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This Article is written by Utkarsh Singh, a law student from Amity Law School, NOIDA. This is an exhaustive article that deals with the migration of Indians to gulf countries, their plight, measures being taken and suggestions. 


Almost 8.5 million Indian citizens reside and do jobs in the Gulf nations like the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain thus, it has the largest population of migrants in the world. Due to the advantage of the geographical closeness of the Arabian Peninsula to the Indian peninsula, it makes it easier for the Indian labourers to migrate. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), India is one of the largest migrant providers to the gulf countries. Since the Indian migrants go to gulf countries mostly to earn money, this is a constant source of income for the Indians and they send money to their families while helping the gulf countries in their development. 

After the oil boom in the 1970s, a large number of migrants came to gulf countries for work. In this period the gulf countries made a policy to recruit labour mainly from the southern part of Asia or India because south Asian workers were ready to do labour work for a low price and they did not interfere in the political matters of the gulf countries which made it easy for the rich people to have a control on them. 

The south Asian and Indian workers became the pillars for the development of the construction work in the Gulf countries. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) views that the migrants are temporary but some migrants are living there for years and now their third generation is going to be the labourers. Around 70 per cent of Indian migrants work as the driver,  domestic servant or as labour at the construction sites. If we see the patterns of migration: earlier the majority of migration was from Kerala but now the migration of low skilled workers are from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Overall the states from where a large amount of labour migration happens are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana.

What is human migration

According to the International Migrant Stock 2019 report,  issued by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs,  around 17.5 million Indian migrants made India in the list of top international providers because it forms 6.4 per cent of the world’s migrant population. When a person moves from one place in the world to another it’s called human migration, some people choose to move and some have to move because the conditions in which they are living in is inferable to them. The United Nation Migration Agency which is an international organisation for migrants defines human migration as when a person moves from one international border to another or between states which are away from their habitual place irrespective of a person’s legal status, voluntary or non-voluntary movement, what the cause of movement is or what the length of the stay is. As in the matter of state migration, Indian constitution is very lenient as Article 19 says that every citizen of India can move freely within the territories of India. Information was given by the census of 2011, around 45 million Indians moved from their birthplace to others to make money and have a better life. 

Why do Indians migrate to Gulf countries


There are many factors which lead people to migrate from one place to another. Urbanisation is the major factor which leads Indian migrants to move to Gulf countries as in the rural areas the pay for work is less and the pay for work in the urban area is more. As urban areas are developing day by day the requirement of labour increases which leads to the increase in migration. 


A large number of Indian migrants migrate to Gulf countries from the rural area because they want employment in big factories, trade, transport services etc.  As the rural area and developing countries like India is not able to provide jobs to every person living in it, even a small factory of cotton or something is not able to give employment to the whole rural circle.

Political disturbances

Political disturbance and the conflicts between people force people to migrate from one place to another. A large number of the population has gone out to live from the territory of Jammu and Kashmir and Assam due to the political disturbance there. Some people migrate for a few days because where they are living they do not have the right amount of facilities available. 

‘Pull’ and ‘Push’ factors 

The important factors which are responsible for migration are push and pull. The push factors in Indian states are natural calamities, lack of natural resources, poverty, lack of work opportunities, lack of employment and backwardness and natural disasters, lack of cultivated lands, not equal distribution of land, low productivity of crops and many more. Pull factors of gulf countries are better education, high payment for work, a better condition in the place of work, better health facilities and many more.

Economic factors

This factor is related to the economic condition of a place. As the people of one place move to another, many people migrate because the economic condition is not good or they find a better place with better economic resources. Often this happens when rural people move to urban areas in the territory of that state. The migration in high-income countries is low because low-income or developing countries have more employment for labour than the developed countries.

Increasing consumerism 

This means increasing desire and need of the workers for improving the goods and services. India is one of the biggest and fastest-growing economies in the world. The requirements of individuals are increasing in developing countries because consumer’s lifestyles are improving day by day. To satisfy this ever-increasing and changing requirement and desire of people for better jobs which will improve their lifestyle can be possible if, one person earns in foreign currencies.

Impact of large scale migration

During the last forty years, the percentage of migrants has rapidly increased in the gulf countries. Therefore, the following are the various impacts that this large scale labour migration has had on the GCC countries-

Changing demography

After the finding of oil, the Gulf countries are said to have developed from the small tribals to a big modern state or country. This changing demography has been set off by the quick increase in the population. This huge and instant increase in population is not by the natural cause but it is increased by the quick arrival of migrants or workers from other parts of the world. However, the growth of migrants or labourers is not even in all the counties of the gulf.  The majority of migrants are in the United Arab Emirates, in Qatar and Kuwait. As 80% of the population of the United Arab Emirates is migrants.

