Every month many Indian workers in the UAE set aside a significant portion of their wages to support families back home.
People from the southern state of Kerala account for the highest remittances, statistics show.
Some arrived in the Emirates more than 20 years ago and have never skipped the monthly transfer essential to keep homes running and provide crucial education for children.
Some steadily built up savings to start small businesses and retail outlets in line with their goal to assist loved ones.
To mark International Day of Family Remittances, which is observed each year on June 16, The National is telling the stories of Indians in the UAE who put others first.
Surendra Nathan, 52, an electrician with a company that designs car parking spaces in Dubai, feels fortunate to be able to support his daughter’s ambition of becoming a doctor.
“From the time she was young, my daughter always said she wanted to be a doctor. Dubai has been good to me and I can help her through college,” said Mr Nathan.
“I had dreams of building a home and I did it, slowly. I was very disciplined; I send money home every month.
“I make sure I do not spend any extra money and owe no dues to anyone.”
He bought small shops near his home in Kerala and rented these out as a supermarket, cosmetic store and tailor's.
“Everything changed for me when I came to Dubai,” he said.
“Every month I tell people they must send home Rs20,000 [Dh1,000] minimum. If they have children studying, it will be more.
“I kept aside money to slowly buy land and shops. If I didn’t have enough money one year then I would do it the next year. Some people come here and don’t save. I did this for my family.”
Family remittance stays strong
India, Mexico and China are the top countries for remittances, World Bank figures show.
Remittances fell drastically when hundreds of thousands of migrants from South Asia returned home after the coronavirus pandemic began in 2020.
The availability of vaccines and opening up of the economies in GCC countries enabled a gradual return of workers and supported larger remittance flows, a World Bank 2021 migration report said.
Indians form the largest expatriate population in the UAE, with about 3.4 million living in the Emirates.
The UAE tops the list of non-resident remittances to India followed by the US, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Annual remittances by Indians in the UAE amounted to more than $17.06 billion in 2019, UAE Central Bank figures show.
Richard Wason, chief executive of Lulu Financial Holdings, said family remittances remained strong, with a significant increase in volumes to India, elsewhere in South Asia and the Asia Pacific region.
“We expect this to continue as the rates are favourable at the moment for outward remittances from the UAE to other countries,” he said.
“With many expats now returning to their jobs, we are witnessing an even further increase and this is expected to continue to all corridors.”
Hasan Fardan Al Fardan, chief executive of Al Fardan Exchange, also said there was a surge in remittances to India after a natural dip in the first few months of this year.
“Indian expats are taking advantage of the drop in the value of the Indian rupee,” he said.
“Kerala receives 19 per cent of overall inward remittances. From the UAE, 35 per cent of the remittances sent to India are sent to Kerala.”
Lessons in saving
Expatriates said they were grateful to have retained their jobs when they saw friends return home after businesses shut down during the pandemic.
Mohammed Yayyattukavil, 50, from Kerala, moved to the UAE about 30 years ago and works as a sales manager with a furniture company.
“I could make a home, buy a car, pay for my children’s education and take care of my family’s expenses, this is important to me,” he said.
He advised young people who come to the UAE to imagine their salary as Dh500 less than they actually earn so they save the amount.
“If they have a salary of Dh2,000, they should think they earn 1,500. Then they can send home Dh500. It can be their investment so they can become something.
“If you spend everything then you can’t do anything in your life.”
He warned people to be cautious of spending more than they earn.
“They will have too much tension if they don’t live within their means,” he said.
“You cannot earn Dh2,000 and spend Dh4,000.”
Mr Yayyattukavil was part of a Kerala charity group that distributed food to people in need during the lockdown when stay-home restrictions were enforced.
“For many people it was a struggle, we were lucky,” he said.
“The UAE has given me a life, given my family a life.”