FEWER IN­DIAN MI­GRANTS SEEK­ING WORK IN THE UAE AND GULF, STUDY SHOWS

▶ Ini­tial re­search con­ducted in Ker­ala shows num­ber em­i­grat­ing is on the wane as re­gional changes take ef­fect

The National - News - - NEWS - RAMOLA TALWAR BADAM

The num­ber of In­dian work­ers seek­ing jobs in the UAE and other Gulf na­tions con­tin­ues to fall, ac­cord­ing to pre­lim­i­nary in­di­ca­tors from a study that will ex­am­ine the rea­sons for the de­cline.

More than 150 re­searchers vis­ited 15,000 homes and com­pleted the first phase of an ex­ten­sive study last month in south In­dia’s Ker­ala state, tra­di­tion­ally the deep­est pool of mi­grants to the Mid­dle East.

“The de­cline in mi­gra­tion is likely to con­tinue. We don’t see the trend be­ing re­versed. This is only an es­ti­mate be­cause we have to look at all the num­bers.

“At first look, the num­bers may sta­bilise or de­crease but it’s not go­ing back up,” said S Irudaya Ra­jan, a pro­fes­sor at the Cen­tre for De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies in Ker­ala.

“The num­ber of ‘re­turn mi­grants’ appear to be more than the num­bers we had be­fore,” said Prof Ra­jan, who is lead­ing the sur­vey.

Among ques­tions in the Ker­ala Mi­gra­tion Study on home fi­nances, ed­u­ca­tion and health, fam­i­lies were also asked why rel­a­tives came back from the Mid­dle East.

“We asked whether it was a forced re­turn be­cause they lost their jobs or vol­un­tary be­cause the wages were no longer worth it and they would earn more in Mum­bai or in Ker­ala. We asked if a fam­ily prob­lem made them re­turn,” Prof Ra­jan said.

Re­searchers re­ported that peo­ple spoke of the Qatar cri­sis and its neg­a­tive long-term ef­fect on em­ploy­ment and also about the loss of jobs in Saudi Ara­bia.

The wide-rang­ing study is usu­ally con­ducted ev­ery five years but a sur­vey was taken up in 2016 af­ter re­ports of a de­cline in mi­gra­tion to the Mid­dle East.

That sur­vey was the first to record a drop in Ker­ala mi­grants, from 2.4 mil­lion in 2014 to 2.24m in 2016.

Field work­ers have col­lected data from new house­holds se­lected at ran­dom from vil­lages and towns across 300 lo­ca­tions in the state for the first phase, which be­gan in Jan­uary and ended last month.

The sec­ond phase, to be com­pleted by the end of July, is an am­bi­tious project that seeks to track about 10,000 fam­i­lies who have at var­i­ous stages been part of the study over the past two decades.

“This is not just to study mi­gra­tion but the so­cial and eco­nomic changes cre­ated be­cause of mi­gra­tion. We have done this sur­vey for 20 years so we will go back to house­holds we have vis­ited from 1998 to see the changes.

“We want to find out whether they sent more peo­ple to the Gulf. If they have, have they bought a new house? Are their chil­dren study­ing in English medium schools?” Prof Ra­jan said.

The 1998 Ker­ala Mi­gra­tion Sur­vey cov­ered 10,000 house­holds. The ex­er­cise then ex­panded to in­clude 15,000 house­holds in 2008 and will in­clude 25,000 house­holds this year. Pre­lim­i­nary find­ings will be ready by Septem­ber.

Work­ers from Ker­ala state who speak Malay­alam make up more than 40 per cent of the In­dian com­mu­nity – the largest ex­pa­tri­ate com­mu­nity in the UAE.

Pradeep Ku­mar, who works as a driver in Shar­jah, said semi-skilled work­ers were find­ing bet­ter op­por­tu­ni­ties back home.

“Be­fore men would come here for a Dh1,000 salary. Now they will make more money and also save more at home.

“Ma­sons, plumbers and elec­tri­cians are find­ing that busi­ness is good in Ker­ala. There are some big malls that have opened and there is de­vel­op­ment hap­pen­ing at the dis­trict level,” said Mr Ku­mar, who earns Dh2,000 a month.

“Peo­ple get in­ter­est-free loans and women are open­ing small busi­nesses. In my vil­lage there are women who sell pick­les and juice. Some women sup­ply home-cooked food to small ho­tels on the mo­tor­way.”

Latif Karim, a con­trac­tor in Aj­man, said he hoped de­ci­sion-mak­ers read the sur­vey.

“I have never heard of this study but I hope that peo­ple who can change the fate of work­ers at home and in this coun­try that has be­come our home will look at it.

“It will show them why thou­sands of peo­ple like me come here to earn for our fam­i­lies. Maybe then things will change for us,” said Karim, who earns Dh2,500 and works in the UAE to put his chil­dren through col­lege in In­dia.

Num­bers may sta­bilise or de­crease but it’s not go­ing back up. The ‘re­turn mi­grants’ appear to be more than be­fore PROF S IRUDAYA RA­JAN Cen­tre for De­vel­op­ment Stud­ies, Ker­ala

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