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UAE objects to India’s eMigrate scheme citing sovereignty issues

S. N. M. Abdi

Published: Updated:

The United Arab Emirates has lodged a strong protest over the eMigrate program – India’s flagship scheme for Indian workers abroad – headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

Placing UAE’s displeasure in the public domain, Dr. Ahmed al Banna, UAE ambassador to India, told The Hindu newspaper that the eMigrate scheme is “intrusive” and violates UAE’s “sovereignty.”

The envoy specifically criticized India’s diplomatic missions in the UAE for overstepping their consular jurisdiction.

India has not responded to Dr. Al Banna’s charge. But Al Arabiya spoke to Talmiz Ahmed who was India’s Ambassador in UAE from 2007 to 2010 and served twice as New Delhi’s envoy in Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2003 and 2010, and in Oman from 2003 to 2004.

Responding to Al Banna’s accusation, Ahmed said in an exclusive interview: “I think there is a misunderstanding. The Indian diplomat has the duty to ensure that the terms of the contract are being honored in terms of living and working conditions. The UAE and Indian governments are partners – not adversaries – in ensuring that workers’ contracts are fully honored.”

In 2015, responding to mounting complaints of Indian workers about ill-treatment abroad, Ministry of External Affair’s Overseas Affairs Department had put in place the eMigrate program for gathering extensive information on emigrants as well as foreign employers, their companies and recruiting agents.

“India wants to build a databank to extract information about these companies in the UAE. We consider this a breach of our sovereignty”, Dr. Al Banna told the newspaper’s Diplomatic Editor, Suhasini Haidar, in a hard-hitting interview.

The UAE envoy disclosed that he had already communicated his government’s objections to the Secretary for Overseas Indian Affairs, Dnyaneshwar Mulay, and Prime Minister Mod’s Principal Secretary, Nripendra Mishra.

Dr. Al Banna demanded that India immediately stop inspecting the premises of UAE companies for gathering information.

“Some information only the UAE government or concerned ministry is allowed to collect. It is also not in the Indian Embassy or Consulate’s ambit to conduct inspections, and we have taken strong objection to that. This is not India’s work, this is ours. We have offered Indian authorities that we will give them the information they desire,” Dr. Al Banna said.

The report also highlighted the decline in remittances from Indian emigrants worldwide – the majority is employed in the Gulf region including UAE and Saudi Arabia. According to World Bank, 2016 witnessed a decline of 8.9 percent. In 2014 India received $69.6 billion in remittances, which dipped to $68.9 billion in 2015 and fell to $62.7 billion last year.

The report linked the fall in remittance to “India’s decision to enforce more protective measures for its labor force through the eMigrate program in 2015 and a system of Minimum Referral Wages (MRW) in 2014 have made Indian labor much more difficult to hire by foreign employers.”

India has lost mainly to Bangladesh, which has increased its share of the labor output to the Gulf many times compared to India and Pakistan.

In 2015, of the three countries, India accounted for 37% of the labor, Pakistan accounted for 44%, while Bangladesh accounted for just 19%. However, in the first three months of 2017, Bangladesh has reversed that trend and now accounts for 51% of the South Asian labor output to Gulf countries.

Dr. Al Banna said that “in order to stem that trend” UAE’s issues over the eMigrate system must be resolved soon.