Indian Migrants in Gulf Countries: Opportunities and Challenges UPSC


  • The recent death of 45 Indian workers in a fire in Kuwait is a reminder of the dismal working conditions of a large, and often ignored, section of the Indian diaspora. The labour camp that was gutted was reportedly packed beyond capacity. The rapid spread of the blaze and the high number of casualties indicate that the six-storey building did not have adequate safety provisions, such as fire exits and fire-fighting equipment.

Status of Indian workers in Gulf countries

  • Indians have a significant presence in Kuwait, and the two countries have historically enjoyed cordial relations. In fact, the Indian rupee was legal tender in Kuwait for over a century until 1961. Currently, almost a million NRIs live in Kuwait, making it the largest expatriate community in the country.
  • Nearly 9-11 million Indian expats live and work in Gulf Cooperation Council countries, making the region one of their top destinations and the India-Gulf migration corridor one of the busiest in the world. Besides Kuwait, significant NRIs live in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
  • Indians have been attracted to the employment opportunities in the Gulf market, initially due to the booming oil industry, and of late because of the economic diversification wherein skilled workers and professionals from across India find employment in different sectors including IT, health and medical care, engineering, real estate and construction, retail etc.
  • The growing economic relations between India and Gulf countries have also been a factor in making the India-Gulf migration corridor one of the world’s busiest.
  • The main factors attracting Indian expats were remuneration and geographical proximity, making West Asia a convenient destination for them — a factor that is unlikely to change anytime soon despite the ongoing market changes in the Gulf due to economic diversification and nationalization of jobs.

Significance of Indian Migrants workers for India and Gulf Countries

  • The significance of Indian migrant workers for both India and the Gulf countries is multifaceted, encompassing economic, social, and cultural dimensions.

Significance for India:

a) Economic Contributions:

  • Remittances: Indian migrant workers send significant remittances back home, which are vital for the Indian economy. In 2022, India received over $87 billion in remittances, a substantial portion of which came from the Gulf countries. These remittances help in poverty alleviation, funding education, healthcare, and improving living standards for families in India.
  • Foreign Exchange: Remittances contribute to India’s foreign exchange reserves, aiding in balancing trade deficits and stabilizing the national currency.
  • Investment and Consumption: The money sent by migrant workers boosts local economies, leading to increased consumption and investment in housing, education, and small businesses.

b) Employment Opportunities:

  • Job Creation: Migration provides employment opportunities for millions of Indians, particularly from rural and economically weaker sections, reducing unemployment and underemployment issues within the country.
  • Skill Development: Exposure to different work environments and technologies abroad helps in skill development, which can be beneficial when these workers return to India.

c) Social Impact:

  • Improved Living Standards: Remittances improve the standard of living for migrant workers’ families, providing better access to education, healthcare, and other essential services.
  • Cultural Exchange: Migrant workers bring back diverse cultural experiences and practices, fostering a blend of cultural dynamics within Indian society.

Significance for Gulf Countries:

a) Labor Supply:

  • Economic Development: Indian migrant workers form a significant portion of the workforce in Gulf countries, contributing to the development of key sectors such as construction, healthcare, hospitality, and services. Their labor is crucial for the rapid infrastructural development seen in these regions.
  • Cost-Effective Labor: Indian workers are often preferred for their skills and willingness to work for relatively lower wages compared to local workers, helping Gulf countries manage labor costs effectively.

b) Skill and Expertise:

  • Professional Skills: A substantial number of Indian migrants in the Gulf are professionals like doctors, engineers, and IT experts. Their expertise helps in advancing the technological and healthcare sectors of these countries.
  • Adaptability and Reliability: Indian workers are known for their adaptability, hard work, and reliability, making them valuable assets in various industries.

c) Cultural and Social Contributions:

  • Cultural Diversity: Indian migrants contribute to the multicultural fabric of Gulf societies, bringing their rich cultural heritage, festivals, and cuisine, which enhances the cultural diversity of these regions.
  • Community Building: Indian workers often form vibrant communities, supporting each other and contributing to the social cohesion within the migrant population.

Challenges faced by the Indian workers in Gulf countries

  • Indian workers in Gulf countries face several significant challenges, including issues related to labor rights, living conditions, social dynamics, and legal protections.

Labor Rights and Exploitation:

  • The sponsorship system in many Gulf countries, known as the Kafala system, ties workers’ legal status to their employers. This system can lead to exploitative practices, as workers often cannot change jobs or leave the country without their employer’s permission.
  • Many workers face contract substitution, where the terms agreed upon in India are changed upon arrival, resulting in lower wages and longer working hours than promised.
  • Delayed or non-payment of wages is a common issue, causing financial strain and uncertainty for workers and their families back home.

Poor Working and Living Conditions:

  • Many Indian workers are employed in construction and other labor-intensive sectors, often facing hazardous working conditions without adequate safety measures.
  • Workers frequently live in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions, which can lead to health issues and lower quality of life.
  • Excessive working hours without adequate rest or overtime compensation are common, leading to physical and mental exhaustion.

