Engaging Kerala's non-resident diaspora

Contributions of Non-Resident Keralities to the socio-economic growth of Kerala are remarkable. NoRKA Roots has stepped in to effectively utilise the vast experience and knowledge of the NoRKs for the development of the State and to ensure safe migration, dignified living, and successful rehabilitation of returnees.

Updated - December 15, 2019 08:27 am IST

Published - December 14, 2019 11:27 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

The NoRKA ROOTS Business Facilitation Centre at Norka Centre in Thiruvananthapuram seeks to facilitate investments of NoRKs and ‘returned emigrants’ in commencing business ventures in the State. S. Mahinsha

The NoRKA ROOTS Business Facilitation Centre at Norka Centre in Thiruvananthapuram seeks to facilitate investments of NoRKs and ‘returned emigrants’ in commencing business ventures in the State. S. Mahinsha

Over the past five decades, the role of Kerala’s diaspora in the economic, social, and cultural development of the State has been crucial. Although the migration of workers for employment is a universal phenomenon, migrants from Kerala have certain comparative advantages making them the most sought-after.

Able to adapt to technically sophisticated and changing work environment, they have shown themselves capable of mastering new skills and technologies with ease. Worldwide, especially in the Middle East, the contributions of migrant workers are distinct and identifiable.

The country tops the list of nations with $69 billion in remittances it received last year from the large pool of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled as per a study by the Reserve Bank of India. Kerala tops the States with $13.11 billion (19%, ₹95,000 crore) in remittances, showing the contribution of migrants in Kerala’s economy and development.

A series of steps have been rolled out by the State through the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NoRKA) Department and later NoRKA Roots, the nodal agency headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram, to ensure quality of migration and welfare of Non-Resident Keralites (NoRKs) and gain from the benefits of enhanced engagement with the diaspora.

34.17 lakh NoRKs

As per the Kerala Migration Survey 2018, the number of NoRKs is estimated to be 34.17 lakh in 2018, which was 36.5 lakh in 2014. The number of emigrants from the State also declined to 21.2 lakh from 24 lakh in the same period. The ‘returned emigrants’ (REM), according to the survey, was 12.94 lakh in 2018, up from 11.5 lakh in 2008.

Malappuram has the largest number of residents who have lived outside India with a total NoRK population of 7.16 lakh in 2018, followed by Kollam 4.06 lakh, and Kannur 3.44 lakh.

The countries in West Asia account for 89.2% of Kerala’s emigrant population. As many as 39.1% of emigrants are in the United Arab Emirates and 23% in Saudi Arabia.

Automation coupled with citizen preference in employment policies in the Middle East countries, slowdown in global economic growth, and cheap labour have resulted in the increase in the number of return emigrants and a sharp drop in remittances from the NoRKs.

Reverse migration

Demographers and planners are concerned over the reverse migration.

Surprisingly, the highest number of ‘returned emigrants’ is from Malappuram, followed by Thiruvananthapuram and Kottayam.

Many who return after years of toil abroad and without adequate savings are not able to utilise their skills and work experience, which affects their employability.

Compared to the trend in the 1970s and during the exodus from the State to the Gulf, a large number of the skilled workforce of doctors, nurses, engineers, IT professionals and teachers are now seeking employment outside the country. Of those employed abroad from the State, 67.78% are professionals such as businessmen, teachers, bankers; 3.78% are engineers, doctors (0.53%), nurses (6.37%), IT professionals (2.23%), drivers (11.85%), and 10.99% are salesmen.

In tune with the changing scenario, NoRKA Roots has also geared up to cater to the needs of jobseekers and demand of the recruiters with the change in the choice of professions emigrants seek abroad.

NoRKA Roots role

A multi-sectoral approach has been adopted to face the challenges and the tag is “We are with the NoRKs”.

One-sixth of the State population are expatriates. Of the ₹81-crore budget allocation to the department, ₹66 crore is for the Plan schemes, showing the emphasis given by the Government for the welfare of the NoRKs. Mandated for the overall welfare of the NoRKs, the agency focusses on recruitment, rehabilitation, reintegration, and resettlement and is a unique entity that touches whole stages of migration.

Apart from certificate attestation, issue of NoRK insurance card, Pravasi ID card, skill upgrading training programmes, over a dozen-and-a-half schemes have been rolled out by NoRKA Roots. Santhwana, a distress relief scheme intended to provide time bound financial support to expatriates who had returned to the homeland for medical treatment, death assistance, marriage assistance, and purchase of physical aids, stands out.

The NoRKA Department Project for Return Emigrants (NRPREM), a rehabilitation package that aims at promoting entrepreneurship for returnees, is another key project. Subsidy for entrepreneurship having a seed capital of up to ₹30 lakh is the attraction. Last year, 791 returnees became entrepreneurs availing themselves of the scheme.

Lending a helping hand to the government to attract investment, the NoRKA Business Facilitation Centre (NBFC) at Thycaud here seeks to facilitate investments of NoRKs and returned emigrants in commencing business ventures in the State. The NBFC has facilitated 22 persons to set up new ventures in the past four months.

Use of technology

“The aim is to use technology to improve services and physical infrastructure and to use digital information to enhance service quality and perception. NoRKA Roots has emerged as a safe ethical channel to migrate without any intermediary,” says Chief Executive Officer NoRKA Roots K. Harikrishnan Namboothiri.

The Ministry of External Affairs has enlisted NoRKA Roots as a State-run agency to recruit nurses and domestic service workers for 18 ECR countries. eMigrate system is in place to facilitate overseas recruitment.

“We have set up a nursing institute for career enhancement to impart training for nurses attending various exams in destination countries. The recruitment of 1,000 housemaids to Kuwait is on. We are changing the sector and location and has started recruitment for various jobs, including teachers, in the Maldives,” the CEO says.

Dwindling prospects

Kadakkal Ramesh, vice chairman, Kerala State Gulf Returnees and NRI Coordination Council, says the Middle East is no more a gold mine for the emigrants in view of the priority to locals in some jobs and global recession. This is a set back for the Kerala economy that is dependent on remittances from the NoRKs.

“The Kerala government has come up with several projects and rehabilitation schemes for the return emigrants. How successful are these steps is debatable. Many who had availed themselves of loans to set up business ventures and run taxies with the help of NoRKA Roots are finding it difficult to repay it due to the slump in economy.”

Reservation in jobs for return emigrants who have completed a fixed tenure as provided to ex-servicemen will be a big solace to them, he says.

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