Diaspora : United Arab Emirates


Historical background
India’s historic trade links with the Arab World, including the UAE, are well known. The settlement of Indian traders mostly engaged in barter trade for pearls and dates began in the early 19th century and gained momentum after the First World War. They were concentrated initially around the ports of Dubai, Fujairah, Sharjah and Dalma Island. Until the early 60s, there were only a few hundred Indian families settled in the UAE. Following the oil boom of the 1970s, with UAE undertaking massive development programmes, large number of Indian workers, professionals and businessmen started moving to UAE.

Size of the community
The inflow of Indians increased steadily until 1995-96 to an estimated over one million. In 1996 and 2003, UAE announced an amnesty for all illegal immigrants to leave the country without prosecution. At a meeting of the Cabinet on June 3, 2007 under the chairmanship of UAE PM Sheikh Mohammad, it was decided that from 3 June to September 2, 2007 that is a period of three months would be given to provide all foreign nationals present illegally in the country with an opportunity to regularise their situation according to the law, or to leave the country, without penalty. Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate in Dubai are taking appropriate steps for providing services to the illegal Indian expatriates which is still ongoing. But the economic boom in the UAE over the past five years has attracted influx of Indian expatriates. The present strength of Indian community in UAE is estimated to be around 1.4 million, about a million of which live in Dubai and the Northern Emirates and the remainder of about 4 lakhs in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. The majority of the Indian population in the UAE is from the Southern States, including Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala. The rest belong to Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Rajasthan. The original settlers were mostly Sindhis and have been the integral part of the business community in the UAE.

It is estimated that about 33% of the total population and over 50% of the work force in the UAE are Indians. They are the largest expatriate community in the UAE and could be categorized into four broad groups, viz., (a) Unskilled workers, employed in construction companies, municipalities, agricultural farms and as domestic workers; (b) Skilled and semi-skilled workers; (c) Professionals, such as doctors, Engineers, Accountants, employed in Government and private sectors; and (d) Businessmen. Indians have been playing a major role in the economic development of the UAE over the last 35 years. Professionals and technically qualified Indians are engaged in huge number in the knowledge-based sectors such as information technology, Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, free zones, etc. The Indian Community, in so far as business is concerned, is engaged mainly in trading. There is now growing diversification into manufacturing, especially in the numerous Free Zones in UAE, in particular the Jabel Ali Free Zone (JAFZ), which has attracted a number of companies from India. Registered community associations provide a platform for interaction between visiting Indian dignitaries and influential locals. The Indian Business/Professional Group, Abu Dhabi, Overseas Indian Economic Forum, Dubai, Indian Business Council, Dubai and Indian Sports Clubs are active in organizing such interaction and facilitating visits of Indian leaders/ delegations. At times of national emergency, the Indian community has been spontaneous in its support to the motherland. This was evident during the Kargil war, Gujarat earthquake, Orissa cyclone etc. Occupation and employment prospects of the community.

The employment opportunities for unskilled and semi-skilled Indian workers in the UAE have shrunk gradually during the past few years for a number of reasons, including the shift in the demand for workers from construction sector to other knowledge-based industries and competition from other cheaper sources of labour supply in Asia and the Arab countries, but demand for knowledge workers from India is on the rise.

July 2009

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