Return emigrants in Kerala : rehabilitation problems and development potential
Zachariah, K. C.
Nair, P. R. Gopinathan
Rajan, S. Irudaya
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This research report is aimed at three aspects of return emigrants in Kerala – their occupational mobility, utilisation of their human and material resources in Kerala’s development and their rehabilitation. It describes their demographic, social and economic characteristics before emigration, after emigration and, after return to Kerala. Also included are the financial costs of and benefits from emigration and the problems faced by them in the Gulf countries and in Kerala after return. A few suggestions for their rehabilitation and their possible role in the state’s development effort are made in the concluding part. The study shows that there was indeed considerable difference between the industrial affiliation of the return emigrants in Kerala before emigration and after their return to Kerala. As much as 43 percent of the return emigrants had changed their industrial sector in between emigration and return. However, real transition in the economic sector, in the sense of a systematic movement from primary sector to secondary sector and from secondary sector to tertiary sector was only about 18 percent, less than half of the total movements. Thus, there were movements, but very little meaningful transition. Some workers moved from agriculture and allied sectors to manufacturing or service sectors, but some others moved back from the manufacturing and the service sectors to the primary sector. The Government of Kerala has been looking up to the emigrants and return emigrants for help in the state’s development programmes. How much could the return emigrants actually contribute? This study shows that while emigrants while abroad could play a significant role in this matter, the role that the return emigrants would be able to play is limited. There are about three-quarters of a million return emigrants in Kerala today. However, they are relatively old with an average age of 41.7 years. A few are even too old and/or too sick to work. Some feel that there is no need for them to work at all; with the money they have earned abroad, they would rather enjoy a leisurely life back at home. The majority of them have, however, neither the human nor the material resources to make a real contribution to Kerala’s development. They have relatively poor levels of general education and technical education. Nor do there exist much of entrepreneurial abilities and leadership qualities among them. Most of them have already spent their savings and are looking for assistance to keep up the relatively high levels of living they have been accustomed to, following migration. There is, however, one factor, an important factor in the Kerala context, in their favour: they constitute a much more disciplined and committed work force than the general breed of ‘conscientised’ workers of Kerala. If it is possible to instil entrepreneurial skills and leadership qualities among them and supply them with technical skills and required finance, they might possibly make a real contribution to the development of Kerala. This is however a tall order of demand: the Government could at best act only as a facilitator in this effort. The richer and the more endowed with human resources and entrepreneurial leadership qualities do not seem to have returned to Kerala in considerable numbers. They are still out there in the Gulf and other countries employed in tenured jobs or engaged in secure businmess activities. They are the ones to be roped in to work for the economic resurgence of Kerala. For that effort to succeed, however, an entirely new approach to NRIs is needed. This research report does not pertain to this aspect of the NRIs. While the Government wants assistance from the return emigrants in the state’s development, what the majority of the return emigrants expect the most from the Government is help for their own rehabilitation. In our view, in a large number of cases they do deserve help.When they had been abroad they had made significant contribution to the state’s development. Emigration has been the single-most factor in the otherwise dreary development scenario of Kerala in the last quarter of the last century. An emigrant who returned to Kerala in recent years had, on an average, earned a total of about Rs 750,000 during the 6 years and 3 months period, he was out there. The contribution of emigrants to reduction of unemployment and poverty levels and improving the housing conditions of Kerala is widely acclaimed. But almost all their foreign savings have been used up for subsistence, buying land, constructing houses, paying dowries, paying back debts, etc. What little was left with a few was invested in selfemployment projects which in practice yielded little in terms of income and the majority of which have met with natural death in the course of a few years. Return emigrants are now a disillusioned lot, hoping that the Government would bail them out. Among the return emigrants there exists a small proportion, about one-fifth, whose emigrations were misadventures and had resulted in their loss of wealth, wastage of energy and loss of health. This group finds its survival precarious. There is not much economic justification for any agency to dole out social welfare assistance except perhaps to this small proportion. In general, the Government may not find it justifiable to implement social welfare programmes for all return emigrants. The return emigrants have time and again proved that financial assistance given to them by way of loans for small-scale industries won’t cut much ice. Many of them want pension, but we find little justification for any special treatment for the return emigrants in preference to other deserving segments of the population. We make two suggestions for the rehabilitation of return emigrants, for those who have already come back and for those who would be returning in future: establishment of a welfare scheme and organisation of co-operatives for specific tasks (example, public works, tourism projects etc) in which the work discipline the return emigrants have acquired abroad could be of immense use. The seed money for both should come from the commercial banks of Kerala, the institutions which have received and continue to receive, massive inflows of funds by way of emigrants’ remittances. But the maintenance of the welfare schemes on a continuing basis should be the responsibility of the emigrants still abroad and that of the co-operatives of the returned emigrants themselves. JEL Classification : J10, J18, J22, J31 Key Words: Return migration, remittances, rehabilitation, Kerala