Diaspora : Labour Mobility


Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi inaugurated the International Conference on India-EU Partnerships in Mobility in New Delhi on February 21. The three-day meet was organised by the Ravi’s ministry in partnership with Jawaharlal Nehru University. Around 150 policy makers and academic experts from over 20 countries deliberated upon issues and practices pertaining to mobility of labour between India and the EU countries

“I am happy to be here this morning at this International Conference on India-EU Partnerships in Mobility. Let me extend to all of you a very warm welcome. I am encouraged to see over 150 distinguished delegates. It is not often that you see eminent scholars and experienced practitioners rubbing shoulders. I am delighted that several academics from institutions of repute and senior government representatives from across the world are at this conference. Besides the representatives from the EC, the member states of the EU and various missions in India, I am happy we also have delegates from the state governments, civil society, and the relevant UN agencies participating.

India is an important player in international migration. As a major country of origin and destination, it is our view that, to migrate or not, is a personal choice that an individual exercises. We have several hundreds of years of experience with migration. We have an overseas Indian community estimated at about 25 million spread across 110 countries in the world.

Curbing irregular ­migration is an issue of concern not only in the countries of destination but also in the countries of origin. There is ­evidence to suggest that where legal migration is rendered more difficult, the direct consequence has been more irregular migration

What is less known, though, is the fact that as a free and tolerant society, migrants have also been drawn to India by its economic prosperity. We are also host to millions of immigrants, many of who are irregular. They have made India their home and contribute in full measure to our pluralistic society. We are therefore uniquely placed to host this conference.

This conference could not have come at a more appropriate time. Never since the Great Depression has the global economy faced as deep and as widespread an economic crisis as today. With many economies in the world either in recession or in the midst of a slowdown, there is a dark cloud over the short-term growth prospects of the global economy.

The direct and perhaps the most visible impact of these crises have been higher rates of unemployment with several thousands of people losing their jobs across sectors and across geographies. In this scenario, we are beginning to see populist political-economy at work, with some countries tending towards more protectionist policies and raising barriers to labour mobility. This response would, indeed, be counter-intuitive and detrimental to the speedy recovery and future growth of the global economy. We must convert the crisis into an opportunity. This we must do by enhancing international cooperation on migration.

We live in a world in which the free movement of capital, goods and technology is seen as a virtue, but also one in which the movement of people is more difficult than ever. Nor have the questions relating to labour mobility been as complex, controversial, and in need of urgent international cooperation as today. At no time in the past has international migration and the free movement of natural persons across borders, been as important for global economic development. Facilitating and managing international mobility of labour to transform it into a humane, orderly, and mutually beneficial process is a challenge that faces all of us. We must work together to transform it into a ‘win-win’ process.

Allow me to suggest that in an increasingly globalising world, future development prospects will be determined substantially, on achieving a minimum policy harmonisation on international labour mobility, across the world. This policy convergence will be the next frontier of globalisation. Quite simply, the free movement of persons in the future is more likely to be propelled by the labour supply gaps of the global market. The demographic dynamic and the structural problems of the global labour market cannot be wished away. They will, increasingly, shape both the direction and pace of labour mobility across borders, over the medium to long term.

We therefore need to work together to change perceptions about free movement of people, allay apprehensions on labour market access in the destination countries, build strong inter-state and inter-regional cooperation and, explore new instruments to achieve calibrated migration practices that can best meet the needs of both — the countries of origin and of destination. There are two key areas of concern in international labour mobility, which need to be addressed urgently, if we are to maximise the benefits of migration and development.

The first is to address the problem of irregular migration. Curbing irregular migration is an issue of concern not only in the countries of destination but also in the countries of origin. In the absence of ‘inclusive’ and equitable development, vastly differing economic opportunities combined with restrictions on free movement only serve to aggravate the problem. There is evidence to suggest that where legal migration is rendered more difficult, the direct consequence has been more irregular migration.

These have social and security ramifications which are now well beyond mere law-enforcement and need to be appropriately addressed by the countries involved. We also need to work in a concerted manner to address the scourge of people smuggling and trafficking, especially of women and children. Ironically, although governments would not consider banning cross-border trade in goods and services, outlawing movement of people who produce these goods and provide these services is allowing organised crime cartels a free run, seriously jeopardizing our ability to manage migration. It is here that a positive policy harmonisation among countries of origin and destination, supported by a bilateral mobility partnership can help enormously.

The second area of cooperation that is imperative is in providing migrants a secure legal status at destination and enabling their integration into the mainstream of society, without discrimination of any kind. This alone can help realise the full development potential and the benefits of labour mobility to both the countries of origin and of destination. This will require developing progressive bilateral instruments and effective institutional arrangements that will provide a broad framework for cooperation on all aspects of international migration. Capacity building, across the board, among all stakeholders will be critical to the process. Developing good migration practices will be imperative. 
As we move forward in this century, our success will be predicated on our ability to shape policy on the basis of empirical data rather than populist appeal that runs counter to progress.

I do hope one of the outcomes of this conference will be the forging of academic partnerships between institutions in India and the EU. My ministry would be happy to support such collaborative efforts. Let me hasten to add, however, that academic research and empirical data alone will not help. Our success will depend on our ability to achieve a progressive harmonisation of the international migration policy that best meets the common interests of India and EU member states.
The key outcome of this conference should be the development of a coherent and robust approach to labour mobility partnerships that will provide the framework for cooperation between India and the EU. This conference must serve as an important platform to foster better understanding of the myriad opportunities that are before us to forge stronger India-EU cooperation in International migration. 

As you begin your deliberations, I see before me a learned audience - an eclectic group, rich in experience. The agenda before you is challenging and the schedule of the conference, demanding. But do try and also enjoy yourselves. This is a pleasant time of the year and Delhi can be enchanting. I commend all of you and dare say there will be an enlightened meeting of minds, by the time you conclude. I wish you success in your endeavours.”

March 2009

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