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EXCLUSIVE:  New Draft Emigration Bill lacks clarity to protect migrant workers, say activists
Governance

EXCLUSIVE: New Draft Emigration Bill lacks clarity to protect migrant workers, say activists

Rejimon Kuttappan

Many Indians migrating abroad for work are vulnerable to exploitation thanks to poor regulation. A new Bill for protection of migrant workers is thus welcome. Migrant rights activists, however, say the Draft Emigration Bill 2019 needs more clarity

Even as the Draft Emigration Bill 2019 reveals that the central government will set up a new Emigration Management Authority (EMA), fresh emigration bureaus and nodal authorities to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, migrant rights activists say that the Bill will need more clarity to protect Indian emigrants’ rights, long vulnerable to trafficking and illegal recruitment, among other issues.

The fresh draft, prepared by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), admits that the current Emigration Act 1983 has intrinsic limitations while addressing contemporary emigration trends.

“The limitations of the Emigration Act, 1983 are at times manifested in sub-optimal utilisation of existing resources, delays in prosecution of illegal agents, lack of legislative provisions in working out effective framework for various programmes like pre-departure orientation, skill upgradation and other measures aimed at welfare and protection of migrant workers,” the draft reveals.

According to the MEA, the EMA will ensure overall welfare and protection of emigrants, and the bureaus will take care of day-to-day operational matters and will be responsible for all emigration related issues. Nodal authorities set up by the respective states and union territories will work in close coordination with other competent authorities of the central government to ensure safe, orderly and regular emigration, as well as address various aspects related to returnee emigrants.

However, Rafeek Ravuther, a migrant rights activist, said that the EMA should be set up effectively.

“We can have an effective EMA if we include one representative from the National Trade Union, one from CSO/NGO working in the field of migration, one from the media and one lawyer from the Bar Council,” Rafeek said.

Additionally, he said that EMAs should meet more frequently than the every six months mentioned in the draft Bill.

The draft Bill also lays out procedures on how to register a recruitment agency for emigrant labour, adding that the agencies will be rated on the basis of their performance.

Under the offences and penalties section, the draft Bill says that “Illegal Recruitment” shall mean any act of “canvassing, enlisting, contracting, transporting, utilising, hiring, procuring individuals and includes referring, contact services, promising or advertising for employment abroad, by all means of communication, whether for profit or not, when undertaken by a non-license or non-holder of competent authority contemplated under the Act”.

The draft Bill says that defaulters shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which shall, in the absence of any special and adequate reasons to be recorded in the judgment by the Court, be not less than three years, but which may extend to seven years and/or with fine, which shall not be less than Rs 1 lakh rupees, but which may extend to Rs 5 five lakh.

According to a document submitted in Parliament, cases against 446 illegal agencies were forwarded to state governments by the central government in 2017.

Additionally, the Bill will also make mandatory registration/intimation of all categories of Indian nationals proceeding for overseas employment, as well as students pursuing higher studies abroad.

In the end of December 2018, the Central Government had come up with an instruction making registration mandatory for all those travelling abroad for work.

However, due to resistance from different migrant organisations, the mandatory registration was put on hold at that time.

Currently, it is mandatory only for those who migrate through eMigrate for jobs to foreign countries, to register with the Indian government.

Those who are Class 10 pass don’t have to register and use the eMigrate portal.

India yet to ratify relevant ILO conventions on recruitment

Hubertson Tomwillson, a migrant rights activist and lawyer, said that India has not taken a proactive step in the adoption of the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and other international tools that will protect migrant workers’ rights.

“There are 23 objectives in the GCM. But we are doubtful as to how many of them India will take seriously. So, one can’t be sure that the new Emigration Bill will protect migrant workers’ rights,” Hubertson said.

“We should not forget that India has not passed at least a dozen of the global rights tools put forward by UN agencies. Without adopting them and ratifying them, it is difficult to say that the new Emigration Bill is going to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration,” Hubertson said.

“More specifically, in the field of recruitment, there are a number of relevant ILO conventions: the Migration for Employment Convention (Revised) 1949 (No. 97), the Migrant Workers (Supplementary Provisions) Convention 1975 (No. 143), and the Private Employment Agencies Convention 1997 (No. 181). India has not ratified any of these conventions,” Hubertson added.

Meanwhile, M Bheem Reddy, President, EWF and Migrants Rights Activist, said that emigration in the last two and half decades to different countries has gone up considerably, and that this includes student migration.

“It is suggested that MPs and concerned Ministers be briefed on the Bill and its implications thereon,” he added.

There are 30 million Indian migrant workers, with over nine million in the GCC region (Gulf Cooperation Council) alone. Over 90% of the Indian migrant workers who work in the Arab Gulf are semi-skilled and unskilled workers.

While the exact numbers of Indian workers migrating is not known, several studies point to the presence of larger outflows of labour migration and the presence of large numbers of undocumented migrants in the GCC region. Indian government data shows that 5,20,938 workers migrated for work legally after completing Emigration Clearance Required procedures in 2016, compared to the 7,84,152 workers who left in 2015.

The number for 2017 was 3,91,024 (emigration clearance obtained via recruitment agents, project employers and direct recruitment).

However, as per the 2016-17 annual report of the Ministry of External Affairs, this drop is explained by the decline in crude oil prices and the resulting economic slowdown in the GCC countries.

Photo credit: Imre Solt/Flickr