January 7, 2021 5:00:06 am
As per figures compiled by the Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs, 8.43 lakh people returned to Kerala from foreign countries between the first week of May 2020 and January 4 this year. Of them, 5.52 lakh said they had lost their jobs — with 1.40 lakh of them returning in the last 30 days.
Another big chunk of returnees, 2.08 lakh, stated that their job visas had expired or mentioned other reasons for their return. The rest include senior citizens, or children, and family members of expatriates.
With the figures indicating that the job crisis triggered by Covid-19 continues, Kerala economy may be facing long-term impact, with remittances from abroad, mainly West Asia, its lifeline.
Prof S Irudaya Rajan, an expert on international migration, however, doesn’t see a cause for alarm. “The actual figure of migrants in distress would be less… I think a section of them, it could be two-third of them, would explore new destinations for migration in the coming months. Already people have started returning,’’ he said.
Chair Professor at the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs’s Research Unit on International Migration, at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, Rajan said he doesn’t see remittancesdeclining by a lot either. Kerala saw annual remittances of Rs 85,000 crore in 2018, and was expecting this to increase to Rs 100,000 crore in 2020. Rajan said there could be 10 to 15 per cent decline in remittances in the current fiscal.
He added that one of new corridors of migration post-pandemic could be the health sector. “But we have to wait another year to get a clear picture about the next trajectory of migration.”
Incidentally, as expatriates fly back to Kerala, NRI deposits in the state’s banking sector have been rising. (NRI deposits are foreign currency deposits made in Indian banks by NRIs, whereas remittances are foreign currency funds sent by NRIs to their families.
Ajaya Kumar, AGM (NRI Cell) of the State Bank of India, which accounts for 29 per cent of the NRI deposits in Kerala’s banking sector, said they had seen steady growth in the first six months of this fiscal, when “every month, NRI deposits in SBI grew by Rs 300 crore”. There was a combination for reasons for this, Kumar said. “The growth in the first half could be due to fall of rupee against the dollar, which generally prompts NRIs to send more money. Also, people preferred to park money in banks as there were less avenues for spending or trade.”
However, since December, with the rupee rising against the dollar, there has been a fall in growth of NRI deposits, the SBI official said. “Also, now people might have started spending more due to the easing of lockdown restrictions and resumption of business activities.”
According to Kumar, “The real impact of the crisis stemming from expatriates’ return is likely to be felt in the NRI deposit arena in the next fiscal.”
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