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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

India drafts controversial new law to track expats travelling abroad

The bill is seen as the revival of previously shelved legislation that would have barred expats from boarding flights without registering with the government

The Indian government has revived a version of a shelved law that would see expats and students register with the government before travelling abroad. AFP
The Indian government has revived a version of a shelved law that would see expats and students register with the government before travelling abroad. AFP

The Indian government has drafted a new emigration bill that revives a controversial mandatory measure for Indians to register before going overseas to work or to study.

The Ministry of External Affairs has posted the bill online, calling for comments or suggestions before January 20. The next session of parliament will begin on January 30, but the ministry has not revealed when the final version of its bill will be tabled for legislative approval.

In a note attached to the draft, the ministry argued that registration would make migration “safe, orderly and regular.” It would assist Indian students and workers overseas “in times of distress and emergency.”

A similar compulsory measure was floated last November, by which Indians flying to 18 countries - including the UAE - would be barred from boarding their flights if they hadn’t registered at least 24 hours previously.

The rule was scheduled to go into effect on January 1, but its implementation was suspended following unfavourable feedback from Indians overseas. It has now re-appeared in the new draft bill.

On the surface, the registration process is touted to help Indian migrants who often work in blue-collar jobs overseas in punishing conditions.

Rafeek Ravuther, an activist in Kerala who has worked for 18 years to defend migrant rights, agreed that India needs to do more to protect or rescue such migrants if their rights are being infringed.

“But I don’t think this registration process is the way to do it,” Mr Ravuther told The National. “In a way, the government already has all this data. The workers going to many of these countries need emigration clearance in advance, and the government collects this information then.”

“And emigration officers sit in airports and log these details as well,” he added. “So why add another process to complicate it?”

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Indians who travel frequently for work, or who hold white-collar jobs overseas, worry that the measure will introduce yet another layer of unnecessary or intrusive bureaucracy.

R. Gopal, a financial analyst who lives in New York, said he was wary of the government’s propensity to track its citizens. Over the last four years, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration has enlarged the scope of Aadhaar, an ID scheme initially intended to streamline the delivery of welfare benefits.

Although Aadhaar was designed to be voluntary, the government made it mandatory for a number of other services, and empowered private companies to ask for Aadhaar information for their own uses. Last year, the Supreme Court cut away some of this overreach, but other aspects of it remain.

“I avoided much of this Aadhaar stuff because I live outside India,” Mr Gopal said. “But this now seems to be another way to track where Indians go and what they do. It’s another way to unnecessarily give data to the government.”

Although the draft bill does not lay out the kind of information that will be collected, the short-lived registration process proposed last November would have asked for employer details and two sets of emergency contacts, among other information.

Mr Gopal agreed that less financially secure migrants could benefit from the government’s protection.

“But in that case, why not make it mandatory? If a blue-collar worker headed to work outside India fears for his rights and wants his government to know his status, he can register.”

“It’s making the whole thing compulsory that is a problem.”

Updated: January 10, 2019 05:01 PM

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