ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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State Policy and Recruitment of Domestic Workers and Nurses to West Asia

A Comparative Political Economy Analysis

This paper analyses the comparative political economy of overseas recruitment policy towards nurses and women domestic workers by examining the disproportionate influence of specific interest groups. Shocking irregularities in private recruitment of nurses forced government intervention in 2015, but subsequent interventions and failure to empower state-run agencies to compete on even terms underline the power of private recruiters. Even as the government yields to demand from destination countries and business lobbies for migrant domestic workers, it fails to hear workers’ concerns about their rights. Thus, migrant workers continue to pay the price of systemic problems that plague overseas recruitment.

Government orders executed on 12 March 2015 and 2 August 2016, brought the overseas recruitment of nurses and women with less than 10 years of education (who are mostly domestic workers) respectively, under the exclusive purview of specified state-run recruitment agencies, while prohibiting private recruitment for an unspecified initial time period.1 The 2015 order followed the exposure of large-scale irregularities in private recruitment of nurses, whereas the 2016 one was attributed more generally to the exploitation and harassment of migrant-women domestic workers (MDWs). Despite obvious similarities, the orders elicited strikingly different responses from state-run and private recruitment agencies that had implications for the subsequent course of regulation. Private recruitment agencies were quick to challenge the order on nurses and the government reinstated private recruitment even before the courts ruled in the case, whereas the order on MDW went uncontested and private recruitment remains prohibited.2 Two Kerala-based state agencies, the Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC) and the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) Roots were tasked with recruitment of nurses and got to work immediately, whereas, on the other hand, NORKA, the first of the six authorised agencies to initiate recruitment of MDWs took nearly two years.3 This paper analyses the political economy of state policy on recruitment of nurses and MDWs by examining, in a comparative perspective, the influence of specific interest groups, in particular private recruitment agents, foreign governments and employers.

Overseas recruitment of nurses from India was untrammelled by bureaucratic control and Indian nurses established a strong global reputation. Their migration was generally looked upon as a success story, forcing changes in pre-existing derogatory perceptions of migrant nurses.4 The 2015 order also placed nurses in the emigration check required (ECR) category, which in the normal course pertains to workers with less than 10 years of education. Devised under the Emigration Act, 1983 to protect migrant workers who are especially vulnerable to exploitation, the ECR category applies to all the Gulf countries. Workers in the ECR category are required to obtain emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants (POE), on the basis of verification of documents.

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Updated On : 6th Sep, 2021
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