Bengaluru: Kerala could lose nearly Rs 13,000 crore in annual foreign remittances with more than 4 lakh Keralites who live abroad planning to return home in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Among them are nearly 61,000 people who have reported job losses as the reason to come back.
Officials from NORKA Roots, a state department looking after the welfare of non-resident Keralites, said as many as 61,009 people have registered on their website wishing to return to the state citing loss of employment.
The figures came after the department opened registrations last week for those who would like to return to Kerala from other countries amid the pandemic and its impact on economies around the world.
There are nearly 2.5 million people from Kerala working in West Asia, Europe and the US. Around 90 per cent of these people work in West Asia, which is facing an oil crisis too, with most of them employed as skilled or unskilled labourers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Kerala receives close to Rs 85,000 crore annually as foreign remittances, according to S. Irudaya Rajan, a member of the state government’s expert committee on Covid-19.
In view of the crisis, the state will lose around 15 per cent, or Rs 12,750 crore, of its annual remittances, Rajan told ThePrint. Earlier, the state was expected to see a 15 per cent rise.
“Nearly 3 lakh Kerala families will be affected by this pandemic-induced job loss,” said Rajan, who is also a professor at the Centre of Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram.
How the return may affect Kerala’s economy
While a large number of people have registered to return to Kerala, many would not do so immediately, said Rajan.
“We don’t expect Keralites working abroad to return to India immediately. The process may take months and we may see people coming back in September-October. We also need to take into consideration that those who have lost their jobs would think twice before relocating as there are no jobs in India as well,” he said.
C.S. Venkiteswaran, former associate professor at the Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation in Thiruvananthapuram, said the job losses abroad will certainly affect Kerala’s economy, but it will also throw up a new opportunity for the state government to re-engineer its labour system.
“Just like Keralites are returning to their home state, Kerala has a migrant population of nearly 25 lakh people. Many of them also have returned to their hometowns in Odisha, West Bengal, etc. The Kerala government can re-engineer the labour system such that those who have been pink-slipped abroad may be able to find jobs in Kerala itself,” said Venkiteswaran.
“Migrant labourers do a lot of hard work, which many educated Keralites would not like to do. So those who have been living abroad working in these sectors (blue collar jobs) can find opportunities in their home state,” he said.
How many are returning?
After Kerala allowed those who wish to return home to register on the NORKA Roots website on 29 April, over 5.63 lakh non-resident Keralites have registered themselves with the government. Of these, 4.13 lakh live abroad while 1.5 lakh are those who have migrated within the country, according to officials.
The officials said among those who have registered are also 9,827 pregnant women, 10,628 children, 11,256 elderly and 2,902 students who have completed courses abroad.
A statement issued to the media Monday by NORKA Roots official Salin Mankuzhy said, “806 prisoners have been released from prison and 1,28,061 foreign nationals have expressed their wish to return to Kerala. Around 41,236 expats have expired visiting visas and another 70,638 NRIs have registered on the website to come back on annual leave.”
The list of those who wish to return will be shared by Norka Roots with the Ministry of External Affairs and the embassies of the respective countries for smoother coordination, said Mankuzhy.
Rajan said it is the psychological fear that has forced people to decide to return back to their home state.
“There is an initial fear as a lot of them work alone in those countries. They would prefer to be close to their families. But once things skip back to normal, we will see people going abroad once again to work, even if it means for lesser salaries,” he added.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has made it clear that the state is well-prepared to handle the large number of Keralites who wish to return to the state. In his media briefings, he has repeatedly emphasised that arrangements of 2 lakh beds have been made for those who are likely to return after the air services resume.
His government has said arrangements have been made at the four international airports in Kerala to thoroughly screen every passenger. Those seen to be asymptomatic will be asked to undergo 14-day home quarantine, while others will be sent to hospital according to Covid-19 guidelines.
Government officials told ThePrint that accommodations for those who have to be quarantined have been arranged in hostels, hotels, community halls, private hospitals and even houseboats.
Faced with the huge task of screening people from airports to railway stations, the state government has decided to create temporary isolation centres across the state near railways stations and airports.
“Nearly 4,000 ICU beds and 2,000 ventilators, several ambulances along with a team of doctors, paramedics and police will be deployed at various railway and bus stations, airports and interstate border areas. The Army will be supporting the state health department in setting up these temporary facilities,” said a Kerala health official, who didn’t wish to be named.