Why I broke the law at the Islamabad airport

Published: January 11, 2011

Airport security can push law abiding citizens over the edge

While working abroad, not many of us can afford to go back to Pakistan for a visit as often as we like. In 2009, when I finally had some time (and $1700 to spare), I landed in Islamabad. Two weeks flew by and I found myself at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, ready to head back to the US.

As I handed my passport to the official looking security fellow, he looked at my face and said:

ji, aap kay pass protector nahi hai

(you do not have a protector).

With my passport handed back to me, I was dismissed. Having no clue what he was talking about, I asked him why I could not go through. His reply was still that I did not have a protector.

What was a protector? Who was a protector? What was he protecting me from?

The security fellow finally pointed to an alarmingly small piece of paper stuck on the wall behind him that said that all Pakistani citizens working abroad were required to have an official stamp from the Protector of Emigrants, Ministry of Labor, Government of Pakistan.

What the…?!

On top of all this confusion, I was told that a sum of Rs6,000 (read: bribe) was that was needed to let me through. Not surprising. Thankfully my father was still around, and after a few arguments, I was let through and told that I should get this protector the next time around.

Obviously this protector could not have been that important since I was allowed to go through five security checks and board my flight to the United States without it. Later, when I tried looking up the website for the Pakistan Embassy in Houston, disappointingly I could find none.

A year later I was back in Pakistan (with still no information on the embassy’s website); this time fully prepared to protect myself in the 14 days I was going to be there.

For this protection I had to fill seven forms and visit three different banks for pay-orders and cash deposits. While doing it, I also had to get a “voluntarily mandatory” life insurance policy, apply for a new National Identification Card, sign numerous affidavits conceding/stipulating/affirming/denying various declarations and provide an unbelievable amount of photocopies. There is no doubt that the Xerox industry in Pakistan rules all.

The Emigration Ordinance 1979 describes Protector of Emigrants as a public servant appointed by the federal government to authorise departure of a Pakistani going abroad on the purpose of employment, after submission of certain fees of course!

The run-around was not so much of a nuisance as the amount of money I seemed to be dishing out for this so called protection. The registration fee is understandable. I’ll even accept the life insurance. But a welfare fund? What welfare? I asked this question many times without any luck at a semi-reasonable answer.

In total, I had to spend over Rs5,000 in order to get a simple protection stamp on my passport. One look at the stamp and I wished I had justpaid a few measly bucks on the black market and saved myself the headache.

Bureaucracy at its finest? I think so.

Ayeza Zafar

Ayeza Zafar

Currently works with the University of Texas as a Communications Specialist in biomedical research. She holds a Bachelors degree in Communications and New Media from St Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas and a Masters degree in Organizational Communication and Information Architecture from the University of Texas at San Antonio.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    A lesson to future travelers.Recommend

  • http://www.techworld.webatu.com gulalay

    The same thing happened to me while traveled to Finland. The lady over there checked my Visa and clueless, she asked me what kind of visa was this. The WP was in Finnish so she could not understand it. I told her that it was my work permit. Then she asked me if i have any proof of work. I showed her my work ID card and documents proving i work in Finland. I knew she was searching for something to get her bribe. Then she asked me about this protector thing. I did not hav it, and i had to pay a sum of 7000 PKR (bribe) in order to get through it. I think Media should highlight these kind of corruptionsRecommend

  • http://moresulphurthanclay.blogspot.com/ Leviathan

    A protector!!! They gotta be kiddin’ me. Recommend

  • Dilnasheen


    Being able to visit Pakistan every year, I find it quite surprising. I am not sure if its only for Pakistanis working in the States. But a similar kind of issue happened with me not at the immigration counter at LHA airport, but on airline check-in counters where there was a Not OK to board issued against my name which upon clarification came out to be something that Airline and Australian immigration department had put in place. And it would take at least 1 hr after my name is cleared out! That too if the details are correct.

    I don’t know what precautions we Pakistanis should take before visiting or departing motherland, especially the working class.


