Dubai: Hundreds of Indian nurses, whose plight after falling prey to a recruitment scam in the midst of COVID-19 came to light in May, got a new lease of life when private health care groups in the UAE offered them jobs within just a couple of weeks.
As reported by Gulf News earlier, around 230 of those nurses stranded here were offered jobs and a chance to secure their licence within the next three months.
While the generosity of health care establishments in the UAE saved the lives and careers of the nurses, what actually got them trapped begs a closer look.
Two nurses Reena Rajan and Susan Saji, who blew the lid off the recruitment scam by filing a petition with Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan back home, told Gulf News that most nurses like them were grossly underpaid in India despite having educational qualifications and several years of experience in the field. This was one reason why they were often lured by attractive overseas job offers from recruitment agencies, some of which turned out to be fake.
While one of them said she was getting a salary of Rs12,000 (Dh600) at a private health facility in Kerala, the other drew Rs20,000 (Dh1,000) at a hospital in New Delhi.
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According to several nursing-related websites, the average salaries of nurses in India range between Rs20,000 and Rs25,000 while news reports cited that several nurses, even on COVID-19 duty in many Indian health care facilities, were earning less than Rs20,000 a month.
Rajan and Saji, who are also relatives, said they were not able to support their families with their meagre salaries. That is why, they said, they had decided to resign and come over to the UAE through a recruitment agency in Kochi, Kerala, that promised them a monthly salary of Dh5,000.
Dr Sanjay M. Paithankar, managing director of Right Health, who hired dozens of stranded Indian nurses at his clinics, said most of the nurses whom he had interviewed were overqualified and underpaid.
“They were highly experienced, working in top hospitals in India,” said Dr Paithankar. “One of the nurses I met used to assist with multiple open-heart surgeries in a day at a famous cardiac hospital, but her salary was only Rs20,000,” he said.
Dr Paithankar said that another nurse, who used to work at a multi-speciality hospital in New Delhi, lost her gratuity because she had resigned without notice to accept the new job offer in the UAE. “She had 11 years of service. She was asked to resign within 24 hours. As a result, she will not get her gratuity and will not be able to work for the same organisation ever again.”
What prompted the nurses to quit their existing jobs was the lure of salaries ranging from Dh4,000 to Dh5,000 in UAE, offered by the recruitment agents who hoodwinked them with fake job offers at COVID-19 vaccination and testing centres.
Dr Paithankar said some nurses were also offered jobs at different hospitals in the UAE.
“But the agents didn’t keep their promise once the nurses landed here. They did take some of the nurses to different places, including our group, for job interviews. But, we did not offer jobs to those who came through those agents as they demanded 50 per cent of the salaries of the nurses as commission and they were still withholding the passports and other documents of the nurses.”
This was apart from the exorbitant commissions that the agents had charged back in India.
The unscrupulous agents had charged the nurses commissions ranging from Rs200,000 to Rs350,000.
Dr Paithankar said some of the nurses had mortgaged their gold and land to pay the commissions for jobs in the UAE. Ambily MB, a medical and surgical ward nurse with more than seven years’ experience in Kerala, had paid Rs200,000 to the recruitment agency in India.
Ambily, who eventually got a job at VPS Healthcare, said going back to India empty-handed was not an option. “I cannot return to India as my family was struggling to pay back the money we had arranged to pay the agent,” Ambily said, adding that her new job was a big blessing during the crisis.
Kiran Raveendran, a community volunteer, said the agents took advantage of the fact that there were many temporary job openings for nurses in the UAE due to the pandemic. “Many gullible nurses were exploited because of their ignorance even after reaching here. Some of them were asked to pay Dh250 for a SIM card upon arrival. They had to pay extra for taxi, food and COVID tests,” Raveendran said.
Need for confirmations
Dr Paithankar said, “The nurses were duped by the agents, but the nurses were educated women. They should have confirmed whether they were dealing with authorised agents and whether the jobs offered were genuine. They should have known that they cannot work in the UAE without a licence.”
Deepak H. Chhabria, chairman of the Mumbai-based Federation of Indian Emigrants Management Councils and Associations, said that apart from the authorised state government-owned agencies, no private recruitment agency is permitted to do overseas recruitment of Indian nurses unless special permission for country-specific recruitment is obtained by private recruitment agencies.