Economic impact 

Over the years, the citizens of these countries have developed a nature in which they do not want to do manual work or they do not like doing private sector work, instead, they are tempted to do public sector jobs. Hence by this, a large scale of migrants or foreign workers like to do public sector jobs which are making a work apartheid situation. A study was conducted in 2013 which shows that foreign workers or migrants are doing work in construction sectors, wholesale and retail, as a result, 15% of them are doing household domestic services.

Socio-cultural Impact 

Indian labours or workers are flexible and cheaper but more importantly, there is no political danger by Indian migrants. The community of people who are living there and the community of migrants have different cultures and political integration. There are some studies which tell about the impact of a domestic worker in the care of old people. It is seen that the nucleation of families is getting better because of domestic workers in Kuwait. There is less compulsion of the oil industry to give revenue of 80% to the government’s total revenue of all the gulf countries.

Challenges faced by Indian migrants 

A huge population of untalented and untrained Indian labourers or migrants in the Gulf Cooperation council countries bear harsh conditions and they are denied the common labour rights. For most of the labours, this scenario has become worse because of the recent drop in the rate of oil in many gulf countries.

Kafala system 

The most private area jobs of Indian labourers in the Gulf is handled by the visa sponsorship, or kafala, framework. While there have been a few changes recently, the kafala framework despite everything ties an outside labourer’s residency license to support. Labourers require composed assent from their financer to change the boss or leave the nation under typical conditions. This training has been censured by the International Labor Organization (ILO). Denying the migrant labourers the common human right of an opportunity of development or freedom of movement, the kafala framework seems to be a mechanism that needs fundamental insurances for vagrant specialists, sustaining a ripe ground for bosses and work organizations to manhandle the framework. For example, backers can defer paying wages, reallocate international IDs, and expel labourers without cause. In the interim, specialists have regularly neglected to charge and indict backers for overstepping laws and penetrating agreements.

The plight of women 

The women who work in the house or are domestic workers, don’t have any legal protection. They bear many problems like they have to work overtime without extra money, they are forced in confinement, they are harassed psychologically, physically, verbally and sexually. It is often seen that the women who work in the house are ill-treated in gulf countries, and also they are rejected for getting amends in their legal rights, they are also used for smuggling goods which are common in gulf countries.

Improper treatment of workers 

Labourers even after the legal framework and improvement frequently wind up living in squeezed work camps lacking offices and experiencing unforgiving working conditions, where they cannot partake in social and cultural exercises. The abuse happens when the Indian workers or migrants first come to do work in the Gulf countries. Due to high turnovers workers or labourers are lied to and mistreated by the recruit companies. Some companies lie and promise false wages to the illiterate and untrained labourers or workers.

Norms not being followed 

The states where migrant labourers reside in the Gulf consistently neglect to hold fast to the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, in particular, the privilege or opportunity of affiliation, the privilege to aggregate bartering (for example for better wages or benefits), and the end of all types of constrained or necessary work. Inlet states have likewise not endorsed the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize Convention which was received by the International Labor Conference in 1948. All things considered, vagrant specialists cannot frame associations or dissent these uncalled for work.


The poor incompetent and semi-gifted work vagrants frequently put their life and family investment funds at stake to move to Gulf nations. In Desperation to discover profitable work in Gulf nations, the Indian transients approach private enlistment and position offices. They think, accepting this is an open door to acquiring pain-free income, these organizations are enjoying exploitative practices by conniving with the planned business. It is uncovered by the Indian transients that they were misused by the one who gave jobs just as the businesses from multiple points of view, for example, visa retaining, disavowal of guaranteed occupation or compensation and exploitation.

No systematic mechanism 

There is no functioning authority in India which keeps track of jobs opportunities and about the educational opportunities for people who are out of India. As the Indian government fails in keeping a watch over the private companies who are recruiting Indian workers, as a result, there are many cases in which they are misleading or companies fail to keep their promises.

Discouraging immigration 

The gulf countries are now realising that these foreign workers are taking their jobs so they decided to start some policies which give importance to the local labours and stop the immigration. The examples are as follows:

  • The government of Saudi Arabia had made policy in 2011, the policy was “Nitaqat” or “classification” which is a part of the Saudization program to confront the demographic challenge and security.
  • In this policy, the government of Saudi Arabia will make 1.12 million new work for the citizens of Saudi Arabia by 2014.
  • The policy called Nitaqat classifies the companies in the colours which are yellow, green, blue and red based on the number of Saudi workers working out of the total workers of the company.
  • Many other Gulf countries have been implementing laws like Oman which came with a policy of Omanization which removes the migrant workers from the factories and puts the trained Oman workers.
  • Kuwait is also doing the same by cutting down the number of migrants from the factories to give jobs to the local workers.

