Blue-collar employment in Gulf nations such as Saudi Arabia fell 33% in 2016, skilled jobs in countries like US too are expected to dry up. Job opportunities abroad plummeted in 2016, recruitment and remittances data show, projecting an employment crisis brought on by upheaval in the oil economies of Gulf countries and rising protectionism in the West.
The year saw a 33% fall in Indians getting jobs in the six Gulf countries — the destination for 90% of Indians emigrating for blue-collar jobs. It also saw the rise of political and economic conservatism, with nations such as the United States and Australia deciding to put up protectionist curbs in skilled sectors such as software.
“The crisis in Gulf is something that affects us in more ways than one. The workers here send most of their earnings back home,” said a diplomat from a Gulf country, pointing to an effect reflected in private remittances to India. The World Bank has reported that India saw an 8.9% drop in money sent back by its citizens from other countries in 2016, a sharp decline compared to the 1% dip in the previous year.
India saw $69.6 billion in remittance from 2014, which dipped to $68.9bn in 2015 before falling to $62.7bn last year. The back-to-back decline is a first in three decades, the World Bank report said. “I lost two jobs in past two years in Saudi and then I headed home and waiting for dues to be settled,” said Satheesh Kurup from Kerala.
In 2016, 165,356 people found jobs in Saudi Arabia, almost half of the 306,642 people who got employment in 2015. “With oil prices hitting below $40 per barrel this was bound to happen. But we doing our best to ensure anyone who lost his or her job is assisted”, the diplomat posted in a Gulf country said. He requested to not be identified for this story since he was not authorised to speak on the matter.
In addition to the problems in the Gulf, the rising anti-globalisation sentiment in the West is seen dealing a one-two punch to foreign job prospects. Companies in United States have been seen paring back plans to hire Indians through the H1-B visa scheme after the election of Donald Trump who rode on, among others, a promise to protect the employment opportunities for Americans.
Last week, Trump signed an executive order to overhaul the H-1B program. One of the bills calls for a minimum wage of $130,000 against the current $60,000 for those being brought in on the visa category.
The higher ceiling will close the wage benefit the H1-B programme gave to US firms when they hired Indian workers, who typically draw significantly lower salaries than American workers at comparable levels. According to industry body ASSOCHAM, nearly 86% of H-1B visas issued for workers in the technology sector goes to Indians and this figure could be scaled down to about 60% or less.
“Currently there are four Bills in the US Congress about curbs on H-1B visas. We are engaged (in a dialogue) with the US at very high level regarding this… We are making all efforts (through diplomatic channels) to ensure these Bills are not passed,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj said in the Rajya Sabha in March.
Australia too tightened its visa rules for foreign workers, abolishing a scheme primarily used by Indians. While the Indian government is engaging their counterparts in most countries that have tightened work visa rules, prospect seems bleak.
“The government should always look at ways to promote legal immigration. If one destination is hit, there will be others, and they need to be explored and found out and proper legal mechanism for immigration should be arrived at with the host country”, said S Irudayarajan of Central for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram and a former consultant for the government on immigration. In addition to the policies of the destination countries, some Indian rules too have contributed to jobs abroad becoming difficult.