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20 June 2024

A Gulf without Keralites could soon be a reality

By Vicky Kapur

For those reading this article in the Gulf region, conduct this little exercise – take a quick look around you and count the number of Keralites you spot. Now, try to imagine your surroundings (workplace, grocery store, the Metro, etc.) void of all Keralites. Impossible? That’s what we thought, but a new survey begs to differ.

Gulf nations may soon see less of the ubiquitous Keralite (a.k.a. Malyali due to the language connection) as the migration trend of Keralites from their native town to Gulf nations seems to be peaking, and may reverse soon.

According to the latest iteration of the Gulf Migration Survey, the number of Keralites in the UAE has declined about 4 per cent in five years – from 918,122 in 2008 down to 883,313 in 2011. This decline is in sharp contrast to the 37 per cent growth that UAE saw in migrants from Kerala in the preceding five-year period – from 670,150 in 2003 to 918,122 in 2008.

The principal countries of destination of Kerala emigrants have remained more or less unchanged over these years, with 90 per cent of the Kerala emigrants going to one or other of the Gulf countries.

The UAE, in fact, is home to the maximum number of Keralites outside Kerala, followed by Saudi Arabia (574,739 Keralites in 2011), Oman (195,300), Qatar (148,427), Kuwait (127,782) and Bahrain (101,556). Outside of the Gulf, the most number of Keralites can be found in the US (68,076) and the UK (44,640).

“Nearly 40 per cent of Kerala’s emigrants live in the UAE and 25 per cent in Saudi Arabia. In the last three years, especially, after global crisis, Saudi Arabia has gained about 2 percentage points and UAE has lost out by the same proportion,” the report points out.

While it will be tough to not find a Keralite within any given square kilometre in the Gulf region (no, uninhabited desert doesn’t count!), the survey points out that the growth in number of migrants from Kerala is declining and if this trend continues, within a few years, the number of migrants returning to their homeland may outnumber those leaving in search of new opportunities.

According to the survey, the number of Kerala emigrants living abroad in 2011 was estimated to be 2.28 million, up from 2.19 million in 2008, 1.84 million in 2003 and 1.36 million in 1998. This data clearly shows that the number of Keralites leaving their hometown annually for a job abroad is on a steady decline. “The increase could vanish much before 2015 and the migration trend could very well slope downward,” the survey points out.

However, the survey also points out that the money that Keralites are remitting back home is on a much steeper rise than the number of migrants. “Remittances from emigrants abroad to Kerala in 2011 were estimated to be approximately Rs49,695 crore [Dh35.5 billion] compared with Rs43,288 crore [Dh30.92 billion] in 2008. Remittances were Rs63,315 [Dh4,523] per household in 2011 compared with Rs57,227 [Dh4,088] in 2008,” the report states.

“Increase in remittances during 2008-11 (15 per cent) was much larger than increase in the number of emigrants (4 per cent),” it elaborates. The report goes on to state that the macro-economic impact of emigration and remittances are very significant, and they remain the single most dynamic factor in Kerala’s economic scenario.

“Remittances were 31 per cent of the state’s domestic product. The per capita income in the state is Rs52,000 [Dh3,714] without taking into consideration remittances, but would be Rs68,000 [Dh4,857] if remittances were taken in to consideration,” reckons the report.

Nevertheless, notwithstanding the increase in remittances, the report concludes that emigration from Kerala may be approaching an inflexion point in history. “Kerala’s Gulf connection is edging towards a turning point,” states the report.

“Emigration from Kerala in 2011 is more or less at the same level it was in 2008, indicating that 2011 is not far from the inflexion point in the history of emigration from Kerala. Many of the major centres of emigration in Kerala are already experiencing a decline in the number of emigrants and/or emigrants per household,” it highlights.

The report provides statistics from one of Kerala’s districts – Patahanamthitta – as supporting evidence and as how things may eventually pan out throughout the South Indian state. “The experience of Pathanamthitta district could be seen as forerunner of things to come in Kerala. In Pathanamthitta district, the number of emigrants was 98,000 in 1998, 134,000 in 2003, and 121,000 in 2008 but only 91,000 in 2011 – lower than the number in 1998.

“Emigrants per household was 33.1 per cent in 1998, 44.3 per cent in 2003 and 37.4 per cent in 2008 but only 28.4 per cent in 2011. The point of inflexion in emigration trend in Pathanamthitta district was as early as 2003,” it says.

The report attributes this decline to many things, key among them being dwindling wage differentials between Kerala and the Gulf region, competition from other Indian states in India and other countries abroad, and above all, the rapidly increasing cost of emigration.

“All these trends point towards emergence of an era of decreasing trend in emigration from Kerala. Kerala’s Gulf connection could reach its inflexion point in a matter of 4-5 years,” the report concludes.

Are you a Keralite or know one in the Gulf? What do you think are the reasons behind the shrinking numbers of Keralites coming to the Gulf? Let us know in comments below.