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Indian Migrants’ Problems: Few Suggestions

Indian workers’ migration to the Gulf is a century old phenomenon, however, major breakthrough occurred after the first oil boom (1973-74). Today, approximately 7 million Indians work in six GCC countries, which is more than 50% of estimated 13 million foreign workers present in the GCC. The Indian workers in GCC remit about US$40 billion i.e. around 57% of the total remittances, i.e. US$70 billion India receives annually. Besides contributing significantly to the national forex reserves, the remittances received directly by the workers’ families help in poverty alleviation, support local business, promote entrepreneurship and generate employment.

Nonetheless, Indian migrants face multiple problems at different stages, which are exacerbated and complicated by corruption, involvement of middlemen and fraudsters. Though the Indian government has promoted migration to harness its twin benefits, remittances and employment, it has not been successful in addressing their core issues, safety and welfare.

Recruitment stage problems

The migrants face difficulties in getting passports easily. They have to bribe local police for getting correct enquiry reports. The recruitment agencies of sending and receiving countries deceive them by overpricing visas, incomplete information of the contract period, salary, overtime and related details. The Indian missions abroad are also responsible for adding miseries. They don’t properly investigate the companies’ credentials issuing visas.

Suggested measures:

(i) Indian missions/embassies should make the recruitment process more transparent; put workers’ contract details on the web; (ii) Fraud in recruitment by the agencies should be treated as a criminal act and should not be dealt under the company law; (iii) The government should display names of defaulting recruitment agencies and agents on the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’ (MOIA) and Indian embassies’ websites and protect the interest of potential migrants; (iv) The MOIA should declare visa trading a criminal act in India; (vi) The Indian government should pay attention to visas issued by the household sector, which cause two problems: (i) migrant workers dont under the labour laws of gulf countries ; (ii) mostly kafeels demand visa in connivance with the recruitment agencies and both share the profit. Visa issued under household are a major source of visa trading.

Problems in crisis/emergency situations

The Gulf has been facing frequent crises and turmoil. The Indian government has so far not institutionalized any permanent mechanism with host countries to evacuate its workers. The evacuation of 1-2 million workers in a limited time becomes not only tough, but also a security challenge. Government deploys navy and airbuses as adhoc measures to bring the workers home.

Suggested measures:

(i) In Gulf, the kafeels keep the passport of the foreign workers. Hence in crisis they don’t have papers to prove their nationality. The Indian authorities should issue an identity/biometric card to every migrant worker. This card can also be used for banking, casting NRI votes and establishing identity during evacuation; (ii) Indian workers face problem of communication; they lack money to finance their return trip. During crisis, Indian authorities should direct the banks operating there to provide emergency loans to workers against their identity cards for their return journey; (iii) Government should encourage workers to open account there and have compulsory contributions; (iv) Government should make permanent arrangements for evacuation at the port cities in cooperation with the host countries.

Preventing workers falling into wrong hands

Majority of Indian migrants are illiterate and blue collar workers; they migrate to earn money. Hence, their first preference in the host countries is to maximise their earnings and remit it to home. With such a background, they can be susceptible to the inducement of extremist groups.

Suggested measures to prevent monetary-ideological inducement:

(i) Indian government should incorporate this aspect the pre-departure training programme; (ii) Potential migrants should be informed about the real cause of turbulence in the region, which is purely political and not religious. For this, Indian authorities can take help of Indian seminaries; (iii) Government should establish institutional intelligence linkages with the host countries; (iv) Government should maintain accurate data of migrant workers in different countries. Many workers overstay or live illegally. (v) The Indian authorities should negotiate to bring Indian workers languishing in host countries’ jails to complete their remaining sentences in India.

Hardships of distress-return workers

About 80% Indian migrants are poor. They migrate to support their families and remit their all earnings. Consequently, on distress return they encounter dire economic situation at home. In 1990 Gulf crisis, thousands of Indian workers returned but the state governments failed to provide them either job or loan to start afresh.

Suggested measures:

(i) Government should ‘insure’ the migrant workers, so on distress return, they can start their own businesses; (ii) Government can grant them soft loans; (iii) These workers can also be given preference in opening up SMEs; (iv) Government should establish a pension fund and contingency fund for them.

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Comments

Submitted by M Ashraf on

You put comment in the comment box: Dr Zakir Hussain has exactly pinpointed the problems Indian migrant workers face. They struggle at both the ends, in the home country as well as outside. Indian government needs to take firm actions against the fraudsters and enhance the welfare measures of these workers who contribute significantly to the national economy.

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