21 Feb :The Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Shri Vayalar Ravi has inaugurated the International Conference on India-EU Partnerships in Mobility here today. The three day international conference has been organized by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, in partnership with Jawaharlal Nehru University, JNU. About 150 policy makers and academic experts from over twenty countries will deliberate upon issues and practices pertaining to mobility of labour between India and the EU Countries.
Following is the text of the inaugural address by the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs, Shri Vayalar Ravi:
“I am happy to be here this morning at this International Conference on India-EU Partnerships in Mobility. Let me extend to all of you a very warm welcome. I am encouraged to see over 150 distinguished delegates. It is not often that you see eminent scholars and experienced practitioners rubbing shoulders. I am delighted that several academics from institutions of repute and senior government representatives from across the world are at this conference. Besides the representatives from the EC, the member states of the EU and various missions in India, I am happy we also have delegates from the state governments, civil society, and the relevant UN agencies, participating.
India is an important player in International Migration. As a major country of origin and destination, it is our view that, to migrate or not, is a personal choice that an individual exercises. We have several hundreds of years of experience with migration. We have an overseas Indian community estimated at about 25 million spread across 110 countries in the world.
What is less known, though, is the fact that as a free and tolerant society, migrants have also been drawn to India by its economic prosperity. We are also host to millions of immigrants, many of who are irregular. They have made India their home and contribute in full measure to our pluralistic society. We are therefore uniquely placed to host this conference.
This conference could not have come at a more appropriate time. We meet in extraordinary circumstances. Never since the great depression has the global economy faced as deep and as widespread an economic crisis as today. With many economies in the world either in recession or in the midst of a slowdown, there is a dark cloud over the short term growth prospects of the global economy.
The direct and perhaps the most visible impact of these crises have been higher rates of unemployment with several thousands of people losing their jobs across sectors and across geographies. In this scenario, we are beginning to see populist political-economy at work, with some countries tending towards more protectionist policies and raising barriers to labour mobility. This response would, indeed, be counter-intuitive and detrimental to the speedy recovery and future growth of the global economy. We must convert the crisis into an opportunity. This we must do by enhancing International cooperation on migration.
We live in a world in which the free movement of capital, goods, and technology is seen as a virtue, but also one in which the movement of people is more difficult than ever in the past. Nor have the questions relating to labour mobility been as complex, controversial, and in need of urgent international cooperation as today. At no time in the past, has International migration and the free movement of natural persons across borders, been as important for global economic development. Facilitating and managing International mobility of labour to transform it into a humane, orderly, and mutually beneficial process is a challenge that faces all of us. We must therefore work together to transform it into a ‘win-win’ process.
Allow me to suggest that in an increasingly globalizing world, future development prospects will be determined substantially, on achieving a minimum policy harmonization on international labour mobility, across the World. This policy convergence will be the next frontier of globalization. Quite simply, the free movement of persons is more likely in the future to be propelled by the labour supply gaps of the global market. The demographic dynamic and the structural problems of the International labour market cannot be wished away. They will, increasingly, shape both the direction and pace of labour mobility across borders, over the medium to long term.
We therefore need to work together to change perceptions about free movement of people, allay apprehensions on labour market access in the destination countries, build strong inter-state and inter-regional cooperation and, explore new instruments to achieve calibrated migration practices that can best meet the needs of both – the countries of origin and of destination. There are two key areas of concern in international labour mobility, which need to be addressed urgently, if we are to maximize the benefits of migration and development.
The first is to address the problem of irregular migration. Curbing irregular migration is an issue of concern not only in the countries of destination but also in the countries of origin. In the absence of ‘inclusive’ and equitable development, vastly differing economic opportunities combined with restrictions on free movement only serve to aggravate the problem. There is evidence to suggest that where legal migration is rendered more difficult, the direct consequence has been more irregular migration.
These have social and security ramifications which are now well beyond mere law-enforcement and need to be appropriately addressed by the countries involved. We also need to work in a concerted manner to address the scourge of people smuggling and trafficking, especially of women and children. Ironically, although governments would not consider banning cross-border trade in goods and services, outlawing movement of people who produce these goods and provide these services is allowing organized crime cartels a free run, seriously jeopardizing our ability to manage migration. It is here that a positive policy harmonization amongst countries of origin and destination, supported by a bilateral mobility partnership can help enormously.
The second area of cooperation that is imperative is in providing migrants a secure legal status at destination and enabling their integration into the mainstream of society, without discrimination of any kind. This alone can help realize the full development potential and the benefits of labour mobility to both the countries of origin and of destination.
This will require developing progressive bilateral instruments and effective institutional arrangements that will provide a broad framework for cooperation on all aspects of International migration. Capacity building, across the board, amongst all stakeholders will be critical to the process. Developing good migration practices will be imperative for a better managed International migration programme.
As we move forward in this century, our success will be predicated on our ability to shape policy on the basis of empirical data rather than populist appeal that runs counter to progress.
