In this article, the migration expert, Dr. Irudaya Rajan argues for a stronger and better coordinated migration policy which focuses on the well-being of Indian migrant workers at all three stages in a migrants life-cycle.
The World Bank classifies India as one of the top emigrating countries in the world with a stock of 13.88 million Indians worldwide as of 2013. India also figures in three of the top five emigration corridors in the South Asia region, that is, India–United States, India–Saudi Arabia, India–United Arab Emirates where the stock of migrants are estimated to be beyond 2 million. With a favourable demographic dividend in terms of its large emerging youth, the International Organization of Migration (IOM) predicted that India will emerge as one of the largest migrant-sending countries in the World.
India ranked first among the top remittance receiving countries in 2014, with $70.38 billion followed by China ($64.4 billion) and Philippines ($28.4 billion). Thus, overseas Indians have contributed to the Indian economy in terms of remittances and it has impacts on all three levels—-our economy, society and families. In a nation, where emigration is a reality for a large section of its populace, is migration governed by any good policy that helps in orderly, safe and legal emigration?
There are three stages in a migrant’s life-cycle—before departure, the period of time spent at the destination, and rehabilitation upon return. Let us examine the governing structure at the three levels. India is probably the only country in the world where migration is managed by three different ministries. The passport is issued under the control of Ministry of External Affairs, emigration clearance is done for Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) passports with the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs and the departures at the airport are managed by the Bureau of Migration of the Ministry of Home Affairs. How do they coordinate the migration management? S. Krishna Kumar and I in one of our latest books, Emigration in 21st Century India: Governance, Legislation and Institutions, have argued that emigration in the 21st century is managed “under a 20th century law inspired by a 19th century mindset”.
Emigration clearance is managed from just nine locations across India, with an approved 1,439 recruitment agencies as of 2012. Of these, about 58 per cent just exist on paper. “The administrative apparatus itself has accentuated corruption as a result of the nexus formed between erring government officials and recruiting agencies,” said the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs in Parliament in September 2007.
At the destination, our workers depend on the Indian Embassies. For instance, both Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates hosts about 20 lakhs Indians each. Most of the workers’ direct contact on any issue is the labour attaché affiliated to the Indian Embassy. In both countries, only two labour attachés are available at both Embassies and consulates. Assuming that each attaché has 20 workers to help them handle labour issues, 40 people for 20,00,000 migrants is not only meagre but also unacceptable to take care of the workers problems, visiting jails, helping to bring dead bodies of undocumented migrants and visiting camps regularly.
On return, we do not have any rehabilitation policy. We should design a rehabilitation policy to help the return emigrants to use their enhanced skills at the place of destination. Take for instance, the return emigrants who worked in the construction sector for about 10 years in Dubai and would have acquired skills which will be in more demand in a growing city like Kochi in Kerala. Do we encourage and offer re-employment to our return emigrants?
Our migration governance is weak at all the three stages of the migrant’s life cycle. The present government talks about “minimum government, maximum governance”. Of course our workers require maximum governance both in India and abroad. It is not because they remit $70.38 billion back to India. The money they remit is not black money but hard-earned “blood money”. In addition, they uphold the Indian flag as Indian citizens in 182 countries while at times sacrificing their life and well-being. They are our ambassadors and deserve their share of migrant rights both in India and abroad and it should not be limited to just voting rights.
Dr. S. Irudaya Rajan is Chair Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Kerala.
Note: This article is republished with the author’s permission from the World Bank Blog.