平和
和平
평화

MIGRATION

INDIA
01 November 2014
GB.IND.08.0041

Managing international labour flows from India

A holistic approach is necessary for managing international labour flows from India, argues Rakkee Thimothy, from the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute in India.

A holistic approach is necessary for managing international labour flows from India, argues Rakkee Thimothy, from the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute in India.

Astute diplomatic interventions by the Indian government have been successful in bringing back thousands of stranded migrant workers recently from crisis-hit Iraq. As the crisis and the subsequent evacuation exercises unfold, a similar incident from the recent past returns to our collective memory—the evacuation of 140,000 Indian migrants from Kuwait, following the Iraqi invasion, in August 1990.

By no means does this imply that the intervening period provided a perfectly secure and stable situation for Indian emigrants in the Middle East. They have experienced turbulence of varying degrees, at times forcing them to return, as in the Libyan crisis of 2011, or creating a looming fear of losing jobs, as when Saudi Arabia implemented Nitaqat, policy initiatives to promote the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector, during 2013.

Despite all these instabilities, migration of workers from India to the Middle East, particularly to the Persian Gulf, continues unabated. This is not surprising considering that labour migration is modulated by a variety of factors—demographic, economic and socio-political—at both the sending and receiving countries.

From the perspective of India, currently undergoing a demographic transition with a high share of youth not matched with appropriate labour market outcomes, Gulf countries continue to be an attractive destination. On the other hand, the Gulf countries themselves are undergoing radical changes that are spurring more stringent immigration policies.

For a major labour sending country like India, efficient administrative and legal structures are vital to meet the challenges posed by large-scale labour migration to established destinations and the emerging ones, and to fulfil the requirements of different categories of migrants. But these are sorely lacking.

While the critical situation that cropped up during the Iraq emergency was tackled adroitly, the fact is that these aspects engage policy circles only during crises. Government responses to such situations continue to be piecemeal and rudimentary; there has been no focused attempt to formulate a long-term policy in terms of strengthening the linkages between migration and development. Here, we provide a few policy suggestions to improve the migration outcomes of workers from India.

Improving the Database on International Migration

The first prerequisite for a well-crafted migration policy is reliable data for deciphering the trends and patterns of labour flows. It is an acknowledged fact that government statistics on the stock of Indians in different countries can at best be considered guesstimates. The data available on international labour flows pertains only to those migrants who, according to the provisions of the 1983 Emigration Act, are required to obtain emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants.

This is currently required for workers who are not matriculates and are migrating to 17 countries included in the emigration clearance required list. The available information is thus incomplete and is of little use for systematic planning, in times of both stability and instability. This differs drastically from the situation prevailing in countries like the Philippines or Sri Lanka which have systematic data on both labour outflows and return flows, which in turn facilitates comprehensive migrant services to cater to the needs of migrants and their families.

Pre-departure Orientation for Migrants

Strongly orienting the prospective migrant regarding the prospects and risks involved in working abroad, this programme is recognised as one of the most effective means to address migrant workers’ problems in the destination countries and to help them adapt efficiently to unfamiliar working conditions in a new socio-cultural and religious environment. India is one of the few major labour sending countries where pre-departure orientation is not compulsory.

Although there are isolated interventions at regional levels, what is lacking is a serious commitment at the national level to empower migrant workers by providing critical information and preparing them to meet contingencies at the destination. International experience suggests that such interventions are more effective when all stakeholders in the migration process—the government, international institutions, recruitment agencies, employers, trade unions and migrant associations—become partners in the effort.

Financing Migration

A critical vulnerability of migrant workers is their excessive dependence on the recruitment agent–moneylender nexus to fulfil their dream of migrating overseas for work. A large number of migrants take loans from money lenders, sell or pawn land/their homes to mobilise money for their journey abroad and even to get a job offer. Not only does this make migration costly, it also increases the risk of migrants getting into employment contracts that may not be legally valid or are merely false promises.

It is important to consider policy options to finance migration, say by providing soft loans to intending migrants. This would discourage irregular migration and encourage remittance through formal channels, among other benefits. The reluctance of several migrants to return to India from crisis-ridden Iraq, perhaps linked to the threat they face from moneylenders back home, is a case in point.

Reintegration

With temporisation of labour flows becoming an indubitable feature of international migration, it is high time that India focused on issues faced by migrant workers when they return home. A frequent criticism is that several reintegration packages announced by the government cater to the requirements of migrants who are capable of making huge investments, sidelining the reintegration issues faced by poor migrants.

Probably this is one reason why several packages, even those announced in response to specific crisis situations (for example, for those who returned following Nitaqat) did not find many takers. This is diametrically opposed to the situation in countries like the Philippines, where reintegration of every migrant is well planned, with several facilities being extended even to the migrant’s family to cope with the process.

Conclusion

India’s contemporary labour migration scenario exhibits weak linkages between migration and development. One fundamental flaw is the reluctance to bring migrants and their families to the centre of the debate and provide them a set of services that would help them make informed choices to make their migration experience rewarding.

India has much to learn from countries like Sri Lanka and the Philippines that have well-conceived migrant-friendly policies which protect and promote migration. It’s time to learn from our experiences and adopt proven practices in labour migration, instead of continuing to resort to a piecemeal approach whenever a crisis unfolds.

Author

Rakkee Thimothy is a Faculty Member at the V.V. Giri National Labour Institute, India (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).

The views expressed are personal.
Tags: india, middle east, iraq, saudi arabia, kuwait

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