  • Ali

    Well I had an issue while travelling from lahore to paris, I was going for my PhD and the guy said if you have any drugs you can let it through by paying just 10,000 Rs. To this day i can’t forget thatRecommend

  • zulfiqar Ahmad

    Nice narration with perfect views. I dont know why we are going backwards? I noticed three times when people including a security personl smoking at the waiting room lounge at Benezir Bhutto airport…..Recommend

  • FB

    its still better than getting naked to get yourself screened at american airports.Recommend

  • Nadir El-Edroos

    The supposed reason for the “protector” stamp on your visa is in relation to Paksitani workers sent abroad through state sponsored recruitement programs, such as the agreement between Pakistan and Malaysia to send over Pakistani workers there. However, it has obviously it has become a tool of abuse and manipulation.

    A few months ago I saw the sorry state where two young men broke down in tears when they were told by immigration that they dont have a “protector” stamp. They sat down, and then later another officer came by and asked for a 10k fine! His argument was, that we know how desperate you are to leave and we only want a goodbye gift to wish you well!

    Not to mention the chain smoking cutoms officers who smoke openly infront of the non-smoking sign. When confronted he claimed he was ex-army and he would seize all my luggage. Just goes to show who the protectors are….Recommend

  • http://www.pakspectator.com Sana Saleem

    In think The Protector is a Pakistani Invention ; lol !

    A way to earn money as we are a poor country :)Recommend

  • A Suhail

    A Pakistani colleague of mine from Karachi mentioned this “protector” rip off while I was planning a trip to Pakistan. Before leaving Pakistan I went to the department and paid the amount and got a stamp on my passport. The immigration officer at the airport looked at the stamp and then looked at my and told me you are dump to pay this. Needless to say rest of my buddies from Lahore did not pay a dime and were able to travel. I think its a rip of and the immigration officer decides who he wants to take to the cleaners. Thanks Nadir for informing about the reason for protector stamp, I will spread the word around.Recommend

  • Danish S.

    A friend of mine informed me about the protector before I flew back to US and I got all that done with all the hassels you mentioned. But shockingly, when I got to the immigration counter (at Jinnah Int’l airport) the dude didn’t even look at the protector stamp. It was infuriating to say the least.Recommend

  • http://levelx.me Kryptic

    Pakistan khappey!!!!Recommend

  • Nonsence Article

    Its a rule for day one, next time be prepared and stop whining.Recommend

  • HAamin

    Whatever makes you happy..Recommend

  • Waqas

    Unemployment + Corruption + no rule of law has made our nation like this.

    I also personally experienced an incident but it wasnt about the protector. The guy at immigration just wasted my 30 to 40 min time in asking me rediculus questions like:

    Why did you get a work permit?
    how did you get the work permit?
    What was the criteria?
    what sort or job you do in UK?
    etc etc

    I dont blame him to be honest, its a normal culture in Pak now. To change it, we really need to elect sincere leaders like Imran Khan. Pak is going through v diff situation. Anyone reading this comment, plz do make an effort to cast your vote in the next election! InshALLAH I will try to do it too even though I am in UK.

    May God bring Pak back on track!Recommend

  • Ali Haider

    One of the many embarrassing things that happens to you at any airport in the world these days. Traveling by air has become a huge embarrassment in itself. Be it from Pakistan to anywhere or within the US.Recommend

  • Sirsied blvd

    Please fly in/out, Metropolitian &Cosmopolitan Karachi’s Jinnah International Airport as it’s relatively Modern & less Corrupt. I am NRP since birth & no one asked me ever.Recommend

  • Shariz


  • Qureshi

    Same happened with me at Karachi Airport. That day I realized how bad it is to beg for something in my very own country. However, after few arguments,I was released through immigration but I was more like a beggar than an educated person for that moment. I was warmly welcomed at immigration to the country I traveled on work visa. I wish such officials learn some manners and information is properly communicated when a person enters the country on work visa. Though it is only a means of making more money !Recommend

  • Mubasher

    hahahahahaha. you are not alone dear. In 2007, I was returning from Islamabad to London. I had only one hand luggage which includes some clothes shaving kit and toothpaste. The security guys refused to let me take my shaving gel and toothpaste saying that liquids are not allowed, which I brought in the same bag from London to Islamabad. And the most amazing thing was that two guys just next to me were taking two bags full of Bigen Hair products, lots of bottles of other liquid things and you know how, so, there is no need to comment.Recommend

  • Mubasher

    @FB: :-DRecommend

  • Majid Urrehman

    Never try to do official things in Pakistan on your own. There are agents around for every official work a person could have. Most of the times they prove better solution then moving around oneself. Regarding protector, perhaps no body could advise you that travel agencies take a small amount of money and do this service. One don’t getl any headache as one has to visit travel agency twice, once, when one will submit them one’s passport and second when one will receive it, with protector stamp on it :)Recommend