There is a felt need to support more rigorous research on the various dimensions of migration. Empirical evidence suggests that migration is a ‘win-win’; we must marshal this data for a more informed discourse on International migration.
I do hope one of the outcomes of this conference will be the forging of academic partnerships between institutions in India and the EU. My ministry would be happy to support such collaborative efforts. Let me hasten to add, however, that academic research and empirical data alone will not help. Let me stress again that our success will depend, in substantial measure, on our ability to achieve a progressive harmonization of the International migration policy that best meets the common interests of India and the member states of the EU.
The key outcome of this conference therefore should be the development of a coherent and robust approach to labour mobility partnerships that will provide the framework for cooperation between India and the EU. This conference must serve as an important platform to foster better understanding of the myriad opportunities that are before us to forge stronger India-EU cooperation in International migration.
As you begin your deliberations, I see before me a learned audience – an eclectic group, rich in experience. The agenda before you is challenging and the schedule of the conference, demanding. But do try and also enjoy yourselves. This is a pleasant time of the year and Delhi can be enchanting. I commend all of you and dare say there will be an enlightened meeting of minds, by the time you conclude. I wish you success in your endeavors”.
Following is the text of the opening remarks by the Secretary, Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, Shri K. Mohandas:
“It is indeed an honour for us in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to have all of you here to discuss the India-EU Partnerships in Mobility over the next three days. I welcome you all and look forward to very fruitful deliberations on various dimensions of this important and challenging subject of international migration. I am heartened by the enthusiasm shown by the Governments of the European countries, the Diplomatic Missions of the European countries in India, the experts in the field of International Migration, the sister Ministries in the Government of India, the State Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations.
Ours is a new Ministry established in the year 2004. The Ministry serves as the nodal ministry for the large Indian diaspora. One of the key mandates of the Ministry is managing international migration. Over the last 4 years the Ministry has established itself and has chalked out its domain with diligence. I am happy to say that Minister Ravi has led several important initiatives focusing on migration management with considerable success.
The Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs stands for converting international migration into an orderly, safe and ethical process by facilitating legal migration and curbing irregular migration in all forms. We stand for managing the migration process in a manner that it benefits all stakeholders. Our initiatives broadly include legislative reforms, regulatory reforms, process reforms and international cooperation. We are in the process of amending the law governing international migration from India. One of the key amendments relates to penal action against human smuggling to combat illegal migration. We are implementing an ambitious e-Governance project to critically examine the migration procedures, re-engineer the entire process to make it simple, effective and versatile, linking key stakeholders to achieve greater transparency and accountability and putting in place a more robust regulatory system. Protection and welfare of the worker is our central concern. Towards this end, we have signed instruments for bilateral cooperation with the leading countries of destination in Asia like the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and Malaysia. Very soon a similar instrument will be signed with Bahrain as well.
We would like all the EU countries to benefit from the demographic advantage and technical skills that India has. At the same time, we wish to address their concerns regarding irregular entry, irregular stay, cultural integration, facilitated return and reintegration. This makes India a natural partner of the EU. We have finalized a mobility partnership with Denmark which is expected to be signed in March 2009. The objective behind the mobility partnership is to lay down a framework for facilitation of legal migration and prevention of irregular migration through joint action. Provisions on circularity of migration and its linkage with development are built into the partnerships.
Bilateral Social Security coordination is of vital importance for safeguarding the expatriate workers against double coverage, loss of contributions or loss of benefits. We have already signed such agreements with Belgium, France and Germany. Similar agreements have been finalized with the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Luxembourg and Switzerland, which would be signed shortly. Talks are underway with Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Hungary and some other countries including Australia.
Friends, it is essential that the people seeking overseas employment are aware about the procedures and opportunities for legal migration and the pitfalls and dangers of illegal migration. The Ministry has implemented the EU sponsored AENEAS project in partnership with the IOM, under which a Migration Resource Center has been set up at Kochi in the State of Kerala to conduct a sustained information dissemination campaign and provide information services through a helpline. The Ministry has also set up a national multilingual Overseas Workers Resource Centre to provide information to the seekers of overseas employment with regard to the employment opportunities, recruiting agents and the procedures involved. We have also launched a nationwide multimedia information campaign to create awareness about various aspects of migration. The Ministry has established an Indian Council of Overseas Employment (ICOE) to conduct migration studies and advise the Government on policy interventions for better preparing the workers, to enable them to meet the skill and other requirements of the international labour market. The Ministry is also operating a specific skill upgradation program for raising the skills of persons seeking overseas employment to international standards.
Friends, it is heartening that the global debate on international migration is getting increasingly focused on reinforcing linkages between migration and development. There is a growing realization that a general solution of universal applicability is an illusion. Therefore, nations toady are willing to work out customized bilateral and regional solutions. This conference would provide an opportunity to the academia as well as the practitioners to exchange ideas for developing such win-win solutions. This is the first international conference of this kind convened by us. We are quite optimistic about its outcomes. We look forward to a constructive dialogue and specific outcomes”.