BENGALURU: Indias in Gulf countries face an uncertain future with job losses and pay cuts. With the oil-rich OPEC countries facing an unprecedented situation – a drop in oil demand and crashing oil price – companies are reducing their output -- thereby impacting an array of allied sectors. So several Indians employed there are getting unpaid leave, or told about an end in contract. This is expected to trigger a reverse migration.
While economists have gauged a wide impact on states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu which heavily depend on remittances from the oil-rich countries, a part of Karnataka -- Dakshina Kannada – is also among them. Recently, a Kannadiga accountant, working in an emirate, got a text from her employer about her termination of contract. With a family in a Gulf country and even back home that depend on her for sustenance, she is among the ‘sandwhich generation’ (as sociologists would call it) who are officially known to be living in the West Asian or middle eastern countries.
While skilled employees who spoke to TNIE are looking at ways to keep their job to take care of families here, those in low-skilled jobs like Kumar (name changed) working in a burger shop are looking to come back. The lower down the economic ladder, the more complicated the situation.
The official figure of Ministry of External Affairs pegs the number of Indians in Gulf countries at 85.46 lakh. However, they do not account for the undocumented workers there, says S Irudaya Rajan, Chair Professor, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Research Unit on International Migration at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. Rajan, who has studied migrant labour overseas for about two decades, estimates that there are 10 lakh undocumented labourers in the Gulf alone. Rajan’s team pegs the overall reverse migration at 15 per cent -- which means 3 lakh NRIs returning to Kerala alone. And when extrapolated to the entire country (for lack of proper official state-wise data on condition of Indians in Gulf), Rajan says we are looking at 15 lakh Indians coming back from job losses in the Gulf, in a phased manner by September.
“When anyone of the Gulf countries gives amnesty to these undocumented workers, we see a reverse migration of 25,000 to 30,000 to parts of India. With the virus, the number will increase by 10,000 undocumented workers from each of the Gulf countries,” he says. “But the coronavirus is an unprecedented situation. Without documentation, hospital benefits are difficult to come by, which is why more migrants will come back from each country if amnesty is given,” Rajan adds. During the 2008 financial crisis, migratory workers to the Gulf managed to stay back because they had connections, he recalls, but this time, the impact will be huge.