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ISLAMABAD: The Ministry of Information Technology and Telecommunication (MoITT) has drafted “National Freelancing Facilitation Policy 2021” envisaging building the number of active freelancers in Pakistan to one million and increasing the average earning rate to $5,000 per annum, which will potentially add $5 billion of export remittance inflows by making the country a leading enabler and top marketplace for freelancing with ease of doing business, carrying out skills development, and capacity building.

The draft policy stated that on average, each US freelancer is earning $21,000 per annum, while the same for Pakistan is approximately $3,500 per annum per active freelancer per year.

This policy aims at providing a framework for this target and accelerating its achievement by facilitating the freelancers and increasing wealth creation for themselves, their families, villages, and towns, and earning valuable foreign exchange for the country.

According to the proposed policy, fiscal incentives for freelancers are recommended in consultation with the working group of prominent freelancers and freelancing community representatives.

The MoITT will recommend these proposals for inclusion in the relevant documents such as Finance Bill and State Bank of Pakistan and SECP regulations etc, after due process.

The proposed incentives include income tax holiday on export income/revenue/ receipts of freelancers, duly registered with the PSEB till 2030, subject to receipt of income/revenue through formal banking channels in the specific purpose codes assigned by the State Bank of Pakistan.

Further introduction of incentivised registration fee package for freelancers by the PSEB and access to the PSEB programmes and initiatives, including free and subsidised training, certifications, subsidised office space at Software Technology Parks (STPs) across the country, and access to international marketing and matchmaking opportunities are proposed.

It is proposed for the SECP to introduce a 20 percent registration fee discount for the PSEB registered freelancers, if they opt to register a single-member company. It is proposed to make available collateral-free loans up to Rs1.0 million to the PSEB registered freelancers through commercial banks and financial institutions at subsidised rates.

The policy also proposed that the facility of subsidised health and life insurance be made available to the PSEB registered freelancers under existing and future government and private initiatives, while the PSEB registered freelancers be included in any home loan schemes under the existing and future government and private initiatives subject to providing a record of a minimum of five years of freelancing exports remittances of more than $10,000 per annum.

Such home loan facilities shall be provided to these qualified freelancers at a subsidised loan rate.

The draft policy proposed to establish Pakistan as a leading freelance market globally by creating the transparent governance model, framework and policies and providing international access to markets, projects and clients, to bridge the gap and facilitate freelancers to interface with governing/regulatory authorities to enable business ease, to introduce a robust marketing strategy and promotional plan for freelancers, increase in service exports and foreign exchange of the country and to enable a digital-ready environment across the country and increase the adoption rate for learning, upscaling, and skill practice.

It further proposed to introduce digital banking, e-payments, access to financial instruments, and capital, especially low-interest loans for freelancers.

The draft stated that IT and ITeS export remittances surged to $1.23 billion during 2019-20, including $150 million earned by freelancers.

Whereas, in the first seven months of the current fiscal year 2020-21, freelancers’ export remittances have rapidly increased to $219 million and are expected to cross $350 million by the end of 2020-21.

To increase Pakistan’s freelancer’s footprint globally and gain a larger share of the global outsourcing business, it is essential to devise and implement a National Freelancing Policy.

This would enable freelancers to work within a supportive framework duly aligned with enhancing demand generation and supply of IT and IT enabled services to the international markets worldwide.

With the right policy interventions, the number of freelancers in Pakistan can be increased tenfold in few years, generating self-employment for talented youth, bolstering IT and ITeS export remittances, and spurring economic growth of the country.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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