Pakistan Institute of Development Economics

The Facts of Return Migration in the Wake of COVID-19: A Policy Framework for Reintegration of Pakistani Workers
Working Paper 2023:1
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The Facts of Return Migration in the Wake of COVID-19: A Policy Framework for Reintegration of Pakistani Workers

Publication Year : 2023
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COVID-19 has caused massive return migration around the globe. Current research investigates the adverse impacts of the pandemic on overseas migration— outflows and inflows. The key objective is to propose a policy framework for the successful reintegration of return migrants in the local labour market. The findings reveal that around 2 million overseas Pakistanis have been affected due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where 1.5 million could not go abroad, and another 0.3 to 0.4 million had to return from the Middle East. The reintegration measures for returnees were mainly made on a smaller scale, and most of the returnees lacked information on governmental support and follow-up mechanisms. Our proposed reintegration framework suggests that intending or potential migrants and their families must be educated about their reintegration or resettlement in their home communities when they plan for overseas employment. The prudent use of remittances by directing them to productive investment will ensure the successful reintegration of returning workers and promote entrepreneurship in the country, creating more job opportunities. The support from the government and enabling factors (district-level opportunities) will ensure various aspects of reintegration, including economic self-sufficiency, social stability, and the psychosocial well-being of return migrants.


The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the existing inequalities by affecting the economy, jobs, trade, and poverty around the globe, particularly in low-income countries where the informal sector dominates the economy (Crawley, 2021). Due to the lockdown and other trade and travel-related restrictions, economic activities essentially shrink and disrupt worldwide. Millions of workers are still vulnerable due to job loss or the intimidation of being unemployed and underemployed. In addition to the health challenges, the economic and social disruption threats are significant in low-income countries, as governments lack sufficient funds to compensate for the income losses (Rasul & Nepal, et al. 2021).

Due to COVID-19, overseas labour migration has been affected at a massive scale since early 2020. On the one hand, millions of intending workers could not go abroad due to travel restrictions. On the other hand, many overseas workers had to return due to a global recession, job loss, changeable socio-economic situation and health-related challenges in host countries (Guadagno, 2020). The combined pressures of the pandemic and global economic downturn have created an intricate situation for migrant workers and host/native governments. All this necessitates formulating a global policy framework, having international coordination and cooperation for providing basic needs and help to avoid forced layoffs and repartition, as well as measures for worker reintegration (Meer & Villegas, 2020).

The precautionary response measures (i.e., lockdowns and border closures) have significantly amplified their vulnerabilities. Although not precisely measurable, the adverse impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are disproportionally higher for overseas migrants than the workers at home. COVID-19’s impacts vary across countries, subject to the documentation level of workers and social security benefits offered by the host governments (ILO, 2020). Various governments in Europe and other developed economies compensated the legal workers and permanent residents; however, irregular migrants were mainly excluded from such benefits (Foley & Piper, 2021). In general, the benefits were also missing for emigrant workers in the Middle East. Employers sought alternative ways to reduce their cost base by wage cuts and sending workers on forced unpaid leave in many countries. Many overseas workers lost their jobs, contracts were terminated, and many had to return to their countries of origin. Many were forced to accept underprivileged terms and conditions of employment with reduced salaries or work without pay (ILO, 2020). Many of them have no option except to stay abroad, hoping for economic recovery, keeping in mind the worse job situation in their native country.
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