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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 December 2018

India ditches plan for orange passports

Government performs U-turn as critics say move could increase discrimination

Indian migrant workers form the largest contingent of global workers. AFP
Indian migrant workers form the largest contingent of global workers. AFP

The Indian government has dropped plans to issue orange passports to unskilled labourers which, it claimed, would have helped to prevent vulnerable workers from being exploited when they were employed overseas.

Opponents said the passports would result in greater discrimination.

Government officials and diplomats do not require Emigration Cleared Required (ECR) status in their passports, which is indicated on the last page of their passports. The ECR category is for applicants who have not finished school or who are travelling to a group of 18 countries, many in the Gulf.

Indians who have graduated from high school or the small majority who pay income tax do not need ECR status for travel as they are judged to be less susceptible to exploitation when they travel.

On Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said: “After comprehensive discussions with stakeholders, the foreign ministry has decided to continue with the practice of printing the last page of the passport and not to issue a separate passport with orange-colour jacket to ECR passport holders.”

The initial plan, announced earlier this month, had been for the orange documents to be given to Indian citizens who required emigration checks when they travelled. The reason was to protect labourers by flagging-up their status as needing more checks at immigration desks in airports.

However, Nitin Pai, director of a Bangalore-based public policy think tank, told NDTV that the change would stigmatise workers. “However well-intentioned the move to create different coloured passports for travellers, it is wrong and must be reconsidered. Already officials treat citizens differently based on their class . . . different passport colours will worsen it.”

Oomen Chandy, former chief minister of the southern state of Kerala, agreed, saying that, “If this becomes a reality, the moment the holder (of an orange passport) lands in a foreign country, he will be treated with disdain, and it will have a telling impact on such people's character and individuality. This should not happen at all.”

India is the largest exporter of migrant labour in the world – one in 20 is Indian-born – and status is a growing issue. The estimated 17 million Indian workers abroad sent home almost $70 billion in 2015, according to the World Bank.

Rahul Gandhi, president of the opposition Congress party, had said the change would lead to discrimination against poor and illiterate labourers. He said the move to an orange passport would have seen them treated as “second-class citizens”.