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  • Zulfiqar Bukhari says government will give top priority to its overseas nationals in social protection projects.
  • The special assistant OP&HRD will take every possible step to facilitate overseas residents.

ISLAMABAD: Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development has said that government will give top priority to its overseas nationals in social protection projects and take inclusive steps to ensure their welfare.

“Around 10 million Pakistanis are residing in foreign countries and over 0.5 million go abroad every year for different job opportunities,” Sayed Zulfikar Bukhari said in an interview with Arab News.

He said that the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (OP&HRD) would take every possible step to facilitate overseas residents who were playing a pivotal role in strengthening the economy with remittances every year.

“Overseas remittances have increased from $19.914 billion to $21.842 billion in last one year, which is an increase of 9.68 percent. It shows that people trust the system a little bit more, so we need to further increase those figures,” he said.

Several initiatives have been launched for the purpose in a very short period of time, he said, including the decision to abolish the “condition of NICOP for outgoing labour, opening of the Qatar Visa Facilitation Center, launching of the Naya Pakistan Calling Portal, and increasing the pension amount for those registered with the Employees Old Age Benefit Institution”.

As a result, since September last year, 568,464 Pakistanis were able to procure jobs abroad resulting in a 26 percent increase when compared to the same period last year, Bukhari said.

“To increase the export of manpower from Pakistan, 69 new licenses were issued to to the overseas employment promoters during one year which took total number of valid license holders to 2251,” he added.

Moreover, a special counter has been set up in the Model Police Facilitation Center in Islamabad for overseas Pakistanis to resolve all issues in a timely and swift manner.

“Similar facilitation centers will also be established in other parts of the country including in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab. Land grabbing and property disputes are on the top of the list of issues facing overseas Pakistanis,” he said, adding that plans are in place to establish fast-track courts to address these concerns.

Bukhari added that 843 complaints had been lodged by expatriates through the Pakistan Citizen Portal since October last year, out of which 517 were resolved, while 120 did not meet the criteria.

“We have also solved 5,544 cases out of 6,105 of overseas Pakistanis who lodged their complaints in PM portal,” he said.

“We have turned the Overseas Pakistan Foundation (OPF) to a profitable organization as it is in a surplus of 111 million rupees in just eight months,” Bukhari said, adding, “more OPF went into profit more we can spend on the welfare of these people”.

Additionally, the Sehat Insaf Card which was launched to provide expatriates and their families in Pakistan with free medical facilities, has also been approved, while an additional Rs6 million has was distributed to the children of overseas residents as part of a scholarship program, Bukhari said.

For now, the government is trying to facilitate skilled workers to enhance their productivity, a move which will see the private sector play a key role in the process.

“It is a government’s job to govern and provide policy. Unlike the previous regimes, however, we don’t like to try and take on things ourselves which have nothing to do with us. We’re trying to entice the private sector to really lead in opening up vocational training centers and technical training centers. The result will be a big mushroom growth in the country,” Bukhari said.

He said that the OP&HRD was actively exploring opportunities for Pakistanis to use their talent in the overseas markets with an MoU signed to send technical manpower to Japan this month.

“We’ve already sent our first batch of 200 workers to Romania and increased our quota with South Korea by 20 percent, we’re looking at some European countries as well as Malaysia,” Bukhari said, adding that there is a demand for 3,000 nurses from the UK for which “we are working with the NHS to open up institutions to train nurses, teach them English, and send them abroad to avail this offer which is also a first”.

Recently, the Ministry of National Health Services, Regulations and Coordination, and the OP&HRD launched an initiative titled the “Pakistani Health Diaspora” to provide a platform for medics and health professionals to share their expertise and improve the country’s health sector.