Legal and Social Challenges:

  • Migrant workers often have limited access to legal recourse and protection. They may face difficulties in filing complaints or seeking justice for labor violations.
  • Language differences can hinder communication with employers and access to services, making it difficult for workers to understand their rights and available resources.

Health and Welfare Issues:

  • Access to healthcare services can be limited, and workers may not have sufficient health insurance or the means to afford necessary medical care.
  • The stress of working in a foreign country under challenging conditions can take a toll on mental health, with limited access to mental health support services.

Social Discrimination and Abuse:

  • Workers often face discrimination based on nationality, ethnicity, and socio-economic status, impacting their treatment and opportunities.
  • Reports of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse by employers or supervisors are not uncommon, with workers having little recourse to address these issues.

Read also: Western Disturbances: Origin, Spread, Effects and Climate Change | UPSC

Initiative taken by Indian government to ensure welfare of migrant workers

  • The Indian government has taken several initiatives to ensure the welfare and protection of migrant workers in Gulf countries. These initiatives encompass legal measures, insurance schemes, training programs, and bilateral agreements.

Legal and Institutional Frameworks:

  • The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) oversees matters related to Indian migrant workers abroad, with specific focus on their protection and welfare.
  • The Protector of Emigrants (PoE) offices play a crucial role in regulating emigration, ensuring that workers are not exploited and that they understand their rights and the terms of their employment before they depart.
  • The Emigration Act, 1983, provides the legal framework for the protection of Indian workers migrating overseas, particularly to countries that have not signed bilateral labor agreements with India. It mandates the registration of recruiting agents and employers.

Insurance and Welfare Schemes:

  • Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY) is a mandatory insurance scheme for Indian workers emigrating for employment. It provides coverage for accidental death, medical expenses, repatriation costs, and other contingencies.

Pre-Departure Initiatives:

  • Pre-Departure Orientation Training (PDOT) program aims to educate prospective migrant workers about the laws, cultural practices, and working conditions in their destination countries. It covers topics like rights and responsibilities, health and safety measures, and financial literacy.

Bilateral Agreements and MOUs:

  • India has signed several bilateral agreements and Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Gulf countries to ensure the protection and welfare of Indian workers. These agreements aim to regulate recruitment, ensure fair treatment, and provide a framework for resolving disputes.

Helplines and Support Services:

  • The help centers, Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK), located in various Gulf countries, provide support and assistance to Indian migrant workers. They offer services such as legal aid, shelter, and emergency assistance.
  • The MEA’s MADAD Portal, an online grievance redressal platform, where Indian citizens abroad can register their complaints related to consular services and employment. The platform tracks the resolution process and ensures accountability.

Skill Development and Certification:

  • This fund Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) is utilized to provide assistance to Indian workers in distress, including those in need of emergency evacuation, medical care, and legal assistance. It also supports skill development and community welfare activities.
  • The Skill Upgradation and Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) initiative of the government helps to upgrade the skills of migrant workers and certify their existing skills to improve their employability and wages abroad.

Reintegration Programs:

  • Pravasi Kaushal Vikas Yojana (PKVY), a skill development scheme of the Ministry of External Affairs, is aimed at enhancing the skill set of potential emigrant workers in select sectors and job roles, in line with international standards, to facilitate overseas employment opportunities.
  • SWADES (Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support) is a joint initiative by the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, MEA, and Civil Aviation Ministry to create a database of returning migrant workers and facilitate their reintegration into the Indian workforce based on their skills and experience.

Collaboration with International Organizations:

  • The Indian government collaborates with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to promote fair migration practices, improve labor standards, and protect the rights of migrant workers.

These initiatives collectively aim to protect the rights and welfare of Indian migrant workers, ensuring their safety, improving their working conditions, and providing support in times of need. The government’s continuous efforts, along with international collaboration, aim to create a more secure and supportive environment for Indian workers in the Gulf countries.

Solutions and the way forward

  • The way forward to ensure the welfare of Indian migrant workers in Gulf countries involves a multi-faceted approach, encompassing policy reforms, enhanced protections, stronger bilateral relations, and active engagement with stakeholders.

Strengthening Legal and Institutional Frameworks:

  • The Emigration Act, 1983, should be modernized to address current challenges and better protect migrant workers. This can include stricter regulations for recruitment agencies and employers.
  • Besides, there should be stringent monitoring and enforcement of regulations to prevent exploitation and abuse of migrant workers.

Enhancing Pre-Departure Preparation:

  • Training should be made comprehensive and mandatory for all migrant workers. Standardize the curriculum to cover labor rights, health and safety, financial literacy, and cultural acclimatization.
  • Provide language courses and vocational training tailored to the job requirements in destination countries.

Strengthen Bilateral Agreements:

  • Ensure that all agreements with Gulf countries include strong protections for migrant workers, clear mechanisms for dispute resolution, and provisions for regular monitoring and review.
  • Collaborate with international organizations like the ILO to advocate for global standards and best practices in labor migration.

