Pakistan: Government inaction over unregulated recruitment agents leaves migrant workers to the Gulf vulnerable to exploitation, forced drug trafficking

Author: Mustafa Qadri (Equidem Research and Consulting), Rumsha Shahzad, Muhammad Usman (Justice Project Pakistan), Published on: 8 May 2019

"Through the Cracks: The Exploitation of Pakistani Migrant Workers in the Gulf Recruitment Regime", Apr 2019

This report documents the cases of migrant workers who in seeking work and better life prospects abroad ended up being deceived and coerced into smuggling prohibited drugs to the Gulf countries and, ultimately, sentenced to death and executed...

Section 2 of the report documents the loopholes within the recruitment regime that are exploited by unauthorized intermediaries who operate, illegally, alongside the private firms responsible for the recruitment of workers for jobs overseas known as Overseas Employment Promoters (OEPs). Pakistani law prohibits the use of unauthorized intermediaries. But, in practice, these prohibitions are poorly enforced, and unregistered subagents remain the critical intermediary between prospective workers and employers overseas. 

There are three key failures in Pakistan’s recruitment regime that leave low-wage migrant workers… exposed to the risk of being forced to smuggle drugs to the Gulf and losing their lives:

  • the illegal trading of overseas work visas known as ‘Azad Visas’,
  • inadequate enforcement of pre-departure briefing attendance requirements under Pakistani law, and
  • the failure to regulate subagents and other actors in Pakistan’s recruitment industry that lead to coercive and deceptive recruitment practices.

...The Pakistani authorities can ensure its nationals are protected from these abuses by introducing new legislation and policies, and implementing existing laws. There is an urgent need for coordination between authorities responsible for oversight of OEPs and subagents and those dealing with smuggling and trafficking.

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