Migrant rights activists in India have welcomed Indian External Affairs’ Minister Sushma Swaraj’s bid to streamline the recruitment of women domestic workers to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She said that she has requested the government of the UAE not to issue work visas to Indian women who arrive in the UAE on tourist or visa visas.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi, the minister said women workers migrating on tourist or visit visas are often exploited by unscrupulous agents in India and employers abroad. Therefore, the Indian government is trying to prevent such women from travelling on tourist or visit visas and later being trapped in the UAE upon arrival, and has requested the UAE not to permit such women to get employment visas if they reach here.
“I have requested them. And they were positive too,” Sushma Swaraj said in her address, which was greeted with applause by the audience.
“It’s a welcome move. And if the UAE government listens to the minister’s request, it would ensure safety of our women migrant workers and bring down human trafficking,” Rafeek Ravuther, Director of the Centre of Indian Migration Studies in Kerala, told TNM.
Safety of eMigrate
After eMigrate, an online system that was initiated by the Indian government in 2015 to ensure a safe and orderly recruitment process for Indian migrants, Arab employers had reportedly resorted to recruiting Indian workers through irregular channels in order to avoid bureaucratic delays in the online system.
In a bid to ensure safety of women migrant workers, including nurses, migrating to 18 Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) countries, the Indian government had made going through the eMigrate system mandatory for the migration of women job seekers. The Indian government had made eMigrate mandatory for these 18 countries because it sees women migrating to them as less protected. All six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, that is Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman, in addition to Lebanon and Jordan, are included in this list of 18 ECR countries.
If a woman migrant worker from India moves to one of 18 ECR countries through eMigrate in order to work, then the Indian government would be aware of her employer, job status, and salary details, in addition to the contacts details of the worker and her employer.
If an employer in one of the 18 ECR countries is planning to recruit an Indian women worker through eMigrate, he has to keep the Indian embassy and the Ministry of External in the loop during the recruitment process, which provides the Indian authorities an opportunity to verify the credentials of the employer and the recruitment agency, and help ensure safe migration of the worker.
How trafficking happens
According to Rafeek, the majority of Indian women migrants, especially those who are looking for domestic work, are taken to the UAE and then moved to other countries.
“It’s quite to easy for a woman to travel to the UAE on a tourist visa. What crooked agents do is after the woman lands in the UAE on a tourist visa, they manage to arrange a job visa for them in one of the other Gulf countries and move them to that country,” Rafeek added.
Sr Josephine Valarmathy of the National Domestic Workers Movement in Chennai pointed out to TNM that legally, everything would be right in such cases, although it could result in grave consequences for the women.
“Trafficking is happening there. A woman would be entering UAE legally on a tourist visa. And she would be leaving UAE legally after the stipulated period of tourist visa expires. However, she would be entering another country on a job visa legally arranged for her by a crooked agent. Everything would look okay. But it is not. While going through these kinds of irregular channels, she will not be getting any protection from the Indian authorities, as she has not gone through the regular channel, which is monitored by the Indian government,” said Sr Josephine.
Unfortunately, many of the women who use such irregular channels are often “enslaved” by their Arab employers, as they lack any kind of protection from Indian authorities.
Additionally, the External Affairs Minister said that she has asked all Chief Ministers to arrest such unscrupulous recruitment agents who exploit potential jobseekers, and to put them behind bars.
According to a paper placed in the Rajya Sabha, complaints are received from time to time by the Ministry of External Affairs from Indian emigrants who have been sent for overseas employment by illegal agents fraudulently, and are therefore subjected to cheating, denial of jobs, poor working conditions, etc.
Upon the receipt of the details of such illegal agents involved in unauthorised recruitment for overseas employment, the cases are forwarded to the concerned state/UT governments and respective police authorities, urging them to apprehend illegal agents and prosecute them.
On receiving requests from the concerned state governments/police authorities, prosecution sanctions are issued expeditiously by the Ministry, enabling them to initiate legal action against the accused illegal agents.
Between January and June 2018, the Indian government received 231 cases of illegal agents.