Recently, our great Kaptaan Sahib said that he wished President Trump of the United States banned issuance of visa to Pakistanis. The dear man stated that he wished such so that Pakistanis can begin to focus on “fixing” Pakistan. That is a very noble idea and Kaptaan Sahib should be lauded for sporting such concern for our motherland.

However, Kaptaan Sahib seems to be a little misinformed. By saying what he did, he seems to think that Pakistanis who leave the motherland are a loss for Pakistan. By implication, this means that people who go abroad have little, if not no, contribution in the development of their home country. How unfortunate that such a view of things is untrue. Perhaps our well-meaning Kaptaan Sahib should consider the following.

Human migration is a millennia-old process. However, it did not really become a subject of study until very recently. In the early years of migration-related studies, there was significant focus on a “brain-drain” type of looking at things. That is to say, scholars generally looked at out-migration as a drain on home-country resources. In fact, in 1972, an Indian-American economist, Jagdish Bhagwati, proposed that a “diaspora tax” be imposed on out-migrants and the funds raised used for home-country development [A “Diaspora” refers to out-migrating citizens of a country as a collective]. This is, perhaps, what our dear Kaptaan Sahib had in mind.

Now, what is interesting is that the idea of this very “diaspora tax” generated the idea of immigrants being a public resource. You see, a state taxes its own citizens – generally speaking – within its own territorial bounds. That people who were no longer in a country could be taxed by a home-government made people realize that people abroad could be re-envisaged as a pool of public resources and that, perhaps, they could be engaged in other ways. Indeed, when China began to liberalize its economy in the 1980s, Chinese migrants in places such as Hong Kong, Malaysia, Philippines, among other countries, quickly became a major driver of economic growth. They brought in investment capital, new technologies, business connections and foreign expertise. In fact, research shows that the Chinese immigrants have provided 70% of total inward investments since 1979!When this merged with Chinese state-led efforts, China made the history that it did.

The example of Chinese immigrants struck true with perception of immigrants that had just begun to change following the “diaspora tax” idea. Immigrants suddenly went from “drain” on national resources to a subject of great interest. Today, immigrants are viewed as “de-territorialized” citizens (i.e. people who no longer live in a country but remain its citizens) who maintain substantial links back home (e.g. family, friends, businesses, etc.). What scholars have seen as interesting is that even though people migrate they retain important links back home – scholars refer to this as a “myth of homeland”. We see this often in terms of “family visits” (scholars call it “diaspora tourism”!), marriages back home, cultural ties (speaking home languages, wearing traditional dresses, etc.), running businesses back home, and so forth. Indeed, some of the Pakistan’s largest business enterprises, industrial units and educational institutions were established by people who had migrated. Since it has been seen and felt that immigrants retain important links with their home countries, it can reasonably be argued that states can, through concerted effort, engage their own immigrants to foster domestic development.

Such a view is not without reason. Immigrants already contribute significantly to their home countries. The most significant way in which they do that is by sending remittances. Remittances improve spending power of consumers in home economies, contribute to savings, boost investment activity and send foreign currency into domestic markets. Indeed, Pakistan has used its remittance inflows – which are in the vicinity of 16 billion USD a year – to stave off current account deficits. In addition, immigrants return as skilled labor (think of returning laborers from the Middle East) or highly trained professionals (think of Pakistani investment bankers who were formerly working on Wall Street). They also directly invest (called “Diaspora Direct Investment” or DDI), bringing their foreign-earned capital home. The real estate boom during Musharraf era is a prime example of this.

Very importantly, immigrants bring their professional or business connections with them. Pakistani IT sector or telemarketing firms which handle outsourced operations of essentially western firms are a good example. Many such firms were founded by, or are led by, returning immigrants, many of whom used the professional connections they forged while abroad to develop their businesses. Similarly, immigrants return with their foreign experiences (such as automated banking, Smartphone applications-based enterprises [Uber, anyone?], et al) and alter markets, create new demands, and impose new pressures on the state as well as the market. Any government agency or policy directed specifically towards returning immigrants, or modeled on foreign lines, that you can think of will be an example of this. The venture capital-oriented business incubator and accelerator of Punjab Information Technology Board based in Lahore is a prime example. Similarly, high-end brands or educational institutions which strive to cater to returning immigrants are examples of alterations in the market in response to changing demands.

All in all, immigration is not so bad after all. Even when immigrants permanently settle abroad and do not return, they create an important pressure group in host country which can be used to lobby policy interests in state capitals. Conversely, many successful immigrants are routinely engaged to teach at home for set amounts of time, or for offering business counseling to entrepreneurs, and so forth.

The point, ultimately, is that not only is immigration good, it can actually be turned into a veritable asset for a state to foster social and economic development. Many countries around the world have already established extensive policy and institutional structures to do just that. In fact, international governance and financial institutions, including the United Nations and the World Bank, have established study groups and developed diaspora-engagement practices. In short, a “Diaspora Model” of home-country development is gaining currency across the globe.

So then, it may be time to rethink our views towards immigration. Instead, need of the hour is to focus on developing a “diaspora engagement strategy” so that the capital, expertise and foreign connections of Pakistani immigrants can be utilized for the benefit of our motherland.