Dr Umar Saif, Pakistan’s interim Federal Minister for IT and Telecommunications, shared noteworthy developments on Wednesday regarding the imminent availability of PayPal and Stripe payment gateways within the country. Addressing the flourishing freelancing community, he drew attention to the current scarcity of financial tools to facilitate payments within this sector.
During these discussions with major industry players, including PayPal, Stripe, and Wise, a compelling case for Pakistan was presented, despite reservations, including those arising from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Dr Saif expressed optimism, foreseeing promising updates on PayPal and Stripe services in the coming four to six weeks, heralding positive implications for the freelancer community.
Highlighting the substantial size and potential of Pakistan’s IT freelancing workforce, the country ranks as the world’s second-largest online workforce, boasting approximately 1.5 million active IT freelancers. Nonetheless, the sector’s growth has been stymied by infrastructure limitations.
To address these challenges, the E-Rozgar programme is set to offer interest-free loans to the private sector, with plans for establishing co-working spaces capable of accommodating 500,000 individuals. Dr Saif also revealed a collaborative initiative with the Higher Education Commission (HEC) to introduce standardised testing for IT graduates.
The significance of Pakistan’s IT sector cannot be understated, with around 19,000 companies contributing substantially to both employment and the national economy, boasting official exports worth $2.5 billion.
Another pertinent issue discussed by Dr Saif is the reluctance of some IT companies to maintain foreign exchange reserves and revenues abroad due to constraints on repatriating US dollars. Despite conservative estimates placing Pakistan’s IT exports at $4–4.5 billion, the reality is obscured by restrictions on US-dollar spending.
Fueled by cooperative efforts between the IT ministry and P@SHA, a positive development has emerged. IT companies can now retain 50 per cent of their revenue in US dollar accounts and receive corporate debit cards from banks, facilitating international payments without hindrance.
In addition, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) has played a crucial role in assisting IT exporters. The SBP recently increased the permissible retention limit for IT exporters, allowing them to hold 50 per cent of their export proceeds in Exporters’ Specialised Foreign Currency Accounts (ESFCAs) with the aim of bolstering IT and IT-enabled services exports.