Pakistanis Giving Up Their Nationality – How Dire Is It?

This recent article in The News painted an alarming picture of Pakistani nationals rushing to give up their citizenship.

300% rise in number of applications? Now I’m generally wary of such percentages  since they mostly always exploit a low base effect to deliberately shock readers. Though curious it did make me.

But trying to figure out what all the numbers thrown together in the article meant was giving me a headache. So I turned into something I could make sense of.

Now picking apart something from this particular news publication is akin to grabbing low-hanging fruit. But since this widely shared article quotes official documents which are apparently only exclusively available to them, a few issues should probably be pointed out.

Yes, an increasing number of Pakistanis (or rather ex-Pakistanis) have been giving up their citizenship. But despite several possible permutations of the numbers here, the nice round 300% figure just doesn’t work out. I did however arrive at another round figure of 150%, which is the 2016 figure in comparison to 2012.

Or perhaps they calculated the difference between the 2011-2012 period and the 2012-2016 period, as the obtuse wording alludes. Which is basically comparing a 2 year period to a 5 year period. Doing crazy things like that can make you fail grade 5 math. And even that doesn’t add up, which makes me wonder if they were basing calculations on an entirely different set of data.

Percentages can sometimes be sneaky little things.

Given that we can only work with the data from this article, let’s stick to a 150% increase. Sounds massive, doesn’t it? How about we convert it into a ratio – 1.5 times more applications in 2016 as compared to 2011. Suddenly the situation seems a lot less dire.

That’s how the perception of ratios versus percentages differs, which is why I often prefer to work with ratios and absolute numbers. Percentage increases for small base numbers accompanied with relatively large changes tend to get clunky and hard to interpret. But that’s exactly why they are wonderful if you are a journalist hoping to maximise the shock effect of exclusive new data – they get you eyeballs and easy Facebook shares.

The stats in the article are a bit muddled in a few other ways.

The numbers just don’t add up.

The annual breakdowns provided do not add up to the total cited (12,918 processed applications) for the entire five year period. But since it’s off by just 53, it might be due to differences in the measurement period or data that’s been left out or something such. Let’s give them the benefit of doubt here (although zero marks for transparency).

As for the numbers of people adopting citizenship of various countries (see second chart above), it is not clear whether the country-wise breakdown is for the overall totals from the first chart. Or are these numbers just concurrent but independent of the first set of figures? The former seems likely, but there isn’t any definitive statement to that effect.

Although number dense, there’s unfortunately not enough info  available to determine any trends  beyond an overall uptick.  We have a couple of country-specific figures for 2012, some for 2015 and a few for 2016, but that’s about it. That’s a shame because this would be some really interesting data to investigate, but which probably won’t be available without pulling some strings.

What’s also a shame are the reasons people are leaving.   

Exactly as one would suspect, these seem to mostly include religious persecution and threats. Then there is also the fact that six of the eight countries in the above breakdown do not have a dual nationality arrangement with Pakistan, requiring people to give up their Pakistani nationality if they choose to acquire citizenship status over there.

On the upside…

this shabbily written piece has piqued my interest in international migration statistics for Pakistan.  I’ll report back here with what I find.