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Indian expats see red over orange passport plan

Those opposing the move say it will discriminate workers as second-class citizens

Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: The Indian government’s move to change the colour of the passport for citizens based on their socioeconomic background has kicked up a controversy in the UAE as well.

Like critics in India and elsewhere, Indian expats here have opposed the plan to change the colour of the passport from navy blue to orange for people with Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) status.

The ECR status is issued for applicants who have not passed matriculation (grade 10) and not paying income tax.


India's new passport plan

Three types of Indian Passport

What is the current situation?

All Indian passports are currently endorsed with and Emigration Check Required (ECR) status, or with Emigration Check Not Required (ECNR) status.
Uneducated and unskilled Indian citizens require an ECR from the office of the Protector of Emigrants to seek employment in foreign countries including Afghanistan, Bahrain, Brunei, kuwait, Indonesia, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, malaysia, Oman, Qatar, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Thailand, UAE and Yemen. 14 categories of Indian citizens automatically qualify for ECNR status, including income-tax payers, those below 18 years and above the age of 50, and those with an educational qualification of matriculation and above.

What is proposed?

Indian citizens with ECR status will now be issued a passport with an orange jacket. The last page that served as address proof will remain blank. Existing passports will be valid till the date of expiry.

Last page of passport

Indian Passport last page

It includes the father or legal guardian's name, names of the holder's mother, spouse and their address.
The removal of this page would mean that passports may no longer serve as valid proof of address.



They need to secure emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants when they seek overseas jobs in 18 countries, including the GCC countries.

On Friday, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced its plan to change the jacket of the ECR passports to orange since it is dropping the last page, where the ECR status is endorsed, in the newly designed passports.

The government says this will make immigration checks easier and more efficient, besides providing holders with help in foreign countries.

But many expats are protesting this move saying this will discriminate Indian citizens based on their economic and educational qualifications.

“It is equivalent to dividing the economically backward Indians as second-class citizens,” said Punnakkan Mohammad Ali, general secretary of Incas UAE.

“Imagine people in the same family carrying different coloured passports based on their educational qualification. It will be a disgrace for the orange passport holders to declare to the world that they have not passed matriculation for whatever reasons.”

Advocate Sajid Aboobacker, secretary of Kerala Muslim Cultural Committee in Dubai, said the discrimination of Indian citizens through the colour of passports is against the provision of equal rights and justice envisioned in the Indian Constitution.

“This is actually going to give more business to people running recruitment rackets. These passport holders will be more vulnerable for exploitation.”

Ali said the government should, instead, tighten the rules and enforce them strictly to prevent human trafficking and exploitation of lowly paid migrants.

“Changing their passport colour is not the solution, but enforcing strict rules and ending corruption. If the government is providing good jobs back home, nobody would migrate. It shouldn’t disrespect the poor migrant workers if it is not in a position to give them jobs back home.”

Ramesh Mannath, media convener of Indian People’s Forum in Dubai, said those opposing the move have a problem with their attitude.

“We don’t disrespect people with disabilities because they have special parking spaces and tickets. If we do that, the problem is with our attitude, not them. The same is applicable here. This is a group of people requiring better protection and this move will only help them.”

He said the orange passports will prevent human trafficking and instances of agents bribing some officials to send ECR passport holders abroad without fulfilling the formalities.

“Now all the officials will know this passport holder needs to go through some special procedures and it will become difficult to skirt the rules.”

Protection vs discrimination

Officials working with the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) said the move will benefit the blue-collar workers from being exploited by migrating through unofficial channels.

“The benefits of protection will supersede the concerns of discrimination in future. It will also speed up the immigration procedures at the airport,” said one of them.

Ramesh Mannath, media convener of Indian People's Forum in Dubai, said those opposing the move have a problem with their attitude. 

“We don’t disrespect people with disabilities because they have special parking spaces and tickets. If we do that, the problem is with our attitude, not them. The same is applicable here. This is a group of people requiring better protection and this move will only help them.”

He said the orange passports will prevent human trafficking and instances of agents bribing some officials to send ECR passport holders abroad without fulfilling the formalities. 

“Now all the officials will know this passport holder needs to go through some special procedures and it will become difficult to skirt the rules.”

Will it affect the existing ECR passport holders?

Dubai: Indian expats who had migrated with Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) status and secured better jobs later are concerned whether the new colour-coding will affect their passports.

“I had come here as a school bus driver. But now I work as an admin staff,” said Hassan Abdulla, who works in a Sharjah school.

“Many people like me have got better jobs later because of their skills and experience. There are even managers. Nobody is going to check our grade 10 results anymore for our promotions. But we are concerned if the government will tell us also to change the passport to orange in future.”

However, this is not likely to happen as the government is likely to implement it only for the new passport applicants once it starts printing the orange passports.

Also, there is already an option for switching from ECR to ECNR when they complete three years of staying abroad or pass matriculation after migrating, an official said.

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