  • Asif

    Nadir quit dragging army everywhere. Custom itself sucks big timeRecommend

  • ahmed

    My friend once lost all his passport which included his visa and other foreign identification cards. The Pakistani authority did not stop him from travelling abroad because he had a “protector”. I guess thats what it is for.Recommend

  • http://whizzyifti.wordpress.com Iftikhar Bhatti

    The authorities of Pakistan should try to enforce the use of “Protection” somewhere else.Recommend

  • Karim Javed

    Ooh Don’t you know what is a protector! if you were Cricket lover or a Cricketer then you’ll definitely aware of protector :D i thought that he find you a Cricketer.Recommend

  • Khan

    Anytime some a corrupt govt official tries to stop me for some “protector” stamp, I tell them to take me to their supervisor. Most give up at this stage. Those that don’t, i tell their supervisor if they dont let me go I will file a case against them for violating my constitutional right under Chapter 1, Article 15.

    The treat of a lawsuit and/or publicity usually scares these concerned gentlemen for my “protector” away. Recommend

  • zuhaib

    3 months back while I was coming to DXB on employment visa, i came to know about this non-sense protector thing. But luckily in my case I was well-informed one week prior to my departure(thanks to travel agent). And only the travel agent suggested me his own person who will get this stamp for me without me being to go thru all this hassle although it cost me extra bucks.Recommend

  • http://ranausman.wordpress.com/2011/01/08/dear-liberals-listen-please/ Rana Usman


    I thought by protector, they mean something else..

    A very good piece and a lesson. Haha..

    PROTECTOR ! :DRecommend

  • http://www.bonfriends.org/2011/01/08/parents/ Marina Khan

    First of all you dont use the proper method and then you blame it on authorities. Where there are rules, you should follow it. Recommend

  • Fazal (Moscow)

    the protector thingie is valid for 30 days only.. so guys make sure to get this protector stamp just few days before ur flight!

    i found another article with similar story here: http://www.zulfiqar.com/protector.html VERY interesting!!!Recommend

  • http://grsalam.wordpress.com Ghausia

    Every time someone says we need people like Imran Khan to get elected, baby Jesus cries.That being said, the whole thing sounds ridiculous, I bet if you have a dad-like figure with you to scold or threaten or talk things out, you’ll never need to pay a bribe or do the protector thing.Recommend

  • Adnan

    I went through the same thing for the UK and am asked to renew it every time I return to Pakistan. This seems to be a money making idea.Recommend

  • Ziauddin Ahmed

    The Government of Pakistan with its most INCOMPETENT Bureaucrats and successful ILLITERATE Politicians right from top to the bottom has made if possible to create laws and its procedures that are capable to disfigure Pakistan both domestically and Internationally. The word ‘ GOVERNMENT ‘ can now called GOVERN and MINT.
    This PROTECTOR permit should be a very amazing permit for our TRUE Illiterate workers working in the Gulf region, no wonder the staff at the Airport looking after the immigration post are always eagerly waiting for this Rs.6,000 or Rs.7,000 bribe.
    And I can bet that Rehman Malik is a benefiter to this loot and plunder, The Chief Justice of Pakistan must take this notice seriously and immediately get it rectified so that the protector permit IF required by the INTERNATIONAL LANDING LAWS into any country of work should be simplified for the benefit of our citizens who are bringing in a a major chunk of foreign currency for Pakistan by working abroad.Recommend

  • Amna

    I work in the US and I have never run into that when visiting Pakistan. Then again the security people wouldn’t know whether I work or not. How did they know that you work anyway?

    These “laws” are selectively applied anyway. Eenee Meenee Minee Mo….and you ended up being the one who was picked to harrass.Recommend

  • shamim

    Interesting experience and good narrative. I will encourage all to point out such episodes hoping authorities will someday get the latent message.Recommend

  • Omar

    I think its ingenious how the bureacracy thinks of random things like the Protector and then gets away with it as well…Recommend

  • Abu Imran

    This has been a highly amusing thread!Recommend

  • Fawad

    Can any one confirm that GOP has stopped the protectorate stamp for MalaysiaRecommend