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Brain-cum-brawn drain out of Madurai

L. Srikrishna
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The process now takes 30 to 35 days from start to finish: Regional Passport Officer

: Twenty-year-old R. Perumal from Thiruvathavur near here is ambitious as any other youth. He wants to go abroad (read Abu Dhabi) just as his cousins and friends do in neighbouring villages in Melur in Madurai district. He is looking for skilled work in the construction sector.

Trained as a carpenter, Perumal is confident of securing a placement in a company overseas.

Perumal typifies the aspiration of scores of youngsters, drawn from the rural hinterland, who seek to travel abroad in search of better prospects and to escape the fallout of economic hardship back home.

The destinations of choice are the United Arab Emirates and Southeast Asia.

“There is a mad rush by a majority of youth in and around Melur, Kottampatti and other rural pockets,” confirms V. Balakrishnan, Superintendent of Police. He says the police receive on an average 2,000 applications a month from the passport authorities seeking police verification. “I am told that every family in a village has a member working abroad,” he adds.

Says R. Prathip, a human resource consultant, “Having completed technical courses through ITI, many youngsters are finding jobs abroad. Agriculture is no longer an attractive option in local villages. The rural folk want to send their wards abroad to recover the losses sustained in failed agriculture operations.”

The migrant labourers headed overseas are drawn chiefly from Sivaganga, Ramanathapuram and Madurai districts.

Many youth seeking jobs abroad experience culture shock when they get there. “Life is not easy for many migrant workers in the host countries,” says S. Nagarajan, a HR consultant who helps aspirants find suitable jobs in the Gulf countries as well as Malaysia and Singapore. “We identify employers in construction companies and also work out the remuneration package for the prospective applicants. We charge a fee for our services, which are remitted in two instalments by the families of the workers. Usually, people approach us with references from those who are already employed abroad through our channel. That makes our job easier,” Nagarajan adds.

What about returnees among migrant workers? Many do return, either because they cannot adjust to the laws in an alien country or because they feel homesick. Some fall prey to fraudulent agents.

Says Saifudeen, a recruiting agent who operates out of Tiruchi, “With expat laws being tightened for the migrant population, there are only few cases of workers being cheated by employers. The onus lies on the job seekers as well. They should not fall prey to sugar coated words. They should check out the track record of the manpower recruiting agency.”

But the travel industry vouches for a steady increase in the migration of workers to overseas destinations. Says N. Sriram of Balika Tours and Travels in Madurai, “After the introduction of direct flights from Madurai to Colombo, the number of air travellers, other than tourists, has gone up sharply. On a weekly average, there are at least 100 to 150 passengers who travel beyond Colombo to destinations such as Dubai, Kuwait, Singapore and Malaysia, for jobs.”

For the families they leave behind, the pangs of separation are acute. Malaisamy, a resident of Tiruvadavur near Madurai, whose son is employed in Abu Dhabi, recounts his experience: “I sold two acres of land to send my son to the Gulf. My son works as a plumber. He sends us money regularly. But we miss him terribly. He has promised to visit us in six months on a two-week holiday.”

Obtaining a passport, once a daunting procedure, has been simplified thanks to the e-appointment route and the Passport Seva Kendra coming under the Ministry of External Affairs. The process now takes 30 to 35 days from start to finish, says Regional Passport Officer S. Maniswara Raja.

From a meagre 215 passports issued in December 2007 (the year Madurai got the PO after delinking from Tiruchi), the number of passports granted rose to 1,68,942 in 2012. The figures suggest a brain-cum-brawn drain out of Madurai.

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