New Delhi: The number of Indian workers emigrating to West Asia for jobs fell by at least a third in March as regional economies driven by real estate and oil businesses reel under the impact of a global downturn. According to data compiled by the ministry of overseas affairs, the number fell 33.8% from a year earlier to 50,586 in the month,
The data includes workers granted emigration clearance to travel to six nations: The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain.
West Asian economies have been hit by a slump in oil prices and real-estate valuations amid the global economic crisis, forcing companies there to freeze hiring and retrench workers.
Indian emigrant traffic to the UAE saw the sharpest decline in March, falling 74.4% to 8,751 from 34,296 in March 2008. Traffic to Qatar plummeted 59% to 4,246 , to Bahrain by half to 1,454 and to Oman by 28% to 5,801.
Beating this trend, however, more workers travelled to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. Traffic to Saudi Arabia rose 31.8 % from a year earlier to 26,904 in March. Kuwait saw an increase of 87% to 4,274.
Between January and March, the number of workers seeking employment in the six West Asian economies declined 27% to 163,822. In all of 2008, the number of workers who emigrated to West Asia was 818,315, up from 770,510 in the previous year.
About nine out of 10 outbound Indian workers, mostly semi-skilled, travel to West Asia for jobs. One of the world’s biggest recipients of inward remittances, private transfer receipts to India touched $36.9 billion between April and December, according to Reserve Bank of India.
Valayar Ravi, minister of overseas Indian affairs, told Parliament in February that 20,000 people have returned home. This figure, according to the ministry officials, was based on figures collected from the airlines industry. Experts say that if West Asian economies do not recover soon, it would spell further trouble for Indian workers.
“While we can expect a surge in remittances...as people close shop and come back with their capital assets, it will lead to a further loss in jobs for Indians abroad if the global economic turnaround takes longer,” said N.R. Bhanumurthy, an associate professor at the Institute of Economic Growth.