The five-year outflow of Indian workers to Gulf peaked in 2014 at 7.76 lakh. Compared to that figure, the decline in 2018 is as high as 62%. These statistics are drawn from the e-Migrate emigration clearance data, which captures emigration clearances issued to workers holding ECR (emigration check required) passports.
During 2018, the largest outflow was to UAE, comprising 1.03 lakh (or 35%) of the total workers granted emigration clearances. This was followed by Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with 65,000 and 52,000 workers headed to these countries.
In 2017, Saudi Arabia had relinquished its position as the most attractive destination among Gulf countries for Indian workers. In the edition dated August 22, 2017, TOI had analysed the Nitaqat scheme for protection of local workers-the decline in expat workers, including from India, is attributed to this scheme and the economic conditions. In 2014, nearly 3.30 lakh workers had migrated to Saudi Arabia-over a five-year period the decline has been a sharp 80%.
Qatar stands out by being the only country in the Gulf region where the number of workers shows an increase in 2018 as compared to the previous year. Nearly 32,500 workers headed to Qatar were granted emigration clearances as compared to close to 25,000 in 2017, which is a rise of 31%. “This could be because of increased labour requirement as the country prepares to host the football World Cup 2022,” says a Mumbai-based labour recruiter. However, there have been some reports of non-payment to Indian workers by unscrupulous employers; an instance of a construction agency not paying nearly 600 workers recently made news.
The Washington headquartered think-tank, The Middle East Institute, says there are an estimated 6-7.50 lakh Indian migrant workers in Qatar, constituting the largest expatriate community and nearly double the number of native Qataris. While Qatar has over the past few years introduced many worker protection reforms, it needs to ensure ethical recruitment and reimbursement of payment through official means, guided by a regulatory body, it adds.
According to a reply given by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in the Lok Sabha, last December, there are several reasons for the decrease in numbers. “Prominent among them is that the Gulf countries are passing through a period of economic slowdown primarily because of the slump in oil prices. Coupled with this, the Gulf countries are aiming at filling up maximum posts both in public and private sector with their own nationals.”
Moreover, a large number of Indian nationals holding ECR passports reportedly travel to the Gulf countries on tourist visa and get their visas converted to employment visa, thereby bypassing the e-Migrate system. These numbers as well as the number of non-ECR passport holders going to the ECR countries for employment are not reflected in the e-Migrate emigration clearance data, the reply added.