The majority of the Indians would not mind giving their valuable possessions in exchange for an opportunity to settle abroad. This is because in foreign countries they are assured of attractive pay packets, strong healthcare and educational systems, a comfortable lifestyle and, of course, world-class facilities. In India, these things are reserved only for a privileged few and even basic essentials like water and electricity come at a premium for a large segment of the population. So, Indians in droves flock to overseas destinations like bees to honey.
However, not many in India are fortunate enough to find a way to foreign countries due to the high costs and efforts involved in acquiring the work permit and the plethora of formalities needed to be fulfilled. The aforesaid hassles are restricted to countries like the UK, US, Australia, Canada, Germany etc. but, for the Gulf countries, these are non-issues. Be it UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman etc one does not have to wage a heavenly war to secure work visas. Resultantly, several Indians have taken advantage of the easy accessibility to the GCC countries and made good fortunes for themselves and their families.
But, in Gulf countries also things are getting increasingly tough for the Indians, especially in the last few years. As per data provided by the Indian government, during the first half of 2021, ie till June, 3,11,190 Indians had gone overseas “for employment reasons”. However, these are not bad numbers considering the Covid-19-induced restrictions imposed across the globe and the resultant economic crisis world over. Looking at the larger picture ie going by the five-year figures one gets a contrasting picture, the figures for those going abroad have been coming down alarmingly. In this context, it is critical to understand that the outflow to larger economies in Gulf like UAE and Saudi Arabia is diminishing, after peaking in 2016. The only silver lining is that Indians going to GCC countries like Bahrain and Qatar have witnessed an uptick, but one needs to understand that these are smaller economies compared to the regional heavyweights like UAE or Saudi.
Now, it would not be inappropriate to understand the reason for the Gulf dream to sour increasingly for the Indians. Let us delve into the same.
Increasing Stress On Localization
For the last few years, localization has been gaining huge currency in the Gulf countries. Whether In UAE or Saudi, Emiratization and Saudization, the clamour to give preference to locals in matters of employment are getting louder and louder as the days progress. Also, Saudi in recent times has made giant strides in the arena of localisation. To deal with a high unemployment rate, Saudi is currently offering lucrative private-sector job opportunities to over 2,50,000 youths who enter the workforce every year. In such a scenario it is worth noting that the Kingdom in October 2020 introduced certain fresh localization guidelines for ICT roles. One of the mandates makes it incumbent upon companies to employ Saudis in at least a quarter of their ICT jobs. Such restrictive policies can dry up vacancies for foreign workers in the Kingdom as they apply to even private entities, the sector that employs a large number of foreign employees.
Cost of Living Escalates
The major attraction of Gulf countries used to be their tax-free status but that is changing dramatically now. The introduction of new taxes is stifling expatriates to a large extent. For example, in Saudi, the government has started taxing foreigners for various services it provides. The major irritant happens to be the Residence Fee, which now pinches expatriates very badly as it is levied per person as against the family previously. Therefore, now an Indian has to pay a large sum if his family happens to be big. This has prompted several foreign workers, especially Indians, to return to their roots or, at least, devise future plans for life back home.
Expat Levy On Employers
Saudi Arabia is also charging an expat levy from employers in the Kingdom. This is bound to force the employers in the Gulf country to give more jobs to Saudi nationals than foreigners. Previously, the expat fee used to be 200 riyal and charged only for the expat employees that exceeded the locals in the organization. But now the government takes 400 riyal from employers per expat employee each month where expats happen to be more than locals. Apart from this, the government also charges 300 riyal from an organization where both the communities are in equal numbers. This will definitely force the companies to reduce the hiring of expat workers as that would be more economical for them. Hence, the levying of the expat fee by the Saudi government is bound to curtail the job prospects of Indians to a large extent.
Well, these are some of the factors that are driving Indians back to their home country for the last few years. It could be argued that only Saudi is tightening the screws on foreign workers but gradually the domino effect could be seen in other GCC states as well. In fact, there is growing resentment among locals in several GCC countries over the lack of employment opportunities and Indians cornering a major chunk of jobs. So, eventually, other countries in the Gulf will also have to accommodate the local population at the expense of the expatriate community. And that is exactly not good news for Indians going forward.