Indian workers in Gulf down by half since 2015
There has been a steady decline over the past few years and the recent immigration policies adopted by Gulf countries are a mixed bag for Indians.
In 2017, the UAE emerged as the most preferred destination of Indian workers, with nearly 1.5 lakh emigration clearances. Saudi Arabia relinquished its most preferred destination status among Indian workers, with around 78,000 emigration clearances, a 74% drop from around 3 lakh in 2015. The fall in jobs for expats is attributed to both, the Nitaqat scheme, aimed at promoting job opportunities for locals, which was tightened last September, and general economic conditions.
According to a recent World Bank report, India continued to be the top recipient of remittances from overseas, which added up to $69 billion in 2017, and roughly 56% of it came from the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.
A favourable change in policy is likely to help the UAE remain the most preferred destination. The country has announced that by the end of 2018, it will issue residency visas to global investors or professionals for up to 10 years. Further, temporary visas will be issued to expat workers who have lost jobs to enable them to scout for another job. “The proposal regarding residency visas is a strategic move to attract highly qualified and talented professionals. It is estimated that at least 50-60% of key finance positions across GCC countries are held by Indians. With the recent introduction of the VAT regime, the demand for finance and tax professionals is on the rise,” says Piyush Bhandari, managing partner, Intuit Management Consultancy, a cross-border business advisory firm.
While blue-collar Indian workers, such as labourers, carpenters, electricians, plumbers and drivers, dominated the labour scene in the GCC till now, industry watchers say there is now a gradual shift, with more white-collar workers from India also showing interest in the Gulf.
Fragomen, a global firm specialising in immigration laws, says the UAE cabinet has also approved a low-cost insurance scheme to replace the bank guarantee system in the mainland (outside the free trade zone areas). Existing regulations require companies in mainland UAE that are registered with the ministry of human resources and emiratisation (MOHRE) to deposit dirham 3,000 (around Rs 50,000) for each work permit application as a bank guarantee. The new insurance scheme will cost employers only dirham 60 (Rs 1,100) annually per worker and provide a coverage of up to dirham 20,000 (Rs 3.7 lakh) in case of unpaid wages and allowances, return tickets and work-related injuries. Employers will be able to retrieve funds deposited with MOHRE under bank guarantee plan. “The new scheme may ease monetary burdens for companies employing foreign nationals,” adds Fragomen.
On the other hand, Oman has extended the suspension of recruitment of foreign nationals in 87 occupations up to December 2018. This suspension was first introduced in January for an initial period of six months. In 2017, 53,000 Indians obtained emigration clearances to head out for employment in Oman, a 37% drop from 85,000 in 2015. “Employers will need to increase their efforts in recruiting from the local workforce until the suspension is lifted in January 2019,” states Fragomen. Professionals such as computer engineers, graphic designers, IT security specialists, architects, civil, project and mechanical engineers are among those impacted by the suspension. “This suspension is applicable only to fresh job seekers. We feel it is a temporary situation,” adds Bhandari.