Cautioning NRI workers and spouses with TV ads

By Kul Bhushan, IANS

Any NRI will be horrified to see a TV ad in which an Indian housemaid is slapped by her employer. But these shocking stories of NRI workers being exploited, abused or beaten keep appearing in the Indian and global media with sickening regularity.

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In most cases, these silent and suffering NRIs cannot get redress from their employers, employment agents, the local authorities or the Indian missions. Since they are not so well educated and lack information about their rights and how to get a fair deal, they suffer endless travails.

For unskilled or semi-skilled workers aspiring to emigrate for higher earnings, the problems start before they go abroad. If they lack passports and, more importantly, employment visas, they fall into the clutches of crooked agents who demand astronomical sums of money. These poor workers have to sell their homes or farms to pay the agents who promise them jobs abroad. In many cases, they are smuggled abroad on visitor visas and end up as illegal immigrants and workers. Their ordeal never ends in the Gulf or the West.

Now the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has launched a series of TV ads to alert these poor and semi-educated workers. Three such ads have been telecast since November and the response has been very positive, according to Nirmal Singh, secretary in the ministry. These ads are targeted at workers, housemaids and NRI spouses. For workers, the message is to get a valid employment visa before going abroad and emigration clearance from the Indian government. With a valid visa and job contract, the Indian embassy abroad can verify and assist them in case of any problem.

Women who want to work as housemaids, mostly in the Gulf states, must also have a valid employment visa and a contract. On arrival at their place of work, they are advised to register with the nearest Indian embassy and leave their local and Indian phone numbers for any emergency or problem. Indian girls or boys who want to marry an NRI spouse are advised in the ad to verify the status of the prospective life partner by getting a photocopy of the passport, the valid visa to work abroad for an Indian citizen and the address of the employer among other details. Before the marriage, these details can be verified by the Indian embassy abroad.

Although booked on Indian channels like Zee, these TV ads have had a wide exposure abroad on Malayalam channels in the Gulf, Punjabi channels in the West, Asianet and other channels with wider coverage. While Zee is showing these ads on its global network, the ministry is considering the possibility of airing these ads in the UK and the US on ethnic Indian TV channels since they are also aimed at NRIs who have emigrated from India. The response has been very encouraging as the ministry of overseas Indian affairs receives many letters, e- mails and even phone calls from India and abroad about the problems faced by NRIs and how they can get assistance. A ministry spokesman said that plans are under way to include a 24-hour helpline for viewers to phone in their problems.

The basic message of these ads is to inform prospective immigrants not to pay bribes to obtain their passports, visas or go abroad illegally. If they have already landed in a foreign country, the NRIs should contact the Indian embassy to help them if underpaid or ill-treated. The cases of housemaids beaten blue or even raped have been reported from the Gulf states. Construction workers housed in inhuman conditions, overworked and underpaid have also been reported. The Indian missions in many countries have appointed special staff to assist NRI workers in dire straits and continue to help them. In some cases, they have to be sent back to India at government expense.

If you want to go abroad to work, you will do well to surf the site of the ministry and get information that can save you lots of money and plenty of heartburn and tears. Detailed guidelines are available at, including a list of authorised recruiting agents, blacklisted recruiting agents, recommended employers abroad, blacklisted employers abroad, measures for protection and welfare of women emigrants, emigration checks required and exceptions and online emigration clearance, among other topics such as emigrating to Afghanistan.

Most semi-educated or uneducated emigrants do not even know that the government of India has established numerous Offices of Protector of Emigrants in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Triuvananthapuram, Kochi, Chandigarh and Hyderabad to look after their welfare. Before parting with their savings or selling their property to go abroad, it would be more useful to get all this information first hand with the help of a net savvy relative to avoid tears and travails.

(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: [email protected] )