Authorised recruitment system for Indian nurses
According to the Indian Consulate in Dubai, assigning overseas recruitment of Indian nurses to government-run agencies was one of the measures taken to streamline their recruitment system.
“In order to ensure the welfare of Indian nurses, they were brought under the purview of the Emigration Check Required (ECR) category when they travel to 18 notified ECR countries, including the UAE, for employment since May 31, 2015,” the consulate told Gulf News in a statement.
However, the age restriction of 30, imposed on Indian women emigrating on ECR passports, does not apply to nurses coming to the UAE for employment, according to the 2015 announcement by the Indian government.
With effect from June 1, 2015, foreign employers, who seek to recruit Indian nurses, need to register in the eMigrate online recruitment system of Government of India, the Indian Embassy said.
Which agencies can recruit nurses?
Initially, only three state-run recruitment agencies (RA) were authorised to recruit Indian nurses. However, according to the consulate, the number was increased to 12 later.
The state-run RAs are as following.
Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC), Kerala.
Overseas Manpower Corporation Ltd (OMCL), Tamil Nadu.
Uttar Pradesh Financial Corporation (UPFC).
Overseas Manpower Company Andhra Pradesh Limited (OMCAP).
Telangana Overseas Manpower Company Limited (TOMCOM).
Bihar State Overseas Placement Bureau.
Karnataka State Unorganised Workers Social Security Board (KSUWSSB).
Karnataka Vocational Training and Skill Development Corporation (KVTSDC).
Punjab Ghar Rozgar and Karobar Mission.
Pan IIT Alumni Reach Foundation of Jharkhand.
Rajasthan Skill and Livelihoods Development Corporation (RSLDC).
“Thereafter, under certain ‘terms and conditions’ of recruiting nurses, a few private RAs have been permitted to recruit nurses for ECR countries, under the ‘Country Specific Order’,” the consulate added.
How do fake agencies operate?
Bogus agencies circumvent the recruitment procedures for nurses by flying them in on visit visas, Chhabria said. “There are a lot of procedures in place for foreign employers to recruit nurses through legal channels. Indian missions verify the employer details and forward the name to the Office of the Protector General of Emigrants (PGE), under the Ministry of External Affairs in New Delhi. Office of the PGE, after due verification of registered recruiting agency, grants permission to the registered recruiting agent to commence the process of recruitment,” Chhabria added.
“Sometimes, some overseas employers, in connivance with unscrupulous agencies, direct these agencies to send the nurses on visit visas, by promising lucrative jobs and charging hefty amounts. All these unscrupulous agencies have local representatives based in specific countries,” Chhabria said while explaining the modus operandi.
Another racket is to misuse visit visas. “Although it is mandatory for visit visa holders to travel only on valid return tickets, these gangs cancel the return tickets for a nominal cost of about Rs800 once the applicant lands at the overseas destination.”
What else can be done for nurses?
Indian missions in the UAE have repeatedly warned job-seekers from India not to fly to the UAE on visit visas to look for jobs. Highlighting the potential dangers, missions have been urging job-seekers to follow the authorised recruitment channels and fly only on approved visa categories for employment.
Chhabria said: “Unless visitors’ mandatory registration in eMigrate portal through registered recruiting agency is done, no accountability can be fixed.”
“We strongly support a proposal to design a policy that every female with an ECR passport travelling on visit visa will be subjected to prior approval from the Indian mission concerned and hope that this rule will be implemented soon,” he added.
Where can nurses verify their job offers?
Chhabria said many Indian job-seekers are not even aware of the means to verify their job offers from the UAE and other Gulf Cooperation Council Countries.
The consulate has urged the nurses to make use of its service to verify their job offers before accepting them.
Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK) — a 24x7 welfare centre for Indian citizens in the UAE, located on the Indian Consulate’s premises — helps job aspirants check if their job offers from the UAE are genuine or fake.
The consulate said nurses can also verify their job offers from companies based in the UAE and lodge their grievances with PBSK.
This can be done through following channels
Mobile App: ‘PBSK Dubai’
24x7 toll free helpline 80046342.