Impact of Migration to the Persian Gulf Countries
Pakistan had a severe balance of payments deficit in the 1970s.
To deal with this deficit, as well as to strengthen ties with
the Islamic states in the Middle East, the government of Zulfiqar
Ali Bhutto encouraged both skilled and unskilled men to work in
the Persian Gulf countries. The government set up a program under
the Ministry of Labour, Manpower, and Overseas Pakistanis to regulate
this migration and also seconded military troops to many of the
By the mid-1980s, when this temporary migration was at its height,
there were estimated to be more than 2 million Pakistanis in the
Persian Gulf states remitting more than US$3 billion every year.
At the peak, the remittances accounted for almost half of the
country's foreign-exchange earnings. By 1990 new employment opportunities
were decreasing, and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War forced many
workers to return quickly to Pakistan. Workers have only slowly
returned to the Gulf since the war ended.
The majority of the emigrants are working-class men, who travel
alone, leaving their wives and children behind with their extended
families in Pakistan. These men are willing to sacrifice years
with their families for what they see as their only chance to
escape poverty in a society with limited upward mobility. A study
in the old quarter (the inner walled city) of Lahore in 1987 suggested
that half of all working-class families had at least one close
relative working in the Gulf. Families generally use the remittances
for consumer goods, rather than investing in industry. The wage
earner typically returns after five to ten years to live at home.
Although this migration has had little effect on Pakistan demographically,
it has affected its social fabric. While a man is away from his
family, his wife often assumes responsibility for many day-to-day
business transactions that are considered the province of men
in this traditional male-dominated society. Thus for the women
involved, there is a significant change in social role. Among
the men, psychologists have identified a syndrome referred to
as "Dubai chalo" ("let's go to Dubai"). This syndrome,
which manifests itself as disorientation, appears to result from
social isolation, culture shock, harsh working conditions, and
the sudden acquisition of relative wealth. Men often feel isolated
and guilty for leaving their families, and the resultant sociopsychological
stress can be considerable.
Data as of April 1994