Exposing inadequacies in emigration policy

Updated - May 19, 2016 11:10 am IST

Published - March 24, 2014 10:05 pm IST

Emigration in 21st-century in India

Emigration in 21st-century in India

Our approach to emigration is not well defined. It is ad hoc or even schizoid. The colonial record of thousands indentured labour shipped to work in sugarcane fields in distant lands continues to haunt us. However, postwar trends in global migration and the impact on economic development have softened our responses somewhat. What distinguishes the current trend from the past is that it is the result of the free will of the individual(s) seeking new pastures to better their lives. Despite several hurdles, globalisation offers a window of opportunity to many.

One significant feature of the present day emigration is its links with financial flows. In 2010, it was estimated that flows of money from immigrants back to home countries were around $440 billion, of which $325 billion went to developing countries. A World Bank Report (Migration and Remittance Flows: Outlook-2013-16, 2 October 2013) showed India as the largest recipient of remittances in 2013 estimated at $71 billion. It was $70 billion in 2012. These remittances make a major contribution to the economy by way of balance of payment support and to investment and growth. Responding to these trends, since 1980s, the government has taken several steps and offered incentives to sustain the flow of remittances. Annual Conferences are held with potential investors (NRIs) ( pravasis ) and these get wide media coverage. Individual states, e.g. Punjab, Gujarat, and Andhra Pradesh send teams or hold conferences abroad to court remittances and investments.

In the early years, emigration was concentrated in Kerala and a lot of work was done on the impact of migration and remittances in that state. The book under review provides a mine of data to show that the migration from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, etc. far exceed Kerala. In the aggregate, the share of South has declined from 71.75% in 2000 to 38.35 in 2012 while the share of North had risen from 16.66% to 39.19% during the same period. The data are based on emigration clearances. Despite the vicissitudes attached to migration, the authors show the great potential and relate it to ‘new sources.’

Given this background, there is reasonable expectation that the policies of the Government of India towards emigration would be well settled, dynamic and proactive. Unfortunately, this is not so. Indeed this book is an expose of the inadequacies of our policy framework and institutional failure both at the central and state levels. The book has been written by two authors who are well versed in the area both in terms of academic attainment and administrative experience. Krishna Kumar is the founder Secretary of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and Prof. Irudaya Rajan is associated with the Centre Development Studies (CDS), Thiruvananthapuram, which has pioneered studies on migration to the GCC countries.

Drawing upon a mass of legal, legislative and regulatory framework, they take a dim view of the current situation. Disheartened, they exclaim, “It is not possible for emigration from 21-century India to be managed under 20 century law inspired by a 19-century mindset.” It is surprising that while there are elaborate provisions for regulating the entry of foreigners into India, there is no systematic legal policy framework to deal with emigration of Indian nationals out of the country . Currently, it is done through the procedure of ‘emigration clearance required” (ECR) while issuing passports. As the authors contend, it creates duality among passport holders and is done without proper legal authority under the Passport Act.

More shocking is the revelation that ‘India has no explicit policy on migration despite both contemporary and historic emigration and immigration of a substantial order.” They make a plea for a policy framework “to objectively manage the contradictions that are inherent in the roles and responsibilities of India as a country of origin, transit and destination.”

The legislative framework has also been weak. The Emigration Act, 1922, repealed the earlier Act of 1908 and sought to prevent indentured emigration. No public policy statement followed in the implementation of the Act. The next legislation came about after more than sixty years in 1983. There were public protests over recruitment malpractices. There was intervention by the Supreme Court. These led to the passing of the Emigration Act, 1983. As that authors narrate, “while the operational aspects got to be deal with under the Emigration Rules, 1983, the no-policy environment has continued to prevail to this day.” The authors refer to inter-Ministerial wrangling and differences over finalisation of policy and how infructuous the efforts were.

Lack of a policy framework has led to failure to create support structures at the central and state level to manage emigration. Many developing countries, e.g. Sri Lanka, Philippines and Thailand, have national policies and provide support to their nationals who go abroad as maids and nurses. India has been lacking in any of these. This is odd. At one level there is so much effort to court remittances from NRIs and so many facilities are provided. At another, there is no infrastructural support to manage the flow or safeguard their interests. The Government or our Missions spring into action only when there are upheavals or crises as in Iraq, Bahrain or other areas experiencing Arab Spring revolts. As the authors narrate the “Nitaqat Episode” in the Saudi Kingdom, we fail to take advance action. They hope that emigration well managed can serve the interests of the country and there is continuing potential in the GCC and other countries.

The book contains valuable data on emigration at the aggregate and state levels and these have been drawn up systematically from other academic studies or from NSS data. There are data on migrants analysed from various profiles.

Several academicians have worked on this issue and there are studies by the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Migration Organization (IMO) and several other research agencies. They are indeed valuable.

This book differs from them in that it blends academic thinking with administrative perspectives. As already explained, its data base is invaluable for future researchers.

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