Several Indian families living in Dubai are returning home because of changing work policies and rising prices in the Gulf. Young unmarried people who went to Dubai a decade ago are now finding it hard to sustain a family as oil prices take a plunge in the international market, slowing down the Gulf economy.
Sahil, a 42-year-old retail employee from Aligarh, went to Dubai eight years ago and worked with leading watch and automobile brands. But ever since he got married and had children, surviving in Dubai became difficult on a stagnant salary. He was forced to send his family to India. According to Sahil, “Education here is expensive. I have two daughters and one of them goes to kindergarten now. My wife had a job too but since we had two children, juggling between work and family became challenging in the absence of a domestic help, which does not come cheap here unlike in India.”
Amir, who has been working in Dubai for a decade now has decided to come home. “My wife and I have well-paying jobs. We have a domestic help to look after our two children when we are at work. Life has been good over the last decade in Dubai and we have enjoyed our stay here to the fullest. But now the market is slow. Sales are down so we are not earning much commission outside our salaries. While our income has been fluctuating, our expenses are rising steadily. In Indian currency my daughter’s school fees are close to Rs 2 lakh a quarter and now we have to pay taxes unlike before.”
The Gulf has strong alumni lobbies of popular Indian universities like AMU, Jamia Millia Islamia, apart from migrant associations of Punjab and South Indian states. All of them play a crucial role in networking with the newcomers who are job hunting. Khan said, “We have hardly been able to help any of the newcomers in the last seven-eight months. Yesterday, I bought some food for a person who has been living in Dubai for two months and has not been able to find a job yet.”
Samir Khanna, a public relations manager at an Emirati restaurant said, “I have friends who have decided to go back home to India because of increasing living expenses and taxes. But I feel that this trend of going back is more rampant among people who belong to the middle income group. These people had been living alone or were single so far and now they have families to support. Those who earn a handsome amount of dirhams—upwards of Dhs 15,000 a month—are still comfortable here.”
But Nadeem Hasan, a human resources expert who has 17 years of experience working in the Gulf, said, “I do not agree that the Gulf economy is slowing down. Construction, infrastructure industries are expanding more than ever. Anywhere you look in Dubai, a building or a bridge is being built or land being reclaimed. The banking sector and industries connected to it like consultancy and outsourcing and the service sector have witnessed job cuts due to large-scale mergers. In the automobile industry, the sale of pre-owned cars has increased because fewer people want to buy new cars since they do not wish to stay here for a long time. Other than that a lot of people from Europe and the United States too have started to move to Dubai, unlike earlier times when only Arab countries and South-East Asian nations used to see Dubai as an employment hub.”
While Kerala has the highest number of migrant workers in Dubai, a drop in spending and remittances reflects how Dubai is no longer the dream destination for Indians.
A Kerala migration survey conducted by the Centre for Development Studies, based in the region, first spotted the dip in remittances and drop in local migrants to the Gulf in 2016. Of an estimated 6 million Indians who have migrated for employment, 2.5 million are from Kerala, most working in the six Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Oman. Gulf remittances had dropped by at least 15% in the last year, with rising cases of loan defaults. Last month, in Jeddah, nearly 4,000 Indian families did not get their children re-enrolled for the next academic year. In 2014, the number of Indian migrants fell from 2.4 million to 2.24 million.
While work permit renewal fees and taxes in the Gulf have increased, “nationalisation” policies now give preference to locals in recruitment in some industries.
Bina, a bank employee in Dubai said, “I have been earning a handsome salary here and have invested money in India. But now I see how the bank is changing rules. We need to hire three new people but there are specific instructions to prioritise Arab nationals in recruitment. It makes us question our own job security, which is why it seems like a good idea to consider moving back to India or some other country.”
The young crop of Arab nationals is gradually returning home after acquiring their education in universities from across the world and their government needs to provide them with jobs, which is why the national sentiment in recruitment has gained momentum. The Gulf has historically remained on the back-foot when it comes to affordable and quality education, which is why the Arab families preferred to get their children enrolled in universities abroad. With advancing policies and the allowing of women to drive cars, the migrant workers feel a bigger threat of losing their jobs.
However, the concern of job security among the migrant community in the United Arab Emirates is not exclusive to people working in MNCs. In a 2018 study conducted by the United Nations (UN) and commissioned by Democrance, an insurance technology start-up, amongst the low-income migrant workers in the UAE who earned an average salary of Dhs 4,000 and remitted money at least once every two months, revealed that job loss, and with it the worry of being unable to support families back home, were among the most frequently cited concerns by the study participants, with 35% identifying it as their number one worry, followed by stagnant salaries (19%) and health issues (13%). The survey had collected responses from 762 workers in the UAE, out of which Indians were 49% and Filipinos were 51%.