In a much-anticipated announcement, Caretaker Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunications, Dr. Umar Saif, recently shared some thrilling news for Pakistan’s growing freelancing community. During a press conference held alongside Caretaker Information Minister Murtaza Solangi, Dr. Saif expressed his optimism about the integration of PayPal and Stripe payment gateways in Pakistan within the next four to six weeks. This is indeed a significant development, as it paves the way for easier financial transactions for the country’s burgeoning freelance industry.
Pakistan’s Thriving Freelance Community
Dr. Saif highlighted the substantial size of Pakistan’s freelance workforce, which currently consists of 1.5 million individuals working in the IT sector. He proudly asserted that Pakistan ranks as the world’s second-largest online workforce. However, despite this impressive statistic, the absence of a robust infrastructure has been limiting the potential growth of this sector.
To address this challenge, Dr. Saif introduced the E-Rozgar program. Under this initiative, the government plans to provide interest-free loans to the private sector, enabling the establishment of co-working spaces to accommodate 500,000 people. This initiative aims to create a more conducive environment for freelancers and propel the IT sector to new heights.
Challenges Faced by Pakistan’s IT Industry
The interim minister emphasized that Pakistan’s IT sector comprises approximately 19,000 companies, generating employment opportunities for 150,000 people and officially exporting goods and services valued at $2.5 billion. However, a significant issue plaguing the sector is the practice of IT companies holding their foreign exchange reserves and revenues abroad, due to restrictions on repatriation of US dollars.
In this regard, Dr. Saif reported a positive development. The IT ministry, in collaboration with the Pakistan Software Houses Association (P@SHA), has successfully negotiated an agreement with authorities, allowing IT companies to retain 50% of their revenue in US dollar accounts. These companies will also be provided with corporate debit cards, which can be used for international payments, further streamlining their operations.
In a recent move to bolster the export of IT and IT-enabled services, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) increased the permissible retention limit for IT exporters from 35% to 50% of their export proceeds in the Exporters’ Specialized Foreign Currency Accounts (ESFCAs). Additionally, the utilization of these retained funds has been simplified. This change is expected to encourage IT exporters, software companies, and freelance services to increase their export earnings and bring more foreign exchange into Pakistan.
Dr. Saif expressed his belief that many IT companies, which had previously stored their reserves overseas, would now repatriate their funds, potentially increasing Pakistan’s IT exports to $3.5-4 billion. This could significantly boost the country’s economic outlook.
Bridging the Skill Gap
Despite a high demand for IT services, Pakistan faces a shortage of skilled IT professionals. To address this, Dr. Saif announced a collaboration with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to conduct a standardized test for IT graduates. Those who pass this test will be required to complete mandatory apprenticeships in the IT industry. This approach aims to enhance the quality of the local IT workforce.
The National Computing and Education Accreditation Council will conduct the standardized test in all universities, with the first test scheduled for December. Additionally, Dr. Saif revealed plans to train approximately 16,000 individuals in various software services throughout the year, further strengthening the local IT sector.
A World of Opportunities for Pakistani IT Companies
Dr. Saif’s visit to the UAE, where he attended the GITEX conference, unveiled a world of opportunities for Pakistani IT companies. The interim minister stressed the need for the government to facilitate investments in the startup sector. In the near future, Pakistan will launch the Pakistan Startup Fund, a platform designed to collaborate with global venture capitalists and attract investments in Pakistani startups. This venture could lead to the emergence of billion-dollar startups in Pakistan, marking a significant stride in the country’s tech ecosystem.
Furthermore, Dr. Saif disclosed that the process of auctioning 5G spectrum licenses has commenced, indicating Pakistan’s intention to stay at the forefront of technological advancements.
In partnership with the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA), the government is planning to introduce a cell phone financing scheme, which will enable people to purchase high-end phones in easy installments. This is expected to create a market for high-end phones within the country.
Finally, Dr. Saif affirmed the government’s commitment to enhancing cybersecurity and protecting against online data theft. He announced plans to establish a cybersecurity authority in the next few months, a move aimed at safeguarding Pakistan’s digital landscape and ensuring a secure environment for IT professionals and users.
In conclusion, Pakistan’s IT and telecommunications sector is on the verge of a significant transformation. The integration of PayPal and Stripe will not only make financial transactions more accessible for freelancers but also help Pakistan tap into its massive potential in the global IT industry. The government’s initiatives, such as the E-Rozgar program, standardized testing for IT graduates, and the Pakistan Startup Fund, demonstrate a commitment to fostering growth and innovation in the sector. As these plans unfold, Pakistan is poised to become a prominent player in the global tech landscape.