Study Guides

The Pakistani Diaspora

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest immigrant populations in the world, numbering around 9 million. The large majority are based in the Middle East, particularly in the Arab Gulf States. Saudi Arabia is home to the largest population, with 2.6 million, followed by the United Kingdom with 1.5 million. Other major communities include the United Arab Emirates (1.4 million), the United States (500,000), Oman (239,000), Canada (216,000), Qatar (125,000), Malaysia, (120,000), Italy (114,000), Kuwait (114,000), Bahrain (110,000) and France (104,000).

Emigration from Pakistan has occurred for millennia and is due to a wealth of different factors. The earliest instances of Pakistani immigration date back to 3000 BC and continued sporadically thereafter with a number of merchants travelling throughout the Middle East. The Pakistani diaspora dispersed significantly during the country’s time as a British colony. Following the collapse of the Sindh in 1842 and the Punjab in 1845, the majority of modern-day Pakistan fell under British control. This saw Pakistani subjects move throughout the British Empire and its territories. A large number of Pakistanis were recruited as lascars by the British East India Company.

Pakistanis also found themselves in other British territories such as Australia and Canada, where they were recruited for major labor projects. Malaysia also was a major area of Pakistani settlement due to the close proximity, mutual colonial ties and a shared Muslim identity. Indeed, Pakistanis constitute a major part of Malaysian identity today.

Pakistan’s independence was not the major turning point in the expansion of the country’s diaspora as was the case for a number of other British colonies. Indeed, it was not until the 1960’s when the population significantly dispersed throughout the globe. Up until this point, there were fewer than 1 million Pakistanis living abroad. This changed as Britain faced a significant labour shortage, particularly in the emerging industrial towns in the country’s Northwest. This coincided with significant political and social unrest at home, including the secession of East Pakistan. This saw considerable population displacement emerge, particularly among males.

British Pakistanis constitute the Western world’s largest community. The Pakistani population is dispersed throughout the country as one of its most prevalent ethnic minorities. The British Pakistani population encompasses a wealth of different professions and social classes as well. In addition to the large number of labourers who arrived in the 1960’s and 1970’s, there were a wealth of educated professionals.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is British Pakistani, Centre for London, Flickr Creative Commons 

London Mayor Sadiq Khan is British Pakistani, Centre for London, Flickr Creative Commons

The population is overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim and generally hail from the Kashmir and Punjab regions of the country. The major hubs are in London, Yorkshire and North West England. In London, major enclaves exist in East London neighbourhoods such as Newham, Leyton and Walthamstow as well as West London neighbourhoods such as Ealing and Hounslow.

The United States is another major hub of the Pakistani diaspora. Pakistani immigrants can be traced back to the 18th Century, although these cases were isolated and rate. It was not until the implementation of the INS Act of 1965, which eliminated pre-existing, racially-influenced immigration restrictions, that the rate of Pakistani immigration to the United States increased significantly. The population is mainly based in the New York metropolitan area, with New Jersey also being home to a major community. California is also home to a large hub of Pakistanis, mainly in the cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco, with technology hub Silicon Valley boasting a large number of Pakistanis. Nearby Canada also houses a large Pakistani population, due to the countries’ mutual colonial ties to the United Kingdom. The Pakistani community in Canada was initially based solely in British Columbia before gradually expanding throughout the city. The relaxation on immigration restrictions in the latter part of the 20th Century saw immigration rates increase considerably.

Currently, the Arab Gulf states represent the largest Pakistani diaspora in the world. This is due to a number of factors. Proximity and cultural similarity are two major ones, as are the wealth of economic opportunities opening up in the region. This accounts for the significant Pakistani populations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain.

The Pakistani diaspora is one of the largest in the world. Despite its long existence, it was generally isolated in a handful of regions and has only exploded to its contemporary extent over the course of the last few decades. It is now one of the world’s most prevalent and wide-reaching diasporas.

Main image: The Curry Mile on Wilmslow Road in Manchester is home to a myriad of Pakistani bakers, delicatessens and handmade jewellery in addition to several halal restaurants and take-aways © Lifeofgalileo.