Traffickers using Gulf tourist visas to beat India rules

MUMBAI: Traffickers are bypassing government efforts to protect thousands of Indian housemaids from slave-like conditions in the Gulf by transporting women on tourist visas, according to Indian emigration officials.

The officials told Thomson Reuters that women who fly out as tourists were mostly rendered untraceable once overseas. “They fly on a tourist visa so they can skip the emigration check and then we don’t know where they go,” said M C Luther, Protector General of Emigrants in India. “I have no data of how many women have gone and what happened to them. We are now requesting countries to not convert tourist visas to employment visas.” Government figures show there are an estimated six million Indian migrants in the six Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman.

One housemaid working in Riyadh alleged in 2015 that her employer had severed her hand – a case that hit international headlines and highlighted the plight of thousands of Indian housemaids working in Gulf countries.

India has since been insisting that employers follow the rules by registering with the Indian Mission and lodging a security deposit of $2,500, but these steps are routinely bypassed, the officials said. Housemaids with work visas undergo emigration checks and their data is recorded. This safeguarding can be skipped if they travel on a tourist visa – hence its appeal to traffickers.

The challenges are mounting with job agencies now flying women from Sri Lanka and Nepal, officials said. Recruitment work has also started in Mumbai, in addition to the earlier hubs of Chennai and Hyderabad, in southern India. “Of the 30 cases of housemaids trapped in various Gulf countries we received last year, most were recruited by agents in Mumbai,” said Josephine Valarmathi of the National Domestic Workers’ Movement.

The number of Indian housemaids in the Gulf is estimated at 500,000, which officials said is difficult to corroborate. The government wants to clamp down on illegal recruitment agencies and said warnings will be issued to local cable television operators that air their tempting advertisements. — Reuters

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