Pax Indica: Work permits for Bangladeshi migrants

Illegal immigration can only be tackled by allowing legal migration

In an email exchange last week, Sanjoy Hazarika, author of one of the best books on India’s North East, told me that he has been advocating work permits for the last two decades. The proposal needs a serious consideration now.

[The] blunt, impractical and half-heartedly implemented measures we have used to address the problem have only worsened it. Attempts to force them to go back have created an illicit political protection racket that has undermined national security. Fencing is in progress, but it is impossible to erect an impenetrable barrier along the entire India-Bangladesh border. Over the years, many border officials and security personnel have become mixed up in organised networks smuggling everything from cough syrup to human beings. Indian and Bangladeshi border guards sometimes even exchange fire, indicating policy failure at so many levels. Amid all this, tens of thousands of illegal immigrants make their way into India each year.

We need a new approach. India should consider establishing a system of work permits to allow Bangladeshis to work in India, legally.

It is practically impossible to fight demographic pressure, not least given the geography of India’s North East. It is, however, possible to ensure that the flow of immigrants does not concentrate in Assam or other states adjoining Bangladesh. The real political problem is not so much the inflow, but the accumulation of illegal immigrants in one state. If work permits are subject to state-wise quotas, then it is possible to distribute the flow across Indian states. This will allow migrant workers to work in states that need them, and prevent them from crowding in certain states.

Work permits with state-wise quotas can thus address Assam’s genuine and longstanding concerns — the state can cap the number of Bangladeshi migrants it will accept. India’s national security concerns become more manageable by bringing the migration out into the open. Obviously, Bangladesh stands to benefit too, not least the immigrant who need not live a often fearful life in the twilight zone. [Read the rest at Yahoo! India]

This column benefits from the discussions I had with participants and friends at Economic Freedom Network Asia’s conference on international migration in Jakarta last week.

13 thoughts on “Pax Indica: Work permits for Bangladeshi migrants”

  1. The topic is a serious issue not only for the demographic balance and national security but also for the economical and political stability in India. This issue has been lightly taken by various political leadership. The solution suggested is seems to be good but its implementation is not so easy. There would be a lot of pressure from various angles including political involvement with the eye on ‘vote bank’. However, it is seen in last 5 to 10 years that the vote bank politics no more work as was earlier which is evident from the unexpected election results. However, this solution would be a temporary fix if preventive activities for infiltration from various neighbouring countries. While Aadhar is bold step to fix many such problems, we need to have fool proof system to fix the identity of people living in the country. At present most of the ID proofs are issued on the basis of individual demand and documentary evidence “managed” – example birth certificate which is a basic ‘entry point’ document establishing the nationality of individual. This can be corrected by issuance of a valid document at ‘entry point’ and co-relate with the ‘Aadhar ID’ and transfer of onus of establishing the identity with individuals.

  2. After strengthening our local governments, is unification of bangladesh with India still a crazy idea? NE will benefit because of easier port access and in return east bengalis just like any other indian are free to work and settle anywhere in India.

    Of course without strengthening local governments, it is pointless to talk about unification as there would be no reason for east bengalis to trust new delhi.

  3. Why not wait for UID to be implemented? Along with an identity card for citizens, there can be a work permit card for immigrants with limited benefits, like there is in most of the European Union.

    Unification of Bangladesh with India is a bad idea. What does India get in return? 142 million bengalis, regular floods, Grameen Bank, a few more national holidays for Mujib-ur-Rehman, two more Didis, and worst of all, the need to call all Balti shops in London as truly Indian.

  4. Excellent! This way we can ensure that even more Bangladeshis settle here, in fact take citizenship after marrying Indian women, and (by allowing terrorists to migrate easily) improve outreach and support for terrorist groups in non-border states.

    I have an idea – what about not taking for granted that there necessarily exists a better solution? That might act as some sort of safe-guard against replacing a bad solution with a worse one.

  5. Obviously, the steps take so far haven’t bore any fruits however, the solution mentioned in this post is also not full-proof. Following are some of the questions/comments that come to my mind:-

    1. By issuing work permits and even after putting a cap on the number, how do you ensure that there will be no more infiltration? Though, there is concentration issue for Assam but infiltration still remains a problem.

    2. With ever increasing influx of labours not only from Bangladesh but from the states like Bihar to N.E states, there is an increasing anger among the people of these states and now by legalizing Bangladeshi workers – what reaction can you expect from them? Again, don’t you think, it is kind of a quota for Bangladeshis? If that is the case, then the states in need of labours should have quota for other Indian state labours rather than having it for Bangladeshis

    3. As Benny mentioned, implementation is an issue with this solution.

  6. The problem with the whole issue is that a lot of illegal immigration across the border is because the local politicians want to offset the indigenous population in vote bank and get the Bangladeshis in with the condition that they vote for some specific politicians. A work visa is going to screw up their plans since a legitimate worker will not be able to vote. So they are going to keep bringing in those who cannot get a work visa, which will be a worse lot than what we are getting. But the idea will solve at least some of the problem.

    @ Contemplationist: The entire population of Bangladesh is 150 million. wheee

    1. Akshar,

      Are you for real? Some of the anti-muslim statements in the comments are deplorable. What is the difference between your post and the genocidal activities of the Pakistanis in 1971?

  7. The only sustainable long