The number of Indian workers seeking a dream job in the UAE and other Gulf nations continues to fall according to preliminary indicators from a massive study that will examine the reasons for the decline.
More than 150 researchers visited 15,000 homes and completed the first phase of an extensive study last month in southern India’s Kerala state, traditionally the deepest pool of migrants to the Middle East.
“The decline in migration is likely to continue. We don’t see the trend being reversed. This is only an estimate because we have to look at all the numbers. But at first look, the numbers may stabilise or decrease, but it’s not going back up,” said S. Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Centre for Development Studies in Kerala.
“The number of 'return migrants' appear to be more than the numbers we had before,” said the professor who leads the survey using a term for workers who head home to India.
Amid questions in the Kerala Migration Study on home finances, education and health, families were also asked why relatives came back from the Middle East.
“We asked whether it was a forced return because they lost their jobs or voluntary because the wages were no longer worth it and they would earn more in Mumbai or in Kerala. We asked if a family problem made them return,” Mr Rajan said.
Researchers reported that people spoke of the Qatar crisis and its negative long-term impact on employment and also about the loss of jobs in Saudi Arabia.
The wide ranging study is usually conducted every five years but a survey was taken up in 2016 following reports of a decline in migration to the Middle East.
That survey was the first to record a drop in Kerala migrants from 2.4 million in 2014 to 2.24m in 2016.
Field workers have collected data from new households selected at random from villages and towns across 300 locations in the state for the first phase that began in January and ended in April.
The second phase to be completed by end-July is an ambitious project that seeks to plot some 10,000 families who have at various stages been part of the study over the past two decades.
“This is not just to study migration but the social and economic changes created because of migration. We have done this survey for 20 years so we will go back to households we have visited from 1998 to see the changes. We want to find out whether they sent more people to the Gulf. If they have, have they bought a new house? Are their children studying in English medium schools?” Mr Rajan said.
The 1998 Kerala Migration Survey covered 10,000 households, the exercise then expanded to include 15,000 households in 2008 and will include a total of 25,000 households this year. Preliminary findings will be ready by September.
Workers from Kerala state who speak Malayalam make up more than 40 per cent of the Indian community who are the largest expatriate community in the UAE.
Pradeep Kumar, who works as a driver in Sharjah, said semi-skilled workers were finding better opportunities back home.
“Before men would come here for a Dh1,000 salary. Now they will make more money and also save more at home. Masons, plumbers and electricians are finding that business is good in Kerala. There are some big malls that have opened and there is development happening at the district-level,” said Mr Kumar who earns Dh2,000 a month.
“People get interest free loans and women are opening small businesses. In my village there are women who sell pickle and juice. Some women supply home-cooked food to small hotels on the highway.”
Latif Karim, a contractor in Ajman, said he hoped decision makers read the survey.
“I have never heard of this study but I hope that people who can change the fate of workers at home and in this country that has become our home will look at it. It will show them why thousands of people like me come here to earn for our families. Maybe then things will change for us,” said Karim who earns Dh2,500 and works in the UAE to put his children through college in India.