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Govt allocates half Hajj quota for overseas Pakistanis to generate $440 mln

ISLAMABAD (IA Mughal):- The Federal Government has incorporated new Hajj Sponsorship Scheme for overseas Pakistanis to generate $440 million through Hajj Policy 2023, it is learned.  

According to salient features of the Hajj Policy which was approved in the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) of the Cabinet on Monday, the government has increase the expenditure of the Hajj by 36 percent as compared to the last year mainly due to depreciation of the local currency against US dollar.

For the year 2023, tentative Hajj Package for North region (Multan, Lahore, Sialkot, Islamabad Rahim Yar Khan, Faisalabad and Peshawar) is Rs.1165000/ and for the South Region (Karachi, Sukkur and Quetta) is PKR 1125000/. The cost of Hajj per Haji was around Rs860,000 during the last year. The data shows that the cost of Hajj for Pakistani nationals was surged by around 36 percent during last one year due to free fall of local currency against the last year. The USD has been increased almost by Rs.100 during the last one year.  

It is pertinent to mention here that the Ministry of Religious Affairs is mandated to frame policy and to make arrangements for Hajj under the Rules of Business 1973. The Annual Hajj Agreement between MoRA&IH and Ministry of Hajj & Umrah, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) was signed on 09- 01-2023.

The Hajj quota allocated to Pakistan by the Saudi Authorities for the year 2023 is 179210 but due to severe economic constraints, the government cannot afford to allow a massive capital flight, said a finance ministry official.

According to the Hajj Policy, the allocated quota shall be distributed between the Government and Private Hajj Schemes at a ratio of 50 percent each. The Government has given its slice to Private Sector under the new policy. The approved policy shows that the government has given 10 percent its quota to private sector through new policy. The quota of private sector was increased from 40 percent to 50 percent under the new Hajj Policy.  

Out of the Government and Private Hajj Schemes, a quota of 50 percent each shall be reserved for Sponsorship Scheme. Under the Sponsorship Scheme, the applicants shall be required to deposit their Hajj dues in foreign exchange remitted from abroad and will not be allowed to deposit the Hajj dues from the foreign currency accounts in Pakistan.

Owing to economic constraints, the government has decided to incorporate “Sponsorship Scheme” for giving half of the Hajj quota of its citizens to Pakistanis living abroad. Under the scheme, the Government Hajj quota is expected to generate about $194 million and the Private Hajj Scheme more than $250 million, depending on the cost of various packages and applications received for it, said in the draft of the Hajj Policy.

Keeping that in mind, the government has decided that half of the quota, or 89,605, would be offered to non-resident Pakistanis. The non-resident Pakistanis could either avail of the quota themselves or sponsor someone from Pakistan, said the official.

Officials estimated that around $440 million could be saved by offering half of the quota to the non-resident Pakistanis

The foreign exchange cover required for this year Government Hajj Scheme is $284 million. The matching Rupee cover against this allocation shall be provided from Pilgrims Welfare Fund (PWF) Hajj collection account of this Ministry. If full quota of the Government Sponsorship Scheme is utilized, then its dues will amount to USD 194 million as the intending pilgrims of sponsorship Scheme will deposit total Hajj dues including airfare and service charges in foreign exchange. In that case $90 million (284 minus 194) will be required from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP).

The Sponsorship Scheme of Government Hajj quota shall be utilized on first come first served basis. Ministry of Religious Affairs shall decide about the unutilized quota of sponsorship scheme and its allocation to regular/ private schemes or return to Saudi Arabia.

There is no age limit for Hujjaj this year. The intending pilgrims who have performed Hajj within last 05 Hajj years are ineligible for Hajj 2023, however, intending pilgrims of the Sponsorship Scheme are exempted from this bar.

A Place of Departure (POD) wise waiting list of Hujjaj comprising of only 0.5% of Government Hajj quota shall be maintained. 3 percent of the total seats under Government scheme shall be reserved for hardship cases and 300 seats shall be reserved for labour / low paid employees of companies registered with the EOBI and Workers Welfare Fund. Their selection will be made through separate balloting.

It is mandatory for women to be accompanied by mehram. Hajj Medical Mission, Muavineen-i-Hujjaj, Seasonal staff of the MORA & IH and the KSA-based Muavineen-i-Hujjaj shall be deployed for facilitation / assistance of Hujjaj as per requirements and laid down procedure. “Road to Makkah” project facility will continue at Islamabad airport. Efforts are on to extend the facility to airports in the provincial capitals like Karachim, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta.

According to the Ministry of Affair, the Hajj Policy 2023 was shared with various Ministries/Divisions for views/comments of the Ministries/Divisions. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Law and Justice (MoL&J) and Security and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) have mainly endorsed the draft policy.

In consultation with the SBP, the Finance Division will devise a mechanism for remitting the foreign exchange collected through Government and Private Hajj schemes, to Saudi Arabia for payment of Hajj expenditures.

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