KOCHI // The government of Kerala is planning to offer self-employment opportunities to encourage illegal migrants from the state to take advantage of the UAE's amnesty programme and return to India.
The UAE's two-month amnesty for illegal residents, which ends on February 4, allows them to return home without having to pay fines for immigration offences.
The government of Kerala said yesterday that it had set aside 2.5 million rupees (Dh167,000) to assist residents of the state to return from the UAE, including with the cost of air fares and paperwork.
The state's minister for non-resident Keralites' affairs, KC Joseph, said he was also working to offer illegal immigrants "entrepreneurial opportunities" to encourage them to return.
Mr Joseph said his ministry was in talks with local banks to create a loan scheme for returnees to set up small businesses.
Oommen Chandy, the chief minister of Kerala, yesterday said his governmentwould help would-be returnees "in whatever way we can".
"But not many have come forward so far," Mr Chandy told The National yesterday.
He said the Kerala government was prepared for the return of at least 10,000 illegal migrants, but so far only 300 had registered. In total, 800 Indians have approached their embassy in Abu Dhabi to leave the country. Mr Chandy said that the reason for the tepid response to the amnesty offer was that many illegal immigrants feared they would be banned from returning to the GCC to work.
"That is a matter of the UAE law, so we cannot do anything about that," he said.
Mr Chandy said he hoped his government's plans to offer "entrepreneurial opportunities" would provide hope of employment to the illegal workers.
"Many don't want to return because they have no idea of what they will do," he said. "We want to change that."
There are an estimated 1.75 million Indians living in the UAE, the majority of whom work as semi and unskilled workers in the construction industry.
The Kerala government's announcement of aid was made during the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, an annual gathering of leaders of the Indian expatriate community, which began in Kochi on Monday.
Expatriate Indians attending the gathering spoke about the challenges faced by those who wanted to leave the Emirates but could not afford to. Many did not have the money for air fares or even for the fees to obtain the documents that would allow them to leave.
There is a fee of Dh60 for the so-called "outpass", and an additional fee of Dh36, levied by BLS International, the company that handles visa and passport matters on behalf of the Indian mission in the UAE.
"You cannot offer to reimburse them when they return. That is not a viable option for some," said Sayed Rashid, a businessman from Dubai. "Some of them haven't worked in months or years. They barely make a living to feed themselves. They have no cash on them to even pay for these charges, let alone buy a plane ticket."
India's federal government has already announced support for citizens working in the UAE, by paying for air fares, paperwork and other expenses involved in leaving the UAE.
"We don't want anybody to suffer for the want of money if they want to come back," said Vayalar Ravi, the minister for overseas Indian affairs. "We do not want them to stay back because they don't have money."
Speaking at the Pravasi Bhartiya Divas, Mr Ravi said that funds were available at the Indian missions to assist those in need, including offering reimbursement to those who returned at their own cost.
Also speaking at the gathering, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, MK Lokesh, said the number of applicants had picked up as the deadline approached.
Mr Lokesh said 103 emergency certificates or outpasses were issued on Monday. Only 670 certificates were issued from the start of the amnesty on December 4 until the end of the month.
Most of the amnesty seekers are from the south Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, Mr Lokesh said.
Fines are imposed by the UAE for those who stay on illegally, including a Dh100-a-day fine for overstaying visit visas, and Dh25 a day for overstaying residency visas.
The UAE government previously offered amnesty for illegal workers in 2002, 2005 and 2007. During the 2007 amnesty, an estimated 40,000 Indian nationals left the country while another 37,000 legalised their status and remained in the Emirates. Indians were the largest expatriate community to take advantage of the amnesty programme.