In a bid to address the myriad problems of migrants as well as to draft policies to regulate the movement of Indians overseas for work and education, the government has finalized the draft emigration bill. It is set to replace the extant one under the Emigration Act of 1983.
Need for the bill:
- The old 1983 Act today has become anachronistic and needs updation in line with modern conventions.
- The 1983 Act was enacted taking into account the then large-scale emigration to the Gulf but today that Act falls short in addressing the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact that emigration has today.
- India is among a handful of countries that has explicit legislation for promoting emigration.
- The United Nations’ “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” (SDG goals), has recognized migration as a core element of the global development agenda, and has set several targets that relate to it. So it becomes pertinent for India to have a law in line with SDG goals.
- Today emigration is not just for professionals but should cover student mobility, human trafficking and exploitation, labour migration and employment, migration governance, remittances and migration data. All these matters have to be comprehensively looked into.
- Since 1983, there has been a structural shiftin the quantum, nature, pattern and direction of emigration from India. Therefore, the 1983 Act falls short in addressing the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact that emigration has today.
- At the global level, the contemporary debate on migration management as well as migration and development has gained traction and these issues are increasingly being mainstreamed in the global discourse.
- There is focus on safe, orderly and regular migration. Thus, there is need to have a strengthened legislative framework that is fully aligned with the contemporary realities and harmonized with relevant international conventions.
- The limitations of Emigration Act, 1983 are at times manifested in sub-optimal utilization of existing resources, delays in prosecution of illegal agents, lack of legislative provisions in working out effective framework for various programmes like pre-departure orientation, skill up gradation and other measures aimed at welfare and protection of migrant workers.
The bill provides for:
- Comprehensive emigration management,
- To institute regulatory mechanisms governing overseas employment of Indian nationals,
- To establish a framework for protection and promotion of welfare of emigrants.
Features of the draft bill:
- The draft bill proposes a three-tier institutional framework, with the MEA as the nodal ministry. This could allow vertical policy coherence on emigration matters—particularly in promoting and managing safe, orderly and regular emigration.
- At the top, a central Emigration Management Authority (EMA) has been proposed for policy guidance and supervision. It will also oversee welfare and protection of emigrants.
- Then, a Bureau of Emigration Policy and Planning, and a Bureau of Emigration Administration shall handle day-to-day operational matters and oversee the welfare of emigrants.
- At the bottom, nodal authorities in states and union territories shall coordinate aspects of management related to both emigrants and returnees.
- The Bill makes mandatory registration/intimation of all categories of Indian nationals proceeding for overseas employment as well as students pursuing higher studies abroad. Registration/intimation is proposed to be technology/digital platform driven so as to keep emigration a swift, efficient and hassle-free process without causing any inconvenience to our workforce and students pursuing higher studies abroad.
- Registration of recruitment agencies and student enrolment agencies has been made mandatory. Sub-agents working with recruitment agencies have also been brought under the ambit of proposed Bill. The Bill also incorporates provision for rating of Recruitment Agents and student Enrolment Agencies.
- The Bill has comprehensive provisions including insurance, pre-departure orientation, skill up gradation, legal assistance, Migrant Resource Centres, Help Desks, Migration and Mobility Partnerships, Labour and Manpower Cooperation Agreements/MoUs etc aimed at strengthened welfare and protection of Indian workforce abroad.
- The proposed Bill also takes into account the increasing incidents of human trafficking, illegal recruitment, illicit trafficking of drugs, harbouring offenders under the garb of recruitment or those offering emigration services without due process. The Bill proposes to provide for stringent punishment, in particular for categories classified as aggravated form of offences with regard to women and children.
Issues faced by Indian migrant workers:
Indian migrants face multiple problems at different stages, which are exacerbated and complicated by corruption, involvement of middlemen and fraudsters. Though the Indian government has promoted migration to harness its twin benefits, remittances and employment, it has not been successful in addressing their core issues, safety and welfare.
Recruitment stage problems
- The migrants face difficulties in getting passports easily. They have to bribe local police for getting correct enquiry reports.
- The recruitment agencies of sending and receiving countries deceive them by overpricing visas, incomplete information of the contract period, salary, overtime and related details.
- The Indian missions abroad are also responsible for adding miseries. They don’t properly investigate the companies’ credentials issuing visas.
Problems in crisis/emergency situations
- The Gulf has been facing frequent crises and turmoil. The Indian government has so far not institutionalized any permanent mechanism with host countries to evacuate its workers.
- The evacuation of 1-2 million workers in a limited time becomes not only tough, but also a security challenge.
- Government deploys navy and airbuses as adhoc measures to bring the workers home.
Preventing workers falling into wrong hands:
- Majority of Indian migrants are illiterate and blue collar workers; they migrate to earn money. Hence, their first preference in the host countries is to maximise their earnings and remit it to home. With such a background, they can be susceptible to the inducement of extremist groups.
- Certain countries in Middle East like Saudi Arabia have made Acts such as Nitaqat Act which becomes tool of exploitation in the hands of employer of migrants.
- Most private sector employment of Indian workers in the Gulf operates within the visa sponsorship, or kafala, system. While there have recently been some reforms, the kafala system still ties a foreign worker’s residency permit to a sponsor. Workers require written consent from their sponsors to change employers or exit the country under normal circumstances. This practice has been condemned by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
- Domestic workers, mostly women who work in family homes, in particular suffer from a lack in legal protection. They face a range of abuses including overwork, food deprivation, forced confinement, and psychological, physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Similarly, workers in infrastructure and development projects often end up living in cramped labor camps with inadequate facilities and harsh working conditions, where they are unable to participate in social and cultural activities.
Hardships of distress-return workers:
About 80% Indian migrants are poor. They migrate to support their families and remit their all earnings. Consequently, on distress return they encounter dire economic situation at home. In 1990 Gulf crisis, thousands of Indian workers returned but the state governments failed to provide them either job or loan to start afresh.
Government policies for migrant workers:
- India’s Ministry of External Affairs is working closely with the UAE government to resolve cases of exploitation and abuse faced by its migrant workers in the Gulf nation.
- Many Gulf countries have amended their labour laws like Kafala system on demand from Indian goverrment.
- Workers Welfare Fund and Workrs Welfare Board have been set up.
- Upgradation of skills and skill development to get jobs in other countries.
- High Commission India in Middle East countries has started grievances redressal mechanism.
- Regulation of recruiting agencies and online employment agencies.
Government’s attitude towards international migrants has changed over time. From labelling NRIs as “non-required Indians” at the height of the “brain drain” in the 1970s and 1980s to addressing them as “India’s brand ambassadors” and “symbols of our capacities and capabilities”, India’s position on the phenomenon has come a long way. The proposed bill, with its thrust on strengthening the institutional framework for emigration management, affirms that shift in outlook.