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An Emigration Bill that does not go far enough


In early June 2021, the Ministry of External Affairs invited public inputs to the Emigration Bill 2021


GS-II: Governance & Social Justice (Human Resource, Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of such policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Indian Migrants travelling abroad
  2. Indian Diaspora report as of September 2019
  3. Significance of Indian workers in West Asia
  4. Why is a change in the Emigration Act, 1983 needed now?
  5. About the Emigration Act of 1983
  6. Highlights of the Emigration Bill, 2021
  7. Criticisms of the Emigration Bill, 2021

Indian Migrants travelling abroad

  • India has the highest number of international migrants in the world according a report released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
  • In 2020, 18 million Indians were living abroad (highest), followed by Mexico 11 million, Russia 11 million, China 10 million, and Syria 8 million.
  • There are two types of international migration from India:
    1. Workers who are categorized as ‘unskilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’ and who migrate mostly to the Gulf countries.
    2. The semi-skilled workers, professionals, students who migrate to the advanced capitalist countries.

Indian Diaspora report as of September 2019

  • The count of the Indian diaspora has increased 10% from 15.9 million in 2015, making it the largest in the world, according to the UN’s International Migrant Stock 2019 released on September 2019.
  • It now comprises 6.4% of the total global migrant population.
  • In 1990, India was behind Russia and Afghanistan as a source of international migrants at 6.6 million with Russia sending 12.7 million abroad and Afghanistan 6.8 million.
  • In 2019, Russia fell to the fourth position behind Indian, Mexico and China with 10.5 million migrants.
  • The United Arab Emirates (UAE) was the top destination of Indian migrants followed by the US, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Oman, as per the data set compiled by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs Division.

Significance of Indian workers in West Asia

  • Around 50% of them are unskilled and another 30% are semi-skilled.
  • Only a small minority of 20% of them are skilled and lucratively employed, but all these migrant workers together form the backbone of India’s ties with the region.
  • Their contribution of nearly 40% of the total foreign exchange remittances to India is critical to its economy. Their labour is vital for the GCC economy.
  • With no option of assimilation into their host countries, their link to the home country remains intact, unlike Indian immigrants to the West.

Why is a change in the Emigration Act, 1983 needed now?

  • For years, independent investigations into conditions of Indian migrant worker living abroad have underlined serious exploitative practices.
  • Large recruitment charges, Contract substitution, Retention of passports, Non-payment or underpayment of wages, Poor living conditions, Discrimination and other forms of ill-treatment are the various types of issues faced by Indian migrant workers (especially of the first category: ‘unskilled’ or ‘semi-skilled’).
  • Prevalence of Poor Working Conditions is very evident, especially for unskilled & semi-skilled labourers who don’t have proper guarantees or medical benefits.
  • Death of Migrant Workers – majority of migrant worker deaths in the Arab Gulf States/West Asia are attributed to heart attacks and respiratory failures, whose causes are unexplained and poorly understood.  

Other Challenges for Migrant Indians to settle abroad

  • High Cost of International Migration – lack of financial resources for most unskilled and semi-skilled people to take up travel.
  • Difficulty regarding Loans – as the Burden of Loans from institutional & non-institutional sources to cover cost of migration are crushing.
  • Loss rather than profit in earning abroad – due to the gap between the migration expenditure incurred and remittances made by international migrants makes life difficult. This also results in flow of capital outside India
  • Increased Debt for Migrant Families – because they end up being trapped in the vicious cycle of debts.

About the Emigration Act of 1983

  • The Emigration Act, 1983 was passed to regulate emigration of people from India, with the stated goal of reducing fraud or exploitation of Indian workers recruited to work overseas.
  • Labour migration is governed by the Emigration Act, 1983 which sets up a mechanism for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents – individuals or public or private agencies.
  • It outlines obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers, sets up a cap on service fees, and establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances).
  • The Act imposed a requirement of obtaining emigration clearance (also called POE clearance) from the office of Protector of Emigrants (POE), Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs for people emigrating from India for work.
  • Emigration Act was enacted in 1983 in the specific context of large-scale emigration to the Gulf, falls short in addressing the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact that emigration has today.

Highlights of the Emigration Bill, 2021

  • The Bill envisages comprehensive emigration management, institutes regulatory mechanisms governing overseas employment of Indian nationals and establishes a framework for protection and promotion of welfare of emigrants.
  • The bill proposes a three-tier institutional framework:
    1. It launches a new emigration policy division in (MEA) which will be referred to as the Central Emigration Management Authority.
    2. It proposes 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.
    3. It proposes nodal agencies under a Chief Emigration Officer to ensure the welfare and protection of the emigrants.
  • It permits government authorities to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to Rs 50,000 for violating any of the Bill’s provisions. When enforced, it can be used as a tool to crackdown on workers who migrate through unregistered brokers or via irregular arrangements such as on tourist visas.
  • The proposed legislation will also maintain registration of human resources agencies, validity and renewal and cancellation of a certificate. Besides, authorities will be empowered to have certain powers of the civil court.

Criticisms of the Emigration Bill, 2021

  • This bill lacks a human rights framework which aims at securing the rights of migrants and their families. For example, the Philippines human rights framework explicitly recognizes the contributions of Filipino workers and provides the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizen.
  • The penal provisions under the law, criminalizes the choices migrant workers make either because they are unaware of the law, under the influence of their recruiters, or simply desperate to find a decent job.
  • Further, migrants in an irregular situation who fear that they could be fined or have their passports revoked, are also less likely to make complaints or pursue remedies for abuses faced.
  • Emigration Bill 2021 allows the manpower agencies to charge workers for service fees, and worse is that it allows agents to set their own limits. This is NOT in accordance with the International Standards.
    • According to International labour standards provided by International Labour Organization (ILO) recognizes that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments including the costs of their visas, air travel, medical exams, and service charges to recruiters. ILO and the
    • World Bank reports show that Indian workers pay exorbitant charges for their jobs and that poorer workers pay progressively larger fees. Worker-paid recruitment fees eat into their savings, force them to take high-interest loans, leave workers in situations of debt bondage — a form of forced labour.
  • This Bill does NOT adequately reflect the gender dimensions of labour migration. 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.

-Source: The Hindu

October 2023