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24 February 2024

Hoping for a soft landing


By Sean Davidson

Paul Johnson, a human resources professional who has been working away from home for several years now, is the newest victim of the international financial crisis. Reluctant to leave his new home, he has little choice after losing his job recently.

Now, the 26-year-old Briton is facing the prospect of returning to his home nation with no job, little chance of finding one – and a state unwilling to support him.

Like scores of expatriates of every nationality, Johnson (not his real name) will go home with what savings he has made in his adopted country, plus his company's redundancy package.

Governments around the world, barring those in India's Kerala state and China, remain largely uncertain about the benefits – if any – they offer expatriates who return after losing their jobs overseas.

And embassies and ministries representing some of the major expat populations said they were unable to give advice on assistance to people suddenly made redundant. This leaves expatriates with the decision to either return to their home nation with little knowledge of what the future holds, or take advantage of local situations such as unemployment benefits or working visa extensions and continue to look for work in their adopted countries.

India expects 200,000 people to return from working in the Middle East – many of them construction site workers who come from Kerala.

In response, the state's finance minister, TM Thomas Isaac, recently announced a Rs1 billion (Dh74 million) loan package for returning workers as part of the state's annual budget. The money will help workers set up small businesses and will be allocated according to need.

An additional Rs100m has been set aside for people forced to return after less than two years abroad, Isaac said.

More than one million Chinese migrant workers, who were forced to return home late last year amid the impact of the global financial crisis, found new jobs in southwest China's Sichuan Province.

Of the 1.49 million migrant workers who had returned home, 1.03 million have found new jobs through training and job fairs organised by the government. Johnson, who recently married, had a salary of $7,000 (Dh25,711) a month, has $2,200 in outstanding debt and no assets. His redundancy package was $21,000 plus $1,300 relocation. He said: "A total freeze in recruitment in every sector means it will take me months before I find a job."

Diplomats and government officials, however, were stumped when asked by Emirates Business if returning nationals could tap into benefits, allowances or services to aid them back into employment. Even one leading independent advice organisation, which has a global reputation, said it was unable to help.

"I know there are many benefits for our citizens, but I have no idea what they are for those returning home," John Ludlow, spokesman for Citizens' Advice Bureau in the United Kingdom said.

Here in the UAE, consulates for Australia, South Africa, Canada, India and Philippines echoed this response, referring phone calls for advice to different ministries in their respective home countries.

However, officials contacted in those countries were also unable to answer the question.

Emirates Business research revealed that, with the exception of the Indian state of Kerala, nationals of most countries were ineligible for any benefits and social security on their immediate return. Benefits only apply to citizens who reside and work in the country, not to those who took up residency elsewhere.

"When citizens return to their home countries they should immediately inform the tax man and record their re-entry. Depending on the country, they will eligible for all benefits after residing in their countries for a certain duration," said a repatriation expert from the UK.

"If the company they are working for doesn't provide benefits then they can go to the Labour Department here and complain," said a duty officer at the South African Consulate, who declined to disclose his name. "Unfortunately we do not have anything for him/her in South Africa.

"There is no help for them, so it is their responsibility. We haven't experienced any such case of South Africans being fired and then we take care of them," he added.

"We do not have any advice for them. We're not directly involved, so there are no provisions we can do.

"If there are cases that people are in distress and it is proved beyond doubt that he is distressed, then a higher department can look into it."

The British Consulate, though unsure of possible benefits, were more forthcoming with advice.

"We'd like to advise our British nationals to sort out any disputes with their previous employers amicably," said a spokeswoman.

"In case of any outstanding problems they can go the Ministry of Labour. We'd like to advise them that if their visa status changes, to make sure they legalise it accordingly," she said.

Pressed on what benefits Britons returning home could apply for, she said: "They know what to do and what they are eligible for. They wouldn't need our advice."

However, sources told Emirates Business that returning expats can avail of benefits after residing in the UK for six months. Canadian officials recommended the use of government resource sites such as Service Canada for assistance in finding job when they return.

Tim Searle, CEO of personal finance company GlobalEye, said he advised people who chose to return to the UK to do so after April 6, if possible.

"If they return to the UK before April 6, their past year's earnings will be liable to British tax," he said.