4 June 2020
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I think of myself as a daily wager, struggling to live day to day, Ibrahim Amin admitted as he worked on a big project for a US-based security company that he’d started two months back.

Amin is a senior freelance developer who secures tech projects from abroad but things have become tight ever since the coronvirus spread fear across the globe.

“I have a team to pay and we get by when we have orders,” he said, explaining that he ordinarily makes around $75,000 a month but now there are fewer orders. He has hired a team of professionals, emerging as a startup but other freelancers may not be as lucky.

Another freelancer, Mansoor Ali, who claims expertise in a range of tech assignments and “works to stay afloat with his expenses”, says work on Upwork and Fiverr–two popular freelance platforms–has vanished.

He says his work has taken a hit–he used to make around $700 a month pre-coronavirus and is currently making around $200. “My leads are down by 70 to 80%.”

Some of the digital freelancers SAMAA Digital spoke to said local and international markets are haunted by the coronavirus.

Clients are now learning how to do smaller assignments through YouTube tutorials, explained freelancer Hassan Ahmed Zubairi. But for the complicated work, Zubairi said people are waiting for the coronavirus-led panic to fizzle out first. “Web development is hefty work and people cannot do it themselves, so they are deferring those plans for later.”

But while most freelancers are decrying a slump, Hameedulla Khan says he has more leads than ever.

“The customers are there,” he said, “it’s just that they are not willing to pay as much as their projects would otherwise cost.” He said that since the clients don’t find freelancers working at their desired rates, he signs up for the orders. “Overall there is a decline but also an opportunity for me.”

A recently published report by global payment platform Payoneer, the 2019 Global Gig-Economy Index, placed Pakistan’s information and communication sector fourth in the world. It noted that the freelancing community has grown in the last 12 months, from just 4% in the second half of 2018 to 42% in the second quarter of 2019. It based its report on a survey of 300,000 Pakistani freelancers.

There are no numbers, however, to show whether all the payments are repatriated to the country of origin, as international payment system Paypal doesn’t operate in Pakistan.

Keeping that in mind, the State Bank increased the limit for individual remittances from $5,000 a month to $25,000 a month. A statement read, “The enhancement will facilitate freelancers to route greater value of funds…”

But the global pandemic has come close to jeopardizing the freelance market in Pakistan as the plunge was both unprecedented and universal.

Abdul Gh Lone

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