The problem of illegal migration, especially to the Gulf, is a priority for Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi, who has even personally attended to distress calls from Indians abroad. He is also focussing on making Europe a destination for Indian workers.
A key initiative of his six-year-old ministry was the creation of the Indian Council for Overseas Employment to facilitate Indians' employment in Europe, Ravi said.
"Essentially, we are creating a new destination in Europe for our workers - for qualified, semi-skilled or skilled workers," Ravi said in an interview to the ministry's monthly journal Pravasi Bharatiya.
Ravi said India has signed agreements in this regard with several European countries besides having bilateral pacts with Germany, Czech Republic and the Netherlands.
Another key issue he has to tackle is that of illegal migrants.
"They (Indian migrants) are called illegal because they go there legally on a visit visa and are never given a contract visa or work visa. They land there and after three months they become illegal," he said.
Pointing out that the problem of illegal migration is mostly faced in the Gulf countries as that region is labour- intensive, Ravi said once a migrant becomes illegal, the sponsor starts exploiting the illegal migrant by seizing the latter's passport and turning him into a kind of indentured labour.
The six Gulf nations - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) - are home to around five million expatriate Indians, most of whom are engaged as labourers in the booming construction industry there.
Ravi said he personally attended to calls from Indians in distress abroad.
"The idea is if a person is detained in jail abroad, he or she has the freedom to call a minister. This is one of the great merits of Indian democracy," he said.
"I am available and I don't blame the Indian embassies or anybody because they may or may not have the time," he added.
The minister also said his ministry clamps down heavily on illegal recruiting agents in coordination with chief ministers, top bureaucrats and the law enforcers of major labour sending states in the country.
"If there is an irregularity (in a recruiting agent's operations), there are no questions asked. It is simple: first suspension, then questions. I suspend first," Ravi said.
Coming to other issues on the agenda of his ministry, he said that the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) was trying to bring as many people of Indian origin as possible to come to India and make it their home.
"Let the 'Indian space' expand. They can form a closer link with the Indian continent and feel that 'Yes, I am an Indian basically'," the minister said.
He said his ministry was also working on giving voting rights to non-resident Indians (NRIs). "In fact, the cabinet has now approved an amendment to the Representation of the People Act," he stated.
"Once it is passed by parliament, an Indian passport holder's name can be included in the voter's list. He can vote when elections take place here."
On the proposed India Development Fund (IFD) that is being designed to help in rural infrastructure development, the minister said his ministry would not target millionaires or rich NRIs for contributions.
"I want the ordinary NRIs, those who can contribute $1,000 a year, to contribute to the corpus... Your village or your panchayat may not have a primary health centre or a primary school, no buildings maybe. So, you can jointly contribute and say specifically what you want."
Ravi, however, added that the fund would be concentrated on two issues - hospitals and primary school buildings - and may be self-help groups at a later stage.