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Speech by Minister of State for External Affairs Shri E. Ahamed at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2013

January 07, 2013

My esteemed colleague Hon’ble Minister of Overseas India Affairs, Shri Vayalar Ravi ji,
Hon’ble Chief Minister of Kerala, Shri Oommen Chandy ji,
Hon’ble Ministers of Government of Kerala, Shri K.C. Joseph and Shri K. Babu,
My colleagues in Parliament, Shri M.I. Shanavas and Shri M.K. Raghavan,
My dear friend Padmashree Yusuffali,
Panelists of this Session, Energetic MLA of Ernakulam Shri Hibi Eden,
Shri Issac Thomas, President, Kerala Pradesh Pravasi Congress,
My Joint Secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs, Shri Ghanshyam,
Shri Vumlnmang, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs,
Our Ambassadors from GCC countries,
Distinguished delegates from all over the world and friends,

It is a great honour and personal privilege for me to address such a distinguished audience from different corners of the world. At the outset, let me warmly welcome each one of you to the Pravasi Bharat Divas in the beautiful city of Kochi in my own home State of Kerala.

Throughout its great history of over five thousand years, India has been receiving invaders and visitors of all hues from different parts of the world. In the process, during the course of its history, India has assimilated many cultures and civilizations and all invaders ultimately adopted India as their home. The influx of foreigners into India started with the Aryans who came in from central Asia and continued till the British finally left India - thanks to the great freedom struggle spearheaded by our first Non-Resident Indian – Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi.

The earliest Indians who travelled abroad were the emissaries of Emperor Ashoka to disseminate the tenets of Buddhism in the third century B.C. Thereafter, the Chola dynasty spread its wings towards the Far East. Indian traders are known to have built their own ships and sailed to distant lands as far apart as Rome and China in search of business.

During the 19th century and until the end of British rule in India, Indians migrated to other colonies of the British - Mauritius, Guyana, Caribbean, Fiji and East Africa, under the indenture system. In the same period, Gujarati and Sindhi merchants settled in Iran, Aden, Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, South Africa and East Africa, most of which were then ruled by the British.

The Indian gypsies are believed to have travelled to Europe about 1500 years ago according to latest research findings. In the United States it was more recent. The Luce-Celler Act, 1946 was signed into law by President Harry Truman on July 2, 1946 providing a quota of 100 Filipinos and 100 Indians per annum to enter the United States. Today there are over 3 million Indian Americans in the country and among them are scientists, engineers and professors. Some have even gone on to become business tycoons and political leaders.

In the very recent modern times, we have had two waves of Indian migration. First, it was the construction boom which began in the 1970s in the Gulf countries after the oil price hike which attracted Indian labour, skilled or otherwise. The Gulf has continued to attract large Indian contingents. In the second wave in the 1990s, United States, and later Europe and other countries, attracted young Indian code writers to man jobs in the IT and Technology sectors.

Recognising the fact that the Non Resident Indians and people of Indian origin are our valued assets abroad, Government of India set up the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) in 2004 to address the concerns and issues of the Indian Diaspora. MOIA works in tandem with the Ministry of External Affairs and operates as a single point service centre to cater to the welfare and well-being of the Indian Diaspora estimated at about 28 million. The Government has launched a number of initiatives in recent years and continues to innovate to make life easier for NRIs. Pravasi Bharati Diwas is an annual feature when problems of NRIs are discussed and prominent NRIs are honoured by the Prime Minister of India.

There are three categories of people in the Indian Diaspora. The first are people who migrated earlier and are now permanent citizens in their host countries. These are mainly in the West, Africa and South East Asia. The second is of those who are on their way to becoming citizens of their host countries – the so called Green Card and Resident Permit holders – again mainly in western countries. Indians in these categories are generally highly qualified and include doctors, scientists, engineers, professors, bankers and entrepreneurs.

The third category is of our community concentrated mainly in the Gulf where countries do not accord citizenships to non-Arabs. Our expatriates numbering about 6.5 million in the Gulf are skilled and semi-skilled workers and man offices, shops, schools and factories as also households. Over the last few decades, they have proved their indispensability to their hosts by virtue of their hard work, congenial nature and apolitical attitude. They however remain foreigners in their host country, stay and work there as long as their visa permits them to do so and finally return home.

Government of India recognizes three stages in the tenure of a Non-Resident Indian. The first is the preparatory period when a potential migrant must confirm the credentials of the Recruiting Agent, understand the terms and conditions of the Work Contract, study the dos and don’ts in the host country and confirm that a copy of the Contract is with the concerned Indian Mission.

The second stage is when the worker arrives in his host country and starts working with the Sponsor. The Sponsor and the Sponsored must ensure that they both abide by the terms and conditions of the Contract. If either of them deviates from the commitments of the contract, the same needs to be addressed to ensure an amicable settlement. If a settlement cannot be worked out, the 24x7 help-line of the nearest Indian Mission takes over the case to ensure that either an appropriate settlement is agreed upon or an exit permit is arranged through local authorities to facilitate the return of the worker back home.

The third stage is when the NRI finally returns to India. At this stage, he will either want to settle down at home permanently or look for another opportunity in the Gulf. If he wants to stay on in India, he needs to be integrated in to the mainstream of our economy through an appropriate re-training and rehabilitation drawing from his own skill sets. If he has been able to save some money, he may even be trained to become an entrepreneur.

The importance of the Gulf NRIs comes from the following crucial facts –

(i) When an Indian worker leaves his home to work abroad, he automatically leaves behind a job which becomes available to another Indian in India.

(ii) The Gulf NRI comes back home after his stint abroad as a worker and there is no scope for him to become a citizen in his host Gulf country.

(iii) Almost all the earnings of a Gulf worker are sent home and his family depends entirely on this remittance for its livelihood. The 6.5 million Gulf workers thus support another 40 to 50 million family members back home.

(iv)When a Gulf NRI remits his hard earned money to his family in India, he provides precious foreign exchange to Government of India.

(v) The World Bank estimated that in 2012, India received US $ 70 billion in remittances, ahead of US $ 66 billion of China. The Bank also said that the sharp increase in remittances to India came from the Gulf.

(vi) It is interesting to note that our remittances come mostly from the Gulf and are a good US $ 11 billion more than the GDP of Kerala, estimated at US$ 59 billion.

At this juncture, I would like to share with you my perceptions about some new trends I have witnessed during the course of my travel to many parts of the world, including the Gulf as a Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs.

(i) Indians from southern States including Kerala are decreasing gradually in number in the Gulf and representation from other parts of India is slowly increasing. This indicates an upward movement of earlier migrants from Southern India in the economic ladder.

(ii) There is a silent but steady increase in the number of white collar workers in the Gulf. More engineers, teachers, doctors, nurses and businessmen are moving into the Gulf. There are now even a few NRI business houses in the Gulf that are doing well.

(iii) Competition from other labour exporting countries is becoming intense. These countries have started preparing their people with specific skill-sets to work as nursing and hospital attendants, Hotels and hospitality experts, shopping and retail assistants, industrial workers etc., and we see more and more trained persons from these countries replacing untrained and less efficient workers from other countries including India.

There is absolutely no time for complacency. We must continue to work on a war footing towards educating and training our workers lest they are cheated by unscrupulous elements in India and in host countries, in ensuring a smooth re-integration of the returning workers into the home economy and motivate those that have the desire and the potential to become post return entrepreneurs.

Let me also take this opportunity to congratulate my senior colleague Shri Vayalarji for organising this event at Kochi and thank each and everyone associated with the event. Wishing them good luck and all the success.

Thank you, Jai Hind.

Kochi
January 7, 2012

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