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The Editorial Analysis: An emigration Bill that does not go far enough


  • GS Paper 2: Parliament and State Legislatures – structure, functioning, the conduct of business, powers & privileges and issues arising out of these.

The Editorial Analysis: An emigration Bill that does not go far enough_40.1

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  • The Emigration Bill, 2021 presents a long-overdue opportunity to reform the recruitment process for nationals seeking employment abroad.

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  • Prevalence of serious exploitative practices: such as large recruitment charges, contract substitution, deception, retention of passports, non-payment or underpayment of wages, poor living conditions, discrimination and other forms of ill-treatment.
  • Emigration Act, 1983: governs labour migration from India. It has the following provisions to protect the interests of the migrants-
    • Provides for hiring through government-certified recruiting agents — individuals or public or private agencies.
    • Outlines obligations for agents to conduct due diligence of prospective employers,
    • Sets up a cap on service fees, and
    • Establishes a government review of worker travel and employment documents (known as emigration clearances) to 18 countries mainly in West Asian states and South-East Asian countries.

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Key features of the Emigration Bill, 2021

  • Purpose: to consolidate and amend the law relating to the emigration of citizens of India.
  • Positives features:
    • It launches a new emigration policy division,
    • Establishes help desks and welfare committees,
    • Requires manpower agencies to conduct pre-departure briefings for migrants, and
    • Increases accountability of brokers and other intermediaries who are also involved in labour hiring.
  • Concerning features:
    • Lacks a human rights framework: which is needed to secure the rights of migrants and their families and these frameworks are part of progressive regimes.
      • For example, Philippines: which recognizes the contributions of Filipino workers and “the dignity and fundamental human rights and freedoms of the Filipino citizens”.
    • Provision for charging services fees from migrants: the Bill permits manpower agencies to charge workers’ service fees, and even allows agents to set their own limits.
      • Against International Labour Organization (ILO) convention: which provides that it is employers, not workers who should bear recruitment payments including the costs of their visas, air travel, medical exams, and service charges to recruiters.
      • Exorbitant charges paid by Indian workers for jobs found surveys conducted by the ILO and World Bank. For example, Indians in Saudi Arabia paid on average $1,507 in recruitment charges; their counterparts in Qatar paid $1,156.
    • Gives power to government authorities: to punish workers by cancelling or suspending their passports and imposing fines up to ₹50,000 for violating any of Bill’s provisions. This could have the following implications-
      • Criminalizes the choices migrant workers make either because they are unaware of the law, under the influence of their recruiters, or simply desperate to find a decent job.
      • Recruiters and public officials could misuse the law to instil fear among workers and report or threaten to report them.
      • Discourages complaints of abuse: especially by migrants in an irregular situation due to fear that they could be fined or have their passports revoked.
  • Does not adequately address the gender dimension of the migration:
    • Women having limited agency in recruitment compared to their counterparts, are more likely to be employed in marginalised and informal sectors and/or isolated occupations in which labour, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse are common.
  • Inadequate labour representation or civil society engagement in the policy and welfare bodies that the bill sets up.

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Conclusion: The Ministry of External Affairs must draft a clearer purpose which explicitly recognises the contributions of Indian workers, the unique challenges they face, and uphold the dignity and human rights of migrants and their families.

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