Ubaidullah disagrees. Unlike the previous scheme, which required 30% of jobs to be reserved for Saudis, the Nitaqat law is “more realistic and calls for a more achievable target.” Especially in the context of growing unrest in the Middle East, “Saudi authorities want to be seen doing something to remove mass discontent,” he points out, adding that “that something is Saudization of labor, which is popular among the Saudi masses.”
Kerala government officials say that even if 100,000 to 150,000 expatriates return home, the fact that most of those working in Saudi Arabia are from a single district in Kerala – Malapuram – means that its impact will be concentrated and felt strongly in only a small geographic area.
Also of concern is the likely dip in foreign exchange remittances. Twenty-seven percent of the U.S. $70 billion that India received in the form of remittances in 2012 came from Gulf countries, with “major source countries being the UAE and Saudi Arabia,” a Reserve Bank of India (RBI) document notes. There is concern in Kerala that remittances from Saudi could shrink this year.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
"This is the beginning of the end of Kerala's El Dorado,” P.T. Kunju Muhammed, filmmaker and president of the Kerala Pravasi Sangh was quoted by India Today as saying.
However, not everyone believes that it is the end of the road for Kerala’s migrants to the Gulf. If the Nitaqat law forces them to return to India, they will find a way out, Nair argues, drawing attention to the “enterprising and hard working nature of Keralites.”
Rajan points out that during the global economic crisis, Indian emigrants returned from Dubai “but left to another country in the Gulf within a few months.” Being sent back from Saudi “will not deter Indians from seeking jobs elsewhere in the Gulf in the near future,” he argues.
The deadline for implementation of the Nitaqat law was March 29. The Saudi government has extended the deadline by another three months. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has dashed off letters to the Indian government asking it to prevail on the Saudis not to deport Indians as it would adversely affect the chances of their re-employment and entry to other Gulf countries.
In Malapuram, the mood may be somber, but people like Ubaidullah have not given up on their Gulf dreams. “I have already contacted agents for a job in the UAE or Bahrain,” he says. Over three weeks after his return to India, he has “not unpacked fully,” he points out, adding that he is ready to leave again for the Gulf.
All his travails in the desert kingdom notwithstanding, Ubaidullah’s El Dorado still lies in the Gulf.