Another migration Bill in the making

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Another migration Bill in the making

Monday, 27 December 2021 | Thomas Mathew Kadavil

Another migration Bill in the making

The Government must bring in a Comprehensive Migration Management Bill in consultation with the real stakeholders — the Indian migrants

The need for a Comprehensive Migration Management Act revamping the existing Migration Act 1983 was a long-standing demand of the Indian migrants. However, the draft Migration Bill 2021 is totally disappointing and contrary to the aspirations of the Indian Diaspora. It is appalling to note that the draft is cold-hearted in its outlook towards "Comprehensive Migration Management" and it is regressive than the Migration Act 1983.

Indian Diaspora was aspiring for an Act understanding the changing geopolitical, economic, socio-cultural, and strategic requirements of the present-day migration. The incumbent Act was basically envisaged to control or regulate only one aspect of migration -- the recruitments to the Gulf and the Middle East. Even though this inadequacy of the Act was pointed out at the very inception of the Act, no action was taken to rectify it by the successive governments.

Some patchworks in the form of amendments failed to provide for fair or ethical recruitment from India. The net result was large-scale illegal recruitments, visa trading, human trafficking, economic drainage, and untold miseries especially to the blue collar, manual, menial, and domestic workers - they all comprise the largest section of Indian migrants. A migrant having to pay a recruitment fee is unethical and leads to forced labor, human trafficking, bonded labor, and slavery. The need for a comprehensive migration management Act fervently started at the time of UPA-I, but their approach was indifference and they never exhibited the needed political will to get it enacted.

India is the highest remittance benefactor from its world's largest migrant population. World Bank estimated that India received the world's highest remittance last year worth $88 billion and it is expected to grow this year in spite of the Coronavirus pandemic. The major portion of Indian remittances was received from Indian emigrants from Gulf and Middle East migration corridors.

The draft does not reflect or contain any of the ideals of global Sustainable Development Goals 2030 which recognized migration as one of the major elements of the global development agenda.   To achieve the UN SDG 2030 goals, the Global Compact on Migration was passed and the gamut of future migration will be shaped and revolve around that.  Now the Global Compact on Migration is the international guideline or directive principle of global migration accepted by most nations.

The draft migration bill makes a very passing reference in three places of the tag line of GCM "safe, orderly and regular migration" instead of making it the core guideline for making our emigration bill and policy. India being a signatory to GCM, and as the world has already accepted these principles as the guidelines of their migration policy, we must be at the forefront of the implementation of these guidelines to get the best benefit for its large migrant population. Bringing in the 23 directive principles into the GCM will definitely widen the definitions, scope, and objectives and a total restructuring of the present Draft.

The very basic element of the new Comprehensive Migration Management Act should focus on implementing all the UN and ILO conventions, treaties, multilateral commitments to migrants' human rights and labor rights. Those that are not yet ratified should be ratified, should be made binding, and be made applicable to the Indian Diaspora across the board which will ensure to a great extent the safety and dignity of Indian migrants abroad. Otherwise, it will be a futile exercise by the Indian parliament and yet another yoke on the Indian migrants.

The Protector of Emigration is a colonial institution and an anti-migrant institution that needs to be scrapped altogether as it proved time and again to be a breeding place of institutionalized corruption.  In the bill it appears as Bureau of Emigration Administration and all the powers exercised by POE are vested in it with additional powers to penalize, like ordering fines, impounding assets, and suspending passports, etc. 

A comprehensive migration management Act is the need of the hour and total restructuring of the institutions, reframing the objectives, mission, and policies hitherto followed by India with a separate ministry (like the scrapped Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs) for looking after the safety, security,  and welfare of the migrant Indians abroad. At the base, Pravasi Ministries work as nodal authorities in states and union territories and they will coordinate and manage aspirants and returnees.  In short, the draft is totally silent on the role of state governments in migration affairs.

At the State and Union Territory level, there could be nodal migration management ministries that will coordinate with the Central ministry on all aspects of migration and returnees. Under the state and union territories, they must have district-level offices attached to District Collector Offices for the coordination of the migration-related activities, and the base level units should be Taluk or Panchayat level Pravasi Coordination Offices (for states with high concentration of migrants).  This structure will bring decentralized democratic and transparent governance of migration.  These kinds of structural reform only promote and manage "safe, orderly and regular migration"

A Pravasi Commission with quasi-judicial authority at the Center and in  the States and union territories is needed to look into the various issues related to migration pathways. In addition to labor attaches or labour secretaries, welfare attaches, provisions for legal attaches or legal secretaries must also be made in the embassies and missions of 18 ECR countries.  Access to justice is a major problem the Indian migrants are facing as the rule of law is inadequate to protect their rights.

For the inclusion of the Migrants in the inclusive democratic developmental process and for the development of policies and management of migration governance, a quasi-legislative body needs to be constituted under this Act at the Center and State.

It should be comprehensive in dealing with the issues and challenges of temporary economic migrants, blue-collar and white-collar, students, women, and migrant families. The act should speak about and tackle the unfair recruitments placements and employment, human trafficking, student mobility, women security and welfare, migration governance, remittances, return and reintegration, migration data, etc. A Comprehensive Migration Management Act, (CMMA) only could end the stark exploitation in the migration cycles mainly the recruitment process, at work, return, rehabilitation, and reintegration of the migrants.

The proposed bill is conspicuously silent on migrant women, their protection, and welfare.  The only clause which talks about women migrants in the draft is clause 8(iv) in chapter three which reads: "Facilitate gender-sensitive programs and activities to assist particular needs of women migrant workers". Detailed and compulsory provisions for ensuring safe migration for women should be included as women constitute more than 40 per cent of our emigrants and are the most vulnerable section among Indian emigrants.

We have waited for a comprehensive migration legislation for the last 35 years; we can wait for some more months. Our prayers are for a Comprehensive Migration Management Bill and hope the Government will revamp the draft with a new one in consultation with the real stakeholders — the Indian Migrants.

(The writer is Member, Loka Kerala Sabha. The views expressed are personal.)

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