India's orange passport cover plan makes workers feel 'second-grade citizens'

The Indian government decision will affect migrant workers in 17 countries including the UAE

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Reji Sunny, works in a delivery service company, a migrant worker from India, at the Deerfields Mall on January 18, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)
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Indian workers have said their government’s plan to assign orange-coloured passport covers for migrants who have not completed school is “unfair and discriminatory”.

The orange jacket will replace the emigration clearance on the last page of an Indian passport that is mandatory for unskilled and semi-skilled workers who have not completed Grade 10.

The Indian government decision will affect migrant workers in 17 countries including the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Oman and Qatar.

Reji Sunny, who works with a delivery company, said the distinctive colour would brand workers as uneducated. He said creating such distinctions was wrong.

“People will look at us differently and that is not good for us. They will immediately know your qualification,” said Sunny.

“There is a bar code inside the passport so they have all our information. What is the need for a new colour outside?”

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs government made the announcement last Friday. It said the decision would easily identify and protect labourers who have not completed Grade 10 who could be duped by unscrupulous agents. But workers and welfare officials say it will trigger divisions.

The decision follows a plan to discontinue the last page of an Indian passport with details of parents or spouse names, residential address and a space that states if an emigration check is required.

Sunny completed Grade 10 in India but when he moved to the Middle East 12 years ago, he was required to submit details of his work contract and health insurance to a government official in India to secure an emigration clearance stamp in his passport before leaving his home country.

He is worried the fresh rules will segregate him and force him to resubmit work papers along with other new orange cover passport holders.

“How will colour help keep people safe?” asked Sunny.


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Currently There are three types of Indian passports issued including a navy blue passport for regular citizens, a maroon passport for diplomats and a white cover for government officials.

Saidalavi KP came to the UAE 40 years ago. As he left school after grade four, he would be among the orange passport holders.

“It will make us feel bad and shy when we take out our passport in public places. People will realise immediately that this man is not educated,” said Saidalavi, who was initially employed as a cook and now works as a driver.

“It will separate people and divide them. It’s not good. In a democracy why should there be two sets of people? They can continue to enter our details inside the passport. Why should they change the colour? It will create more barriers.”

KV Shamsudheen, chairman of the Pravasi Bandhu Welfare Trust that offers advice to workers, posted a petition on Facebook appealing to the Indian government to withdraw the proposal and has urged non-resident Indians (NRIs) to email the petition to Indian officials. The plea asks for the last page details in passports to remain.

“We are segregating our citizens and those with orange passports will be considered second grade. Colouring a passport is not a solution. There is exploitation everywhere by recruiting agents but these are issues the government must tackle,” he said.

“They cannot dismiss this and say there are other colours. The different colour of diplomats and government officials’ passport denotes respect. But orange will degrade citizens. People who have money and education get respect and easy access to services, but with this new mentality workers will be pushed aside even more.”

It could also create further hassles for travel. Indians use a passport’s last page with their parents’ names and residential address details as official proof when applying for tourist visas since this has been verified by the police and government.

“If they delete the last page, we will have to submit additional certificates from India,” Mr Shamsuheen said.

“Also if I apply for travel visas for my parents, I will have to get more documents attested to prove they are my parents. We appeal against the orange passport so they keep the status quo.”

Emigration clearance is mandatory for workers with jobs in Middle East

As per Indian law, an emigration check on the last page of a passport is required for workers who find employment in countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei, Kuwait, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, the UAE and Yemen.

This does not apply to people who have completed high school and pay income tax. They do not require such clearance before travelling overseas for work.

The mandatory emigration check was put in place because there have been several instances of workers taking huge loans to pay agents in return for employment overseas but once they arrive in the Gulf, the labourers are coerced into low paying jobs with few benefits.

Documents that unskilled and semi-skilled workers travelling to 17 countries must submit include the employment contract, attested by the Indian mission of the country the worker will be employed in, and health insurance.

In specified cases, recruiting agents must submit affidavits that the worker will be employed by the same foreign employer by whom they have been recruited and will be paid the salary specified in the contract.

Once this is done, the emigration clearance is granted by an Indian official on the last page of a passport.

The new orange jacket passport for workers seeks to replace the passport's last-page emigration clearance details.

The government believed the colour would help immigration officials easily identify workers and check if their papers were properly vetted to prevent vulnerable labourers from being exploited.

Earlier, the father's name was also mandatory on the last page of an Indian passport. But following recommendations from the Ministry of Women and Child Development that which pointed out that the father's name was not relevant in cases of a single mother, it is no longer a requirement.

No date has yet been given for issuing of the new orange passports.