Coronavirus: more than 1.15 million Indians return to jobs and homes in the UAE

Visiting minister says 1.3 million Indians travelled back to India from the Emirates after international travel resumed last May

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More than 1.15 million Indians returned to the UAE in the past seven months, a senior Indian minister said.

About 1.3 million Indians had left the Emirates since last May, when both countries resumed international travel disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

But about 150,000 Indians have not yet returned to the UAE.

V Muraleedharan, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, said the government did not have an exact figure for the number of Indians who lost their jobs when businesses closed because of the pandemic.

The figures were based on flight data, Mr Muraleedharan said.

"Every citizen does not inform the consulate whether they have lost their job or found one," Mr Muraleedharan said at the Indian consulate in Dubai on Thursday, at the end of a three-day visit to the UAE.

“Our information is on the basis of the number of people who travelled to India and those who returned, and there is a gap of 1.5 lakh [150,000]."

Mr Muraleedharan said redundancy was not the only reason people took repatriation flights.

“It does not mean that all of them lost their jobs," he said. "It could be that some of them are trying other avenues."

The minister said that for those seeking to return to the UAE, there were reports of issues with clearance from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.

This is required by residents of all emirates, except Dubai, before they board flights back to the UAE.

Several Indian residents wrote to the consulate and UAE immigration authorities about the trouble they faced securing entry clearance.

In November, Indian authorities said about 650,000 of its citizens had travelled home since May.

The records did not specify how many returned for medical treatment, on emergency leave to visit family or for annual vacation.

V. Muraleedharan, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs addresses workers at Delhi Private School in Dubai, where a program has been launched to help blue collar workers learn soft skills and language.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

V Muraleedharan, Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, addresses workers at Delhi Private School in Dubai, where a programme has been launched to help blue collar workers learn English, Arabic and computer skills. Reem Mohammed / The National

The Indian community of about 3.4 million people is the largest in the UAE. It was hit when businesses shut down in March during stay-home restrictions.

In a huge global repatriation programme, thousands of flights were operated by the government-run Air India and some of the country's private airlines.

The elderly, people with medical conditions, pregnant women and residents who lost jobs were placed on priority lists for the "Vande Bharat" flights to repatriate citizens.

Mr Muraleedharan also said he supported the UAE's decision to close non-government maid-hiring recruitment agencies to stop companies from exploiting domestic workers.

“India will definitely welcome any steps taken by the UAE government to protect the rights of workers,” he said.

“The UAE government has come up with a beneficial step that will help migrants from India and other countries. It will help those who are led into traps by unscrupulous elements."

He spoke of continuing efforts to integrate an Indian portal for registered recruitment agents with UAE data on similar companies.

The Indian consulate in Dubai is linking up with schools and universities to establish training centres where blue-collar workers will be taught computer skills and basic English and Arabic.

“During the pandemic, a large number of people lost their jobs,” Mr Muraleedharan said.

"They continue to be relevant in the job market. We want to equip them with new skills and to connect them with employers who may be looking for people with their capabilities."

In meetings with the UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, he also discussed financial measures to help workers who lost jobs.

“We have proposed a safety mechanism for people who have worked in the UAE for many years,” Mr Muraleedharan said.

"When they lose their job, it takes time to get their gratuity and other benefits.

“If the government can make any arrangement, it will be a welcome step.”

India’s huge global repatriation programme during the pandemic – in pictures