Enhancing Worker Protections and Support:

  • Expand Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendras (PBSKs) to increase the number and capacity of help centers in Gulf countries to provide timely assistance and support to workers in distress.
  • Provide robust legal support and counseling services to help workers deal with disputes, abuse, and mental health issues.

Leveraging Technology:

  • Increase awareness and usage of the MADAD portal for grievance redressal. Ensure quick and effective resolution of complaints.

Regulate Recruitment Agencies:

  • Ensure that only certified and licensed agencies operate in the recruitment sector. Implement stringent penalties for violations.
  • Mandate transparency in recruitment fees and job contracts to prevent exploitation and ensure fair practices.

Improving Living and Working Conditions:

  • Work with host countries to improve living and working conditions for migrant workers, ensuring compliance with international labor standards.
  • Conduct regular inspections of workplaces and accommodations to ensure they meet health and safety standards.

Engage Diaspora Organizations:

  • Work with Indian community organizations in Gulf countries to create support networks for migrant workers. Promote social integration and cultural activities.
  • Facilitate the formation of peer support groups where workers can share experiences, provide mutual support, and assist newcomers.

Continuous Monitoring and Evaluation:

  • Conduct regular surveys to gather feedback from migrant workers on their experiences and challenges. Use this data to inform policy adjustments.
  • Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of initiatives and programs aimed at supporting migrant workers. Make necessary improvements based on evaluation outcomes.


  • The way forward involves a holistic approach that includes policy reforms, enhanced protections, bilateral and multilateral cooperation, and active engagement with all stakeholders. By focusing on these areas, the Indian government can ensure the welfare and protection of its migrant workers in Gulf countries, fostering a safer and more supportive environment for them.

Answer Writing Practise for UPSC Mains

Topic: Indian Diaspora (GS Mains Paper 2)

  • Analyze the effectiveness of Indian government initiatives in safeguarding the welfare of migrant workers in Gulf countries, and suggest additional measures to address the challenges they face, ensuring comprehensive protection and support. (Answer in 250 words)

Model Answer

  • The Indian government has taken several significant steps to safeguard the welfare of its migrant workers in Gulf countries through initiatives such as the Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY), Pre-Departure Orientation Training (PDOT), Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF), and the e-Migrate system. While these initiatives have provided substantial benefits, challenges remain in ensuring comprehensive protection and support.

Effectiveness of Government Initiatives:

  • Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana (PBBY): This insurance scheme has been instrumental in providing financial security to workers and their families in cases of accidental death or disability. However, awareness and accessibility remain issues, with many workers unaware of their entitlements or facing difficulties in claiming benefits.
  • Pre-Departure Orientation Training (PDOT): PDOT programs have been effective in preparing workers for the cultural and legal environments in Gulf countries. They educate workers about their rights and responsibilities, which helps in reducing instances of exploitation. However, the reach of these programs needs expansion, especially in remote areas.
  • Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF): The ICWF provides critical support during emergencies, including repatriation and legal assistance. It also funds shelters and welfare activities, offering a safety net for distressed workers. Yet, the allocation of funds and timely assistance can be improved to cater to the increasing number of workers.
  • e-Migrate System: This digital platform has streamlined the recruitment process, ensuring greater transparency and reducing fraudulent practices. It also provides a database of registered recruiters and job opportunities, empowering workers with information. Nonetheless, the system’s accessibility and user-friendliness, particularly for those with limited digital literacy, need enhancement.

Read also: West Asia: A Comprehensive Analysis of Geopolitical, Economic and Socio-Humanitarian Issues

Additional Measures to Address Challenges:

  • Enhanced Awareness Campaigns: The government should launch comprehensive awareness campaigns using both traditional and digital media to inform workers about available programs and how to access them. Simplifying application and claim processes will also improve utilization rates.
  • Expanding PDOT Reach and Curriculum: Extending PDOT programs to more regions, including rural areas, and regularly updating the curriculum to reflect changes in Gulf countries’ labor laws and conditions will better prepare workers.
  • Strengthening Legal Support: Implementing regular audits and inspections of recruitment agencies and employers will ensure compliance with labor laws. Enhancing legal aid services with multilingual support will help workers resolve disputes and understand their rights better.
  • Mental Health and Community Support: Establishing mental health support services, including counseling and helplines, will address the psychological challenges faced by migrant workers. Setting up community centers in Gulf countries can provide resources, support services, and cultural activities, fostering a sense of belonging.
  • Bilateral Agreements: Strengthening bilateral labor agreements with Gulf countries will ensure better protection and working conditions for Indian workers. Regular dialogue can help address emerging issues and enforce labor standards.

By building on these initiatives and implementing the suggested measures, the Indian government can ensure comprehensive protection and support for its migrant workers, enhancing their welfare and contributing to their socio-economic development.



Scroll to Top