'Majority in distress are unskilled workers on visit'

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A small percentage of the distress were caused because of failed businesses.

A majority of the workers' distress cases attended by the Indian Consulate are of unskilled workers who arrive in the UAE on a visit visa, according to senior officials at the Consulate-General of India in Dubai.

This year alone, the consulate received over 1,000 labour distress cases, of which 35 per cent of the complaints were from workers who arrived in the UAE on a visit visa, hoping to bypass India's e-Migrate system. The officers said even though the numbers on the e-Migrate system have increased, the problems have not reduced.

Earlier this month, India's Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said a total of 39,372 ECR passport holders have registered in the e-Migrate system this year till June 30. Neeraj Agrawal, head of chancery and acting consul-general of India, said: "Our data shows a majority of those who face problems are unskilled workers came on visit visas."

He added: "This is definitely the case of female domestic workers who come to work as nannies and caretakers for aged persons. Almost all of them are not skilled workers."

Agarwal urged workers to come to the UAE through proper channels, specifically through the e-Migrate system, because it safeguards the worker's interests. The official also said a small percentage of the distress were caused because of failed businesses.

Agarwal said: "Workers should equip themselves and learn the dos and don'ts of working in the UAE before moving here for employment. We run several awareness campaigns in the Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK) for the workers. We give them all the pre-departure details, and it is very important they understand the cultural values of the place."

Workers want to bypass the e-Migrate

Jitender Singh Negi, consul for labour, consular and Madad, said the consulate received over 1,000 labour complaints this year, of which 35 per cent are from those who had come on tourist visas. "The biggest issue is that they cannot convert the visas. The e-Migrate system provides workers with insurance and gives the contact details as well," said Negi. While some of the workers get lucky and convert their visa status in three months, others end up overstaying and are forced to pay fines.

Negi added: "Nowadays, the government is more lenient. They give a grace period of 10 days after visa expiry to exit the country. Even then, we have people in distress who come to us in the very last moment."

Meanwhile, Indian social workers Naseer Vatanapally and Girish Pant have their hands full with cases of workers in distress. "Almost 85 per cent of these labourers are unskilled. They come here on a visit visa and they are promised jobs. But that never happens. In many cases, because they can't afford the overstay fees, they are taken to immigration and a ban is placed on them," said Vatanapally.

He added: "In 2019 alone, I would've helped repatriate 60 to 70 workers with the help of the consulate. They come to work as electricians or plumbers, but they don't know anything."

Girish Pant said: "In 2019, I have helped repatriate approximately 40 to 50 workers. Almost all of them were unskilled workers who were on visit visas. Two of them came on forged visas."

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Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for 10 years. She has a keen interest in writing about issues that plague the common person, and will never turn down a human interest story. She completed her Bachelor in Arts in Journalism, Economics, and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves travelling, and Audible is her favourite mobile application. Tweet at her @wordjunkie88

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