By Shafeeq Rahman,
After ending the deadline of Nitaqat, a mandatory newly introduced localization policy of Saudi Arabian native in employment of major enterprises between 5% to 30% in place of migrants, looms the fear for the fate of thousands of NRIs who are working there for several years.
Initiative for saudaziation of employment has been taken by ministry of labor on precautionary basis to reduce the local unemployment as the major reason behind uprising in most of Arab countries was the growing number of local jobless youth people. On the side of Indian labor market, this policy would have its own reciprocation mainly in southern states where large numbers of Indians are working in Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries. Strict enforcement of Nitaqat would vanish the semi-skilled and unskilled Indian worker opportunities and will adversely affect career prospective of white-collar workers, specifically in private unorganized sector. In absence of governmental safeguard measures, such policy could become a tool of more harassment for Indian nationals who already have been suffered with depression and frustration there. Increasing number of suicide cases and detention of Indian nationals in last several years indicate the miserable situation of expatriates in Gulf. Keeping such apprehension into consideration, Indian central as well as states government officials have communicated their concerns to Saudi officials. Saudi ministry assures that any cases in against to Nitaqat would be dealt fairly and full time would be given to expatriate to rectify its visa and working status.
India has the historical bilateral cultural and commercial relations with the Saudi Arabia which are further strengthened during the oil boom of mid-seventies. Exploration of oil and its increasing demand led to a considerable growth in the Saudi Arabian economy due to high revenues of oil. As a result, programs for infrastructure development including construction of roads, creation of amenities like schools, hospitals, houses, airports, office and commercial complexes etc., were taken up in a big way. Higher national income with better infrastructure improves the living standard that increases the requirement of health, education and other services. This resulted in a spurt in demand for not only highly skilled technical and professional experts but also semi-skilled and unskilled workers. India due to its trained and highly qualified manpower was well placed to meet these emerging demands. In spite of Saudization trend in employment from last years, number of Indian workers have increased manifold. Presently, Kingdom is the single largest country to have the highest number of Indian citizens in a foreign country while Indians are the largest expatriate community in Saudi Arabia. It is being estimated that 14 Million NRIs reside in Saudi Arabia and outflowing the highest remittance around 7621 million US$ with 31% share in overall outflow of Saudi Arabia as per the estimate 2011. Saudi remittance share in overall Indian remittance are around 13% in the year 2011. Besides Saudi Arabia, major remittance inflowing countries to India are UAE, USA and UK. Middle East is specifically an attractive destination for semi skilled workers. Evacuation of Indian worker will create an unmanageable vacuum in Saudi economy especially in the services sector and blue-color jobs. Further, companies have to pay the higher remuneration to Saudi nationals in compare to Indian worker who works there in lesser salary without other social benefits.
Remittance of course is a resilient external source for India which directly supports the migrants’ families and also contributes in our national income. Further, Labor outflow decrease the pressure of workforce in domestic market for new opportunities and the wage rates in foreign countries are several times high to prevailing wages in India. Seeming importance of remittance flowing from Saudi Arabia, Indian government is trying to persuade the Saudi government to soften their stands on Indian worker in view of Nitaqat or at least defer the implementation for a longer time so that Indian worker could search the alternative jobs. Anticipatory measure in case of immediate deportation is also under consideration by ministry like special flights for evacuation with free ticket options. Being a sovereign country, Saudi Arabia has the full right to formulate its own residency and working policy in keeping the interest of its citizen. External government cannot interfere the internal matter of a country beyond certain limitations, important task for Indian government to perform is rehabilitation of these retrenched people so that they can restart the life with full dignity.
But the most important question is still unresolved to investigate the reason behind Indian worker migration, which is the attraction of higher earnings. To get the quick amount for fulfillment of basic needs of dependent family, they prefer to work abroad unwillingly instead of working at home. Most of our work populations are poor, reside in rural areas and mainly confine to unorganized sectors without getting any social and job securities, whereas work opportunities are concentrated to selected metropolitan cities. Migration at national level to metro cities is not a solution, prevailing wages are not so competent for unskilled and semi skilled workers in compare to Gulf or other developed countries. Behind the Brain drain of Indian professional, pay scale and remuneration is the key factor. Further, regional controversies within Indian state are main hurdle to migrate the people within country like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar workers are not acceptable in Mumbai for a segment of population. Domicile policy in state government jobs allocation also reflects the protectionist thinking in worker movement within country. Instead of persuading the Saudi or any foreign nation, focus should be to organize the domestic labor market and to create the new opportunities across the country. Government flagship programs like MGNREGA should be initiated in broader terms to provide the employment opportunities in nearby areas in accord to their skills so that dependency on other countries for overseas jobs could be restricted up to the minimal level.
(Shafeeq Rahman is a researcher on India-centric socioeconomic and political databases. He can be reached at email@example.com)