Welfare fund for NRI workers mooted

By Liz Mathew, IANS

New Delhi : If the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs has its way, Indian workers abroad will soon have a welfare fund with a sizeable contribution from the country's insurance companies.

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The fund will be utilised for training workers for overseas jobs, for providing humanitarian aid when they are in trouble at their work places and for helping them to resettle on their return.

According to official sources, a note has been prepared for the cabinet's consideration on creating a corpus for the NRI workers welfare fund, "which may be funded initially by the government".

The ministry has proposed that an initial amount of Rs.1.50 billion could be allocated in 2007-08 and this could be reviewed "as per requirement".

Overseas Indian Affairs Minister Vayalar Ravi is believed to have proposed that major insurance companies could be roped in to contribute to the welfare fund, to which even NRI workers also could chip in with a small amount – either as a one time payment or an annual one.

"It is estimated that every year about 600,000 workers – semi skilled and unskilled workers – travel to the Gulf region in search of job opportunities. Under the current regulations, each such worker is charged Rs.200 for an emigration clearance stamp on their passports," a ministry official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"We have proposed that this fee be enhanced to Rs.300, of which Rs.100 will be the workers' contribution towards the welfare fund," he added.

The ministry has recommended that a trust could manage the fund. There could also be an advisory committee chaired by the minister, with five central government nominees and an unspecified number of ministers from the states as its members.

A bureaucrat could head the executive authority for the fund, with its members being four secretaries from the states, a nominee of the finance minister and nominees of industrial houses and insurance companies, the proposal says.

The fund would be used for paying the government's contribution towards a sustenance allowance for NRI workers in need and for subsidising their rehabilitation on their return home.

"We are planning to implement the scheme through the banks," the official said.

"The objective of the fund will not only be to train these workers upgrading their skills and to equip them for leading a dignified life on their return. Therefore, during training, they would be eligible for a fixed stipend as decided by the trust," the official added.

"The welfare fund is meant to build confidence among the workers – who have made large foreign exchange remittances – to signal to them they will be looked after by while they are abroad and also when they return to their homeland," the official explained.

The proposal will have to be approved by ministries of external affairs, finance, labour and law, as also the Planning Commission.

There are around five million Indian workers in the Middle East and the Gulf itself and they contribute around 50 percent of the total annual remittances of $25 billion sent by overseas Indians. The remittance from overseas Indian workers – most of who are based in the Gulf – is significantly higher than the remittances from others.