Labour problems  

A large portion of them works in the development, horticulture and disorderly areas as work. They experience the ill effects of the absence of better than average lodging, depleting work conditions on building locales, all the more frequently modern mishaps, nonattendance of any work agreements, and refusal of standard compensation instalment and so on. All the more significantly, at whatever point they are captured for not having legitimate work-visa, they need to offer an enormous incentive to police

The 189th ILO Convention

Before the formation of the United Nation, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was formed in 1919 following the first world war. Nowadays it is a very important part of the United Nation to give the rights of those who work as a slogan of “ decent work for all men and women”. This agreement came into effect on the 100th session of the International Labour Conference on 16th day of June 2011, it was an important day in the history of the International Labour Organisation for household workers, but it came in working in September 2013. This policy recognized by the household workers continues to be invisible, undervalued and are often women and girls who are carried out, many of them migrated because of the conflict in their community. The key provisions are as follows-

Fundamental rights

The agreement says that every country which is the member of International Labour Organisation under 1998 declaration has to maintain the fundamental right and principle at work and make sure that household workers are created as the other workers, and we have to respect and protect their fundamental right at work including that we have to give freedom to them for making an association or group so that they can bargain payments and facilities, the countries have to remove all forms of involuntary or compulsory labour, the countries have to stop child labour and the countries have to stop discriminating people on their employment or occupation.

The Right to information on terms and conditions of employment

All the member countries of the International Labour Organisation has to make sure or take measures to ensure that the domestic worker or the household workers are informed about the conditions of the employment or work in a clear, verifiable, appropriate and understandable manner and it is prefered as that employment should be in a contractual form so that the term and conditions are written and clear. The important information that should be provided to the household workers is that they should know the address or addresses where they are working, at what time they have to come for the job, what is the duration of a period of the job, which date is the first date for work and how much they will be paid when the work is done and how the payment calculation is been done.

There should be national law and regulation which says that the offer letter and contract of the job must be provided to the migrant workers before they migrate for work to the country so that they would not be able to get deceived by the employers.

The policy says that every member country shall make laws which make sure that the household workers enjoy protection against all forms of harassment, abuse and violence and fair terms of employment and decent working and staying or living in better conditions which respect their privacy. In the Gulf countries, a large number of household workers are in ‘live-in’ which raises the risk of less rest time, more working time and sexual abuse. Article 9 of the conventions which provide extra protection to household workers.

The convection deals with the working time of the domestic or household workers, which says that every member country should ensure that every household worker should get rest daily and weekly and an annual paid leave. The weekly rest should be at least 24 hours consecutive and during when they are not free then they can dispose of their time as please.

It deals with the safety and health of the worker or the labour, it tells the member countries that there should be a safe and healthy working environment and they should make sure that the occupational health and safety of the household workers have due regard for the specific characteristics of the domestic work.


The member country should make sure that the daily workers or household worker or the one who has minimum wage should be paid regularly or once in the month. The household workers should get their payment or money directly in cash daily or once in the month.

Social Security

The member country should make sure that the household workers are living in the conditions where there is respect for social security and the motherhood. These laws should be made by consulting the association leader of workers, the household workers and the one who gives them the jobs and place to work.

The convention deals with the role of private sector employment factories in the household work and aims to secure the respect and dignity of the household workers against abusive practices. It keeps in check the private sector where the workers and household workers are placed privately.

This also tells the member countries to implement rules so that the labourers, worker and household workers can easily consult the lawyers and go to the courts for resolving the matters which are going against the worker and labourers. 

Recommendations by ITUC

In 2011, there was a landmark convention on Domestic or household workers, International Labour organisation 189, was taken by the gulf cooperation council countries. However, not a single of them has amended the convention which binds itself to this international treaty. The gulf countries have to take the reforms seriously so that they can make a suitable environment for the migrant labourers and so that they do not get abused by the agents. 

The International Labour domestic workers convention no. 189 addresses the long-standing inequity by telling the members to make law for the household workers which respect the right of them and can make a place where they can work decently and live peacefully also the International Labour Conference in 2014 adopted the Protocol to international labour organisation Forced Labour Convention No. 29, which requires countries to take more measures to prevent and combat the trafficking of migrant workers for abuse. Despite the gulf countries’ promise to “support the international labour organisation’s interest in this issue, which represents one of our four strategic pillars,” every gulf cooperation country government abstained from the vote adopting the Protocol and none have subsequently ratified it.

