Amendment to Immigration Act, NRI centres abroad on cards

Vimala Vasan

Abu Dhabi, May 9

Moves to amend the Immigration Act to ensure stiffer penalties for unscrupulous recruiting agents, opening of NRI centres abroad and pension schemes for Gulf returnees are among a series of measures being taken up by the Indian Government to address issues related to NRIs, said Mr Vayalar Ravi, Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs.

Mr Ravi, who is in the UAE as part of a tour of some Gulf states, told press persons at the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi that he was committed to bringing about a quick solution to some of the more pressing problems plaguing Gulf NRI workers. Mr Ravi indicated that he had initiated a publicity campaign to bring about amendments to the 1983 Immigration Act to make it more difficult for exploitative recruiting agents to cheat poor Indian workers keen to take up jobs in the Gulf.

"This could include stiff penalties including jail terms of five to six years to act as a deterrent. We are aware that this is a very serious issue as thousands of Gulf workers are affected and I am keen to bring this amendment as soon as possible," he said. Further, following a meeting with the UAE Minister for Labour and Social Affairs, Dr Abdulaah Al Kaabi, last week, Mr Ravi told the local media that an MoU between India and the UAE has been proposed to resolve labour issues pertaining to Indian workers. Plans are also on to open NRI centres in each of the overseas regions where there is a large Indian expatriate population, he said. Such centres would be opened in the Gulf, the US and South East Asia. The Ministry is also studying the possibility of setting up a corpus fund for launching a pension scheme for NRI returnees.

"We are also looking at offering incentives similar to those available in special economic zones in order to rehabilitate returnees," he said.The Ministry is also working on a scheme to document all Indians who take up employment overseas prior to their departure in a bid to keep records of overseas workers, Mr Ravi said. State governments are also being encouraged to initiate pre-departure orientation courses for workers going abroad, he said.Mr Ravi promised to look into the unresolved problem of high airfares on the Gulf-India sector. He also indicated that he would take up representations from the Indian community regarding extending Air India Express'operations to Tamil Nadu and other Indian states. The Minister also called on NRI investors to participate in the proposed NRI University which was announced by the Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, at the Pravasi Meet held earlier this year. Moves were also on to include more award categories for the best worker and those involved in social service at the next Pravasi meeting, he added.Indian Ambassador Mr C.M. Bhandari said that the Indian Government had recently given permission for the mission to hire lawyers on a weekly basis to provide legal advice to Indian workers facing labour disputes and other problems.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated May 10, 2006)
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