provinces/states. It will help majority of overseas parents who cannot afford to send their children to take entrance exams within Pakistan or from other countries. There should be three merit lists for OPs; one for those who did FSc from Pakistan, second for those who did it from overseas Federal Board centers, and third for foreign boards (IBCC). It will end problem of separate entrance exams on different dates for various institutions/provinces in Pakistan and facilitate mothers who accompany their children due to long process of exam and results.

Fees and education duration of professional colleges should be rationalized. In Europe and America international students are charged three times the fee of local student. The number of international students is 33% of the total class strength so that the government finances the education of remaining 66 % students. Pakistan can follow the same model in all government professional colleges. It will allow government to fund education of local students and train children of OPs. Each OP student will annually contribute $1500-2200 to local economy in form of tuition and accommodation fee in addition to other monthly expenses. Fee in foreign currency will help government institutions and the government, but private professional institutions will oppose this proposal to protect $6000 to15000 annual tuition fee being charged in their institutions. The lowering of annual fee $4000 in private institutions will help increase number of professionals and foreign remittances.

The government should facilitate OP students to increase remittances. Pakistan needs to bring medical education to 4 + 1 year bachelor program and 4+2 master program in line with Europe. The concerned boards/bodies including PMDC and Engineering council should facilitate and give internships to students studying in overseas professional institutions. This will save time of students, and have more chances of getting overseas jobs because they live in foreign country, speak local language and their parents are also working in the same country. The doctors and engineers can easily help their children and their classmates to get jobs in their setups. Similarly, Pakistan needs to train surplus professionals on lines of India to secure more overseas jobs so that those professionals earn more remittances for Pakistan.

The banking and insurance sectors should improve services for OPs. The banks by giving market rate of foreign currency to attract and improve remittances. Better online services, attractive plans for savings, education, healthcare, marriage, retirement and house building/ property are need of the hour.

Courtesy: Pakistan Observer

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