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Remarks by Minister of State for External Affairs during the Panel Discussion on Skill sets of the future for Indians in the Gulf at the PBD Conference

December 11, 2020

Secretary (CPV and OIA), Ministry of External Affairs, Shri Sanjay Bhattacharya
Former Ambassador, Shri Navdeep Suri
Chairman, CII National Committee on Industrial Relations, Shri Unnikrishnan
Esteemed Panelists from across the GCC
Our Ambassadors and senior officials in GCC

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am happy to deliver a keynote address again today on a topic of great importance and current relevance for the Indian community in the Gulf. As you all are aware, the Indian expatriates in the Gulf region number more than 8 million, of which we estimate that almost 70% would be Indian workers. Naturally, Government of India as well as the Indian community is always interested in knowing about the skill-sets that can improve the employability of our human capital in the Gulf. Furthermore, with the rapidly transforming global technological landscape, regional economic situation and prevailing Covid-19 pandemic, it becomes important for us to keep updated with the requisite future skill-sets. I am confident that the discussions in this panel today will enlighten us in this regard.

As you all are aware, the Indian diaspora is one of the largest in the Gulf and comprises not only unskilled and semi-skilled workers but also highly skilled engineers, IT experts, bankers, chartered accountants, doctors, teachers, scientists and entrepreneurs. It is because of our strong historic, people-to-people and cultural links that the region acts as an attractive destination for our workforce. This is the land which has provided opportunities to our aspiring Indians to prosper and in the process contribute in the progress and prosperity of the host countries. It is, therefore, imperative that we complement the expectations of our gracious hosts in the Gulf countries both in terms of our skills and also our behaviour.

It is a matter of great satisfaction, and pride too, that our workers and professionals are the most-preferred choice for host countries thanks to our law-abiding and industrious nature. It is, therefore, important for Government of India and State Governments to ensure that we impart requisite skill-sets to our prospective emigrant workers to enable them to move up in the value chain ensuring, at the same time, their welfare as they emigrate abroad. Government of India is well aware of its responsibility in this regard, particularly towards the more vulnerable blue collar workers.

The mechanism of e-Migrate portal of Government of India has played an important role in ensuring safe and orderly migration of Indian workers. The e-Migrate project is designed for facilitating employment of ECR category workers in 18 countries including all countries the Gulf region. It provides us a comprehensive online database of emigrants and connects all stakeholders including our Embassies and Consulates, Recruiting Agents and Foreign Employers. The e-Migrate system has also been integrated with Passport Sewa Project and Bureau of Immigration, insurance agencies which provide Pravasi Bhartiya Bima Yojana, and with DG-Shipping system. This has made the whole emigration process more efficient and transparent. The workers can see their contracts with their employers and become aware of the salaries that they will earn and their working conditions.

We have also been working on the next phase of the e-Migrate project which is to connect it with the e-recruitment platforms of the host countries. The integration of these e-platforms would enable greater cooperation, scrutiny and overall supervision by Government of India and the host Government over contractual relations between the foreign employers and Indian manpower agencies. This will bring in further transparency in the recruitment process and will facilitate greater government oversight throughout the migration cycle. I need not mention the accrued benefits to workers, in the form of elimination of fake visas and contract substitution.

The process of integration of e-Migrate with the online platforms of Saudi Arabia called ‘e-Tawtheeq’ and UAE’s Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratization is under progress. The test results of the pilot projects have been positive and we hope that we will be able to make further progress. We are also working on integration of e-Migrate with e-platforms of Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. We are utilizing social media platforms and digital progammes such as MADAD to redress grievances of our workers.

You may be happy to note that we are working to develop platforms that can harmonise our workers' skills with the requirements of the foreign employers. To address this issue and incentivise demand for skilled Indian workers in the Gulf, Government of India is focussing on skill harmonization with the receiving countries. NSDC and our former and current Ambassadors to UAE have done good work on this aspect and we have arrived at a skills harmonization framework with UAE. If this model becomes successful it could also serve as a template for other Gulf countries. This will enable us to train and equip our youth with the right skill-sets and harness our demographic potentials. Skill India initiative, as you know, is an important step in this regard that aims to transform India as the skill capital of the world.

It is now well known that the skills required in the future will be very different from those of today. The World Economic Forum predicts that by 2030, globally there could be displacement of 75 million jobs due to the adoption of new technologies and structural changes in the labour market. On the positive side, however, it is also predicted that 133 million new jobs will emerge. These trends, undoubtedly, will also impact the Gulf region, especially as the salience of oil in the world economy diminishes and the Gulf countries diversify into non-oil economies.

I feel that India stands in a good position to benefit from the transformations taking place in the vocations avenues. Most reports suggest that the jobs that will be in demand in future will include STEM specialists (science, technology, engineering and mathematics), health professionals, sales and marketing, teachers and trainers, big data, AI and blockchain specialists. India has traditionally been a major source of healthcare workers, sales and marketing professionals, teachers and trainers to the Gulf countries.

I am sure that we will be able to upskill our workforce to meet the enhanced need of the Gulf countries in these areas in the forthcoming years. Similarly, with our strong credentials in education and technology, I am confident that we should be able to fill in the requirements in the areas of AI, blockchain and big data specialists. This will need to be done with public-private partnership. We will need to work together with the governments and private sectors in the Gulf countries to remain updated with their requirements in the rapidly changing technological landscape.

The Covid-19 pandemic has already altered the conventional work-space and has ushered in innovative work-environment models. Businesses and organizations have adapted to work with fewer human resources and devised mechanisms to work from home. People’s dependence on online delivery of household items and food has increased. Schools have become aware that online education will be here to stay. Doctors and patients have understood that many consultations can be done on phone or internet. Several of these changes are likely to stay and this will mean greater dependence on technology and internet and lesser human resources and interactions. It is, therefore, important that we accept and adjust to the new realities quickly.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 has posed grave challenges for the Indians working in the Gulf as the Gulf economies got impacted adversely in several sectors, including in construction, aviation, tourism and hospitality. Government of India, with the support of the host countries, ensured that our people were able to return to India in a safe and orderly manner despite the large numbers and Covid-19 restrictions. I am confident that in the post-Covid scenario, as the Gulf economies recover, Indians will be able to resume their livelihood in the Gulf. We are working together with our partners in this regard and I am happy to say that the air bubble arrangements with several countries in the Gulf have enabled a large number of Indians to return and resume their work.

I would like to conclude by reiterating that our Government is committed to the protection and promotion of the rights of our workers and their welfare. The updated draft Emigration Bill 2019 which comprehensively looks at addressing all aspects of migration, including skills upgradation, pre-departure orientation, strengthening of welfare measures for emigrants abroad and coordination with states, would be an important milestone in the attainment of our objective for ensuring welfare of our emigrants.

Thank you.

New Delhi
December 11, 2020

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