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Europe slowly opens doors to legal Indian workers

With the government negotiating a slew of labour treaties, Indian workers may soon find job-hunting in the continent relatively painless.
IANS | By HT Correspondent, New Delhi
UPDATED ON MAY 27, 2008 01:12 PM IST

With the government negotiating a slew of labour treaties, Indian workers may soon find job-hunting in the continent relatively painless.

India has also agreed to join the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) this month, further paving the way for smoother labour movement to Europe.

The Indian cabinet had on May 1 approved of India applying for admission to the 122-member, Geneva-headquartered IOM - the multilateral body that facilitates inter-governmental migration consultations and projects.

Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) Vayalar Ravi will lead a delegation to the IOM Council meeting in Geneva on June 18-19, when India's application will be formally submitted, considered and approved.

An official noted that the "most important advantage" for India's membership would be the capacity of the IOM to "facilitate bilateral instruments with potential destination countries".

The first in line may be Denmark, only the latest European country to come to India looking to plug its demographic hole of young working population. Earlier this month on May 8, a fact-finding team of the Danish Immigration Services had come to India - a follow-up to the visit of Denmark's Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in February.

"We are planning to sign a social security agreement, as well as a labour mobility partnership," an MOIA official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.

The Indian side has proposed that the labour mobility agreement be a tripartite one, with the IOM as third party. "The Danish seemed to welcome our suggestion. But it is still in an early stage, so this has to be decided," said the official.

In August last year, India as an observer had signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) on Regional Dialogue and Facilitating Managed and Legal Migration between India and the European Union, but membership is expected to further intensify this link to exploit the worldwide interest in skilled and unskilled Indian labour.

The active European interest to tap Indian labour availability has especially been visible within the last year.

A US-based manpower supply company's "Talent Shortage Survey 2008" had found that European countries had significantly high difficulty in filling up available positions, ranging from 73 percent in Romania to 18 percent in Italy.

The reasons for the shortage range from an aging population in west European countries to the flight of the educated young from East European nations.

While India gets the largest amount of remittances from its workers abroad - $27 billion -- Europe accounts for a negligible portion of it.

According to the World Bank's Migration and Remittances Factbook 2008, there is only one European country, Britain, among the top 10 destinations for Indian emigrants.

Recently, the European Union had introduced the idea of a "blue card" to compete directly with the American "green card" to attract the right kind of highly-skilled educated emigrant. "But most of the countries have to still agree to implement it. Therefore, negotiations with individual countries to facilitate manpower supply is a better idea," said the official.

For India, the chief aim to go into talks with European nations is not just to streamline the rules but also to target specific shortages in different countries. "We want to put in a system of placing skilled workers depending on the trends for labour supply gap that are emerging in those countries," he said.

It started when Polish Labour Minister Anna Kalata came to Delhi in February 2007. She agreed to sign an agreement to import more Indian manpower, especially for the construction projects for Euro 2012 as well as for agricultural farms.

"But after that the Polish government collapsed and there were elections, so there was not much work on that. Now, we are again reviving those talks," he said.

India has already held a round of negotiations with the Czech Republic on a labour mobility agreement, with a delegation expected to come to New Delhi to discuss the administrative structure.

Incidentally, the IOM has been supporting the Czech Republic's pilot project to select qualified workers and to give them a quick route to long-term employment and permanent residency status. India had been added to the project in July 2007.

Besides, more and more countries have entered into talks for social security agreements, since the first one was signed with Belgium.

"We are already negotiating with Germany and the Netherlands, while plans are on to initiate talks with Spain and Italy," he said.

According to officials, India has also labour mobility agreements with certain Gulf countries, but there is a different emphasis on its pacts with European nations. "The agreement with the Gulf is to ensure the welfare and protection of Indian workers, while that with Europe is to set up a humane, orderly and legal process for emigration," an official said.

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