While, Nepal, Bangladesh, Lanka, Philippine have reintegration plans, India neither has a migration nor reintegration policy
India is the largest remittance-receiving country and is also the largest migrant-sending country.
In 2019, India received $83 billion as remittance. And according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), in terms of the country of origin of international migrants, India stood right at the top with 17.5 million persons living beyond its shores.
Indians had started migrating as economic migrants in large numbers since the 1960s. But India does not have a migration policy yet. And migration is still governed by a 37-year-old Emigration Act.
Unfortunately, when Indians are returning from COVID-19-hit foreign countries, mainly due to job loss, this lack of a reintegration policy has crippled the country.
Many South Asian migrant-sending countries have migration policies and a few have reintegration policies as well.
Interestingly, a few have also tailored reintegration policies after COVID-19 has impacted their workers abroad.
Nepal has a migration policy but not a reintegration policy. However, Nepal has initiated a few plans following COVID-19.
Talking to The Lede over the phone from Kathmandu, Nilambar Badal, a migrant rights activist, said that their government has formed a task force to study return and chalk out plans for reintegration.
“There is no specific financial assistance declared or provided to the returning migrant workers upon arrival. However, the government has announced to link the returnee workers to the PM Employment Programme, which will provide them job opportunities,” Nilambar Badal, a migrant rights activist in Kathmandu, told The Lede.
According to Nilambar, the government is trying to create special sector-specific economic areas where the returning migrant workers' skills, knowledge, and capital will be pooled and utilised.
“Additionally, the Foreign Employment Board has announced skill training for returning migrant workers which will be provided at the district level and National Skill Testing Board is planning to test and certify the skills of the returning migrant workers and the data shall be uploaded to the Employment Information Management System that links primarily with PM Employment Program and other employment programs as well,” Nilambar added.
According to Nilambar, the Foreign Employment Information Management System (FEIMS) is also being considered to develop an employment pool to be accessed by the employers and aspiring and returning migrant workers.
“The plan is to create a centralised integrated database to be accessed by employers and workers,” he added.
Annually, Nepal had received remittances totaled $8.1 billion last year, or more than a quarter of Nepal's gross domestic product.
More than 56% of Nepal's estimated 5.4 million households receive remittances that are a vital lifeline for families that have no other source of income.
Bangladesh has a migration policy with international standards to protect their citizens working abroad and has also tailored a special plan to support returnee migrants following the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The government has formed a working committee with representatives of all the ministries concerned to help our returnee migrant workers, as well as those who are stuck in foreign countries,” Marina Sultana of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit, a migrants’ rights group in Dhaka, told The Lede.
Marina said that the government had given $2 lakh to migrant workers through 32 foreign missions so that workers do not go hungry.
“And around $60 has been given to each worker who returned between March and May 31 as their conveyance allowance,” she added.
Additionally, Marina confirmed that the government has also created a fund worth $2 crore from the Wage Earners Welfare Board and deposited it to the Probashi Kallyan Bank.
“Returnee migrant workers can take loans worth $1000 to $6000 at only 4% interest rate from the bank without any mortgage and start small businesses,” she added.
International remittances normally represent around 7% of Bangladesh’s GDP. 10 million migrants from Bangladesh had sent close to $18 billion in 2019.
The Philippines is known for its model of migration governance, which combines policies of regulation, protection, and welfare assistance that govern the labour migration process.
Already, the Philippines has reintegration services which are a package of interventions and mechanisms developed and implemented social partners to facilitate the productive return of the Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) to their families and communities upon their completion of overseas employment.
Skill training and loans are provided.
Recently, it was announced that job opportunities in the business process outsourcing (BPO) industry will be made available to overseas Filipino worker (OFW) returnees, especially those with a background in the fields of information technology and healthcare.
In a statement, Labour Assistant Secretary Dominique Tutay had said the agency and the IT and Business Process Association of the Philippines (IBPAP) are working together to help the reintegration of OFWs and fill the demand for more manpower in the BPO industry.
National Reintegration Center for OFWs (NRCO) OIC-director Roel Martin had said the partnership will help the DOLE attached agency in linking OFW returnees, and even their families, for possible employment.
He added that among the agency's partners in OFW reintegration are SITEL; the Department of Public Works and Highways and DMCI for Build, Build, Build projects; Mega Sardines; and Motolite.
"OFW returnees are referred to the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) for retooling and upgrading of their skills," Martin said.
And it is under the migration policy framework; the Philippine government oversees the repatriation of Filipino migrant workers who are caught in emergencies abroad.
The Department of Labour and Employment (DOLE) had reported that a total of 341,161 affected OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers) were either terminated from their jobs or cannot report to work due to imposed lockdowns brought by the pandemic. And around 200,000 are expected to be repatriated in June until August this year, according to DOLE.
Already, the government has announced welfare assistance for returnees, primarily through immediate financial assistance and transportation to home communities.
Dubbed the DOLE-AKAP, the program involves giving $200 or its equivalent to the local currency of the country where an OFW is staying, to help the workers get by during the crisis.
The program covers regular and documented OFWs, certain undocumented OFWs, and OFWs who could not return to their host country because of the Philippines' ongoing lockdown.
Additionally, the Philippine government has also ordered local government units to accept the repatriates as they return to their home provinces.
Sri Lanka has a migration policy, which includes provisions to ensure fair reintegration practices too.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak, to help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns.
According to Sujeewa Lal Dahanayake, a migrant rights activist in Lanka, the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) is currently in the process of preparing an action plan for returnee’s post-COVID 19 with International Labor Organisation and International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
“And Lanka also had exempted remittance flows from abroad from some regulations and taxes,” Sujeewa added saying that more welfare plans are expected from the government for the returnee migrants.
Meanwhile, on June 24, the International Labour Organization had said that policies need to be put in place to protect stranded migrant workers and to ensure the reintegration of those who return to their home countries.
“This is a potential crisis within a crisis,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the ILO’s Conditions of Work and Equality Department.
“We know that many millions of migrant workers, who were under lockdown in their countries of work, have lost their jobs and are now expected to return home to countries that are already grappling with weak economies and rising unemployment. Cooperation and planning are key to avert a worse crisis,” the ILO official added.
Michelle Leighton, Chief of the ILO’s Labour Migration Department, said that with the right policies, the return of these workers can be converted into a resource for recovery.
“These migrants will bring with them talents and new skills, and in some cases capital, that can support efforts in their home countries to build back better. We must help these countries grasp the opportunity,” the ILO official added.
Unfortunately, India neither has a migration policy nor a reintegration policy.
Professor Irudaya Rajan of Centre for Development Studies told The Lede that at least 15 lakhs will be returning India empty handed and without a job.
“They are going to add more stress to the unemployment situation here, which is already in a bad shape,” he added.