IAS Gyan

Daily News Analysis


29th December, 2022 Economy

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  • This year’s, International Migrants Day (observed annually on December 18) must be seen in the backdrop of unprecedented migrant crisis. 
  • It is a matter of serious concern that despite being the largest migrant sending country, India has yet to have a tangible and comprehensive migration policy that upholds worker rights.

Events that led to large scale Migration

  • COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Taliban takeover of Afghanistan,
  • Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,
  • Worsening poverty in the sub-Saharan region, and
  • Climate change. 

Data on migration

Global Migration

  • According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM)’s World Migration Report 2022, there were 281 million international migrants globally in 2020, with nearly two-thirds being labour migrants. While there were 169 million labour migrants in 2019, the figure touched 164 million in 2020.
  • In the larger pool of migrants, South Asia’s share is nearly 40%; further, the South Asia-Gulf Migratory corridor is the world’s largest migrant corridor.
  • Long-term data on international migration show that “migration is not uniform across the world and is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors, resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration corridors developed over many years”.

Indian Migration: Current situation

The recent Myanmar Trafficking

  • Recently, there were the cases of around 300 Indian engineers from Tamil Nadu who were trafficked to Myanmar to work for a crypto-scam and nearly 20 Indian nurses trafficked to the United Arab Emirates for fake job offers. Both groups had migrated after a desperate “post COVID-19 job hunt”.

Job losses of Kerala Migrants

  • According to Kerala government data, some 1.7 million Keralites returned from abroad during the pandemic between June 2020 and June 2021; 1.5 million had suffered job losses. None of them had a proper plan to survive, and were staring at no jobs or self-employment opportunities in Kerala.

Discrimination by Gulf Cooperation Countries exacerbated by Covid -19

  • Nine million Indian migrants are working in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) countries. Though some of the GCC states have passed reforms to safeguard the rights of migrants and to protect them from discrimination, the situation at the grass-roots level is a different story.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the existing exploitative nature of the Kafala system (a ‘sponsorship system that regulates the relationship between employers and migrant workers’) which has invariably resulted in the mass retrenchment of the labour force.
  • The pandemic has resulted in unemployment, under-employment, a reduction in salaries, and, more importantly, in the non-payment of salaries, compensation and residual dues. It must be noted that rich employers in GCC nations who violate basic labour laws and refuse regular salaries and dues, are from different nationalities, including Indians.
  • The recurring problems that migrant labourers face are: irregular payment, poor working conditions, negation of labour rights, the absence of a proper grievance redress mechanisms, and access to a transparent judicial system. Irregular payment and non-payment of wages, and abuse at the workplace have been a long-term problem in the GCC countries. This has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No Migration Policy

  • India is the largest migrant-sending and remittance-receiving country. Yet India has no tangible and comprehensive migration policy to ensure decent living and safe movement of migrants.
  • India manages or governs Indians migrating abroad using the Emigration Act, 1983. In the last 40 years, migration has witnessed sea changes. However, the Indian government has been silent on the issue of updating the Act.
  • The authorities have still to initiate discussions for the smooth passage of a robust Emigration Bill in Parliament. 

An Asian-led campaign

  • Presently, South Asian countries, including their civil society organisations, scholars and migrant activists are leading a ‘justice for wage theft’ campaign for the disbursement of the pending salary benefits and other related dues of labour.
  • Countries such as the Philippines which have recorded the wage theft of their migrants are taking up the issue legally. 

Focus on women workers

  • Attention needs to be focussed on the women migrant workforce, largely limited to GCC countries and also to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries to some extent. Indian nurses and care-givers have been working in the most volatile countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Israel, and even remote Papua New Guinea.
  • Women workers venture to these countries using the services of recruiting agencies on account of major domestic problems. Therefore, the Government should comprehensively assess the situation of migrant women and create women-centric, rights-based policies.

Way Ahead

  • The COVID-19 pandemic has rerouted global migration patterns, restructured migratory corridors, and exposed the untold vulnerabilities and miseries of international migrant labour.
  • The United Nations, through its non-binding resolution, “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly Migration and Regular Migration”, recognises the challenges migrant labour faces across the world.
  • In this context, the Government of India has to revisit its policies in the post-pandemic migratory scenario by engaging all stakeholders and by passing the Emigration Bill 2021.

2021 Amendment to the Emigration Act

What does the 2021 Amendment to the Emigration Act entail?

  • The 1983 Emigration Act has been criticized by policy analysts as falling short in addressing large-scale emigration and its wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact in the current times. Thus, in June 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs invited public comments on the Draft Emigration Bill of 2021, which is expected to reform the recruitment process for Indians seeking employment abroad as it seeks to address the loopholes in the existing act. 
  • It will institute a Central Emigration Management Authority under the aegis of the Ministry of External Affairs as well as a Bureau of Emigration Policy and Planning and a Bureau of Emigration Administration to handle day-to-day administrative operations and oversee welfare of Indian citizens living and working abroad. These authorities will have powers of a civil court. 
  • Moreover, the Bill seeks to digitize records of Indian migrants and conduct pre-departure orientation to make the workers aware of their rights under the law. It also offers insurance covers, skill upgradation and training for those aspiring for overseas employment opportunities. 
  • Likewise, it also proposes stronger mechanisms to regulate recruiters and human resource agencies by maintaining and updating lists of blacklisted and fraudulent agencies, providing accreditation, and giving ratings to employers to make the process more transparent and safer. 
  • Finally, the new bill also envisions penalties for agencies, individual recruiters as well as migrant workers who lack valid permits to travel to work and settle abroad. In this regard, competent authorities shall be empowered to suspend or cancel passports of violators and impose fines upto Rs. 50,000. 

Why has the 2021 bill been criticized?

  • The draft bill has been criticized for falling short on addressing human rights violations in such job contracts. Furthermore, it criminalizes individual workers who may be in a desperate situation or under influence of their employers/recruiters. Thus, analysts believe such provisions will end up disincentivising migrants from seeking redressal of their grievances and push them further into the clutches of exploitative employers. 
  • Moreover, the bill is considered out of sync with international standards that place the responsibility of paying immigration fees and recruitment charges on the employers, rather than the employees. 
  • Women have limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts and are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common, which the bill fails to take into account. 
  • Thus, in placing excessive onus on the individual migrant employee, experts fear that the bill will fall short of any guarantees of rooting out corruption in the recruitment process. 

Experts’ view on this

  • Experts point out that the government should frame migrant-centric policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms in order to ensure inclusive growth and development and reduce distressed migration.