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Published in the 1-15 Aug 2004 print edition of MG; send me the print edition

Gulf: favourite destination of Keralites

Thiruvananthapuram: The Middle East still continues to be the most sought out destination attracting Keralites who seek job to settle abroad. Out of Kerala's total number of emigrants, who registered 35 percent increase from 1,361,955 in 1999 to 1,838,478 in 2004, more than 90 percent are in the Middle East. 
This was revealed in a recent study report conducted by K.C. Zachariah and S. Irudayarajan, demographers attached with Thiruvananthapuram-based Centre for Development Studies. (CDS). Following their first study in 1999, this second study, conducted jointly with Delhi-based South Asian Network of Economic Institutes, was carried out among 10,000 households selected at random from all the 62 sub-districts of Kerala. 

The study report, titled "Economic Consequence of Gulf Migration In South Asia", revealed several other interesting aspects. Along with the total number of migrants, remittances of non-resident Keralites have also shot up from Rs.136.52 billion (1999) to Rs.184.65 billion (2004) during the five year period under study. 

The total remittances by the emigrants were found to be 7 times the Kerala Government received from the Centre as budgetary support, 15 times the receipt from cashew export and 19 times the receipt of marine export.
The study identified Malappuram district with the highest number of 272,000 migrants followed by Kannur (202,000), Thrissur (179,000), Palakkad (178,000), Thiruvananthapuram (168,000), while the Tribal district Wayannad (7,704) contributing the least.

The report, in particular, countered the general perception that large number of migrants have returned from the Middle East after new labour laws were introduced there. Data showed that the number of Gulf returnees has only marginally increased -- from 739,245 in 1999 to 893,942 in 2004.

According to Irudayarajan, Kerala's Gulf connection today is so strong that there is every reason to introduce Gulf studies in schools and colleges. "Before (India's) Independence, we studied the geography, history and politics of Britain. Today, this large scale emigration to the Gulf presents a strong case for our students to learn more about the Middle East". 

It is also time for Kerala to have an institute to monitor migration and its impact on society. "Just look at the remittances and see how the figure has gone up", the demographers noted. 

Another interesting factor brought out by the study is that the Christians have taken over the Muslims in percentage growth among the migrating communities mainly due to a shift in favour of skilled workers in the Gulf. The rate of growth in migration was highest among Christians with 53.9 percent while it was 17.3 percent among Muslims

While 17.6 percent of Kerala's total households had at least one emigrant, the Study found that the Muslims constituted the foremost numerous (43.7) percent, followed by Hindus (31.2) and Christians (25.1 percent). While 36 percent of Muslim families sent at least a member abroad, it was 16 percent among the Christians and 10 percent among the Hindus.

The annual remittance per Christian household was also highest with Rs.26,098 as against a Muslim household receiving an average Rs.24,000, and Hindu household Rs.6,134.

Among Hindu migrants, total remittance varied from Rs.9,225 by Brahmins to mere Rs.725 by Scheduled Castes

The study also identified regional disparities, with the remittances per capita increasing by as much as Rs.10,654 in Thrissur district and Rs.7,677 in Malappuram.

The female migration also had gone up to 16.8 percent in 2004 compared to nine percent in 1999. A large number of these women were young unmarried girls, the Study pointed out. 

While 50 percent of the remittance was used by the households for subsistence, 20 percent was earmarked for educating children.

The study further showed that migration to the Gulf, which was 95 percent of the total migration, went down to 90 percent. At the same time, the migration to USA, European countries and Africa went up from 5 percent to 10 percent correspondingly.

Among the Gulf countries, UAE replaced Saudi Arabia as the most preferred destination.

The study, surprisingly, found that instead of reducing unemployment, the growth in emigration fuelled it. While 12 lakh people were estimated to be unemployed in the 1999 study, the figure went up to 24 lakh in the latest study.

"This growth in unemployment could be explained partly by the increase in the waiting period for jobs among the educated and partly by the phenomenon of replacement migration where workers from other States taking over unskilled jobs involving manual labour here at lower wages", Prof.Zachariah said. Since migration is now a part of life in Kerala, and not a passing phase as was thought earlier, the State should formulate policies for better utilisation of the remittances, he said.

New Saudi law
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Government's July third week decision to ban the sale of work permits, as part of its ongoing ''Saudisation '' programme, will have adverse effect on Kerala's job market. 

The Saudi Arabian Labour Ministry had recently banned the sale of work permits and the following restrictions imposed on the issuance of employment visas. Until now, Saudis were entitled to sponsor a number of workers. However, there were complaints that many often made a profit by transferring them to businesses for sums greater than they originally paid. 

The Saudi Ministry order prohibited all forms of employment trade such as sale of work permits, obtaining money for employing workers, entry or exit visas and residency and business licences. 

According to travel industry sources, the flow of job-seekers to Saudi Arabia has come down due to these restrictions. The related data prove that the number of employment visas issued by the Ministry of Labour has dropped by 56 percent, as it issued 23,015 visas from May 15-June 15, 2004, compared to 52,496 visas issued in the previous month.

"Around 30 percent job-seekers in Saudi Arabia demand free visas. With the ban on work permits and restrictions on issuing employment visas, the job-seekers are searching for employment in other Gulf countries", said a travel agent in Kerala. 

According to Secretary of the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Department (Norka), Jiji Thomson IAS, the new Saudi law would check the migration to Saudi Arabia, where 12 to 15 lakh Malayalis are currently employed. The new law, however, is not likely to affect those who are already employed with free visas, he said. 

The Saudi Ministry has taken over the responsibility of transferring visas, which were previously held by the Passports Department. Because of this, low-skilled workers will not be able to change from one sponsor to another. Transfer is now limited to holders of university and technical college degrees, a move aimed at increasing work opportunities for Saudis. 

Keralites who expect high remuneration often seek free visas so that they could work in any company after reaching the destination. As per the new rule, visas will be issued for the employment of a particular company and the expatriates would not be allowed to move from one company to another. 

Technically and highly qualified persons in Kerala would be the worst affected as they would be denied an opportunity to seek jobs according to their wish. 
Free visas,in great demand, cost nearly Rs 1 lakh in Kerala. The Saudi Government decided to encourage local firms to hire more Saudis to help reduce the rate of unemployment and provide work for college and high school graduates whose numbers are on the rise. 

Saudis violating the order could be prosecuted as well as banned from sponsoring workers. 

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