THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: It was hardly a year ago the Central Government triggered a controversy after it tried to issue passports with orange jacket for those falling under the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category, mainly blue collared workers. The Centre was later forced to drop the plan.
However, if the stats available with the government’s e-Migrate system are any indication, the Centre need not bother much about the ‘blue collared birds’ as there has been a 60 per cent drop in the number of emigration clearances granted to Indian ECR passport holders going to Gulf countries for employment since 2014.
According to a report tabled in Parliament, the number of emigration clearances granted to Indian workers for going to Gulf countries was 7,75,845 in 2015, whereas it nosedived to 2,94,837 in 2018.
Among the six GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE witnessed the maximum decline in the emigration of Indian ECR passport holders. If emigration clearance was granted to about 3.2 lakh ECR passport holders to Saudi Arabia in 2014, it plunged to 65,542 in 2018. Similarly, the UAE witnessed a decline of over 50 per cent, with the number falling from 2,24,037 in 2014 to 1,03,720 in 2018, followed by Qatar with number plummeting from 75,983 in 2014 to 32,492 in 2018.
According to External Affairs Ministry, there are a host of reasons behind this trend and the most prominent one being the economic slowdown in the Gulf countries, primarily because of the slump in oil prices.
Coupled with this, the Gulf countries are aiming at filling up maximum posts both in the public and private sectors with their own nationals. Therefore, there has been a demand shortage for foreign workers in these countries. Moreover, a large number of Indians holding ECR passports reportedly travel to the Gulf countries on a 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, said Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh in Parliament. S Irudaya Rajan, professor at Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, said: “Though there has been a major drop in the emigration to Gulf Countries of late, I don’t think there would be around 60 per cent actual drop in the emigration of Indian ECR passport holders to the GCC countries. There would be some other reasons which have to be studied, only if the actual situation can be gauged.
Even in Kerala, the migration survey conducted by the CDS has found that emigration from the state is falling and return migration is on the rise. But the stats of the e-Migrate system has to be subjected for a detailed study to ascertain if there is any such actual fall,” he said.
Jagadees D, General Manager, NORKA-ROOTS, said: “The Centre had recently made ECR clearance mandatory for non-ECR category passport holders also to around 18 countries. However, the Centre later put it in abeyance following a request from the NRI diaspora and various quarters.” Though he refused to comment on the stats on the e-Migrate system, he said there has been a steady fall in emigration to West Asia.