ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Unskilled Indian Workers Abroad

A description and discussion of the legal and illegal flow of migrants from India to West Asia, the problems they face during political crises and when government regulations change.

Migration has been a long-standing feature in South Asia, especially between countries sharing common borders. Yet the “Gulf boom” in the early 1970s triggered a different type of labour movement from South Asia to the West Asia (Wickramasekara 2011). Indian expatriates numbering about 6.5 million, i e, one-third of the Gulf population, are engaged in skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled works since the time of the oil boom in the Persian Gulf region. For more than three decades now these Indian migrants are substantially supporting the Gulf economy through their hard work. Only the skilled workers are allowed to bring their families with them; for the other categories of workers it is an impossible dream. After the contract period ends both semi-skilled and unskilled workers usually have to return to India.

International migration is composed of sending (origin), transit and receiving (destination) countries. Migration from India to key Gulf countries consists of sending (India) and receiving countries (Gulf countries). When it comes to some West Asian countries like Iraq and Lebanon, the role of transit is vital. In order to control, manage and restrict illegal and irregular migration from India to the Gulf countries and Malaysia all stakeholders in the migration process must act together. In practice, the role of the labour receiving countries dominates the flow and they have better bargaining power in the migration process. In this context, the responsibilities of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) warrant close attention in tackling illegal and irregular migration from India to the Gulf countries and Malaysia. The MOIA was established in 2004, with two main divisions, namely, the emigration division of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, now functioning in this ministry and the diaspora division, which was previously attached to the Ministry of External Affairs, now a primary division in the MOIA.1 The emigration division plays a significant role in handling illegal and irregular migration from India. This is so because the main function of the MOIA is to deal with all matters relating to all emigrants from India to overseas countries and their return. Table 1 (p 22) shows state-wise emigration clearance granted by the Protector of Emigrants (PoE) to top labour destinations in the Gulf countries.

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