Gulf cooperation council countries will need to understand the reforms to create an environment where migrant household workers are no longer subject to abuse. The International trade union confederation recommends that gulf cooperation council member countries should follow the rules mentioned hereafter:

  • Ratify the international labour organisation convention number 189 which gives minimum protection to the right of the migrant household workers. Further, they said that gulf county should also rectify the new protocol on forced labour. 
  • They should remove and finish the kafala system and make sure that the worker can change their jobs without any disturbance.
  • To solve matters such as passport seizure, the time of the workers’ work and timely paid or not, the laws should be brutal when someone is convicted of forced labour or abuse.
  • Make sure that the migrant labourers have easy access to law and court so that they can easily get justice.
  • Increase the penalties, when someone breaks the labour law.

Measures taken by India

  • Indian government makes sure the household worker or labourers get jobs only from the registered companies and if they get to know about any illegal recruiting agents then the government refers the matter to the police and the police take actions under the Imigration Act,1983.
  • The Indian government checks properly every document of all workers who get the jobs, they have to clear the emigration office’s requirements and this office to ensure that the worker is fit to go abroad and work. The untrained and unskilled worker is only allowed to emigrate when they clear the requirements of Indian mission abroad. The ministry of home affairs of India has especially advised the emigration authorities to check every document like passport, visa before allowing the workers to emigrate.
  • As when the cases arise that the worker, labourers or household workers are abused, harassed or not getting their payments on time and this matter has come to notice of the ministry of India then the Indian government directs the embassies abroad to help the workers or labourers as soon as possible. In many cases, the recruiting agent sees the problems of the worker or labourers and settles them as soon as possible. In the case where the recruiting agent does not act on the orders of the Protector General of Emigrants, the licence is suspended and further actions are taken as required.
  • When a private foreign company. is not able to meet the conditions to the agreement or is not able to pay the salary of the worker then the company is included in prior approval category (PAC) and their recruitment is stopped till when the Indian mission abroad gets the fresh and positive recommendation of that company. 


  • The Indian embassies and missions should make the recruitment processes more transparent and convenient for migrant workers. One way of doing this is to put the contact details of the worker on the web. 
  • If an agency commits fraud in the recruitment of the workers then it should be treated as a criminal act and the punishment for this offence should be both fine and imprisonment. 
  • The government should make sure to display the names of the defaulting recruitment agencies and agents on the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) and on the website of Indian Embassies to protect the interests of the potential migrants. 
  • The Ministry of Overseas and Indian Affairs should declare visa trading as a criminal offence in India.
  • The Indian government should pay attention to the visas being issued by the migrant workers as they do not know the labour laws of gulf countries. 
  • In the Gulf nations, the ‘kafeels’ keep the passports of the foreign workers and migrants thus, the migrants have no proof of identity to show their nationality in times of crisis. The Indian authorities should issue an identity card or a biometric card to every migrant worker that can be used for various purposes like banking, NRI voting and proving one’s identity.
  • Indian workers face many problems like communication and lack of money to finance their return trips to India. During the time of crisis, Indian authorities should direct the banks operating in the Gulf countries to provide emergency loans to these migrants for their return journey.
  • Governments should encourage migrant workers to open bank accounts in the country they are working and make mandatory contributions in it on a monthly basis. 
  • The government should be prepared for emergency evacuations of the migrants from port countries in cooperation with the host countries. It should also incorporate a pre-departure program for times of crisis.
  • India needs to formulate migration centric policies, strategies, and institutional mechanisms in order to ensure inclusive growth and development and reduce distress induced migration, thereby increasing India’s prospects for poverty reduction and achieving Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The Government should maintain accurate data and record of the migrant workers, working in the different countries to keep a check on them in case they overstay or illegally live in a country. 
  • The government at the Centre needs to provide amenities and social securities for the migrant population which is riddled with the issues of inadequate housing; low-paid, insecure or hazardous work; extreme vulnerability of women and children to trafficking and sexual exploitation etc. For instance, schemes like Kerala government’s Aawaz health insurance scheme, Apna Ghar project accommodation for migrant workers, Portable Rights- ensures the basic rights to workers in their respective home state, even as they labour in other states.


The Indian migrants in the Gulf countries have faced many issues stemming from discrimination among workers and systematic abuse due to their lack of political clout, lower socio-economic backgrounds and the importance of their remittances to the economy of India. Until recently, the Indian Governments are only able to provide ‘Band-Aid’ responses to alleviate the struggles of the Indian workers but have not come up with a permanent solution to put an end to their plight. While both India and the Gulf countries are taking steps to change this situation, their progress has been slow concerning improving the conditions of the migrants. For positively strengthening Indian migration, the Government of Indian and Gulf Cooperation Council countries should take immediate actions for the welfare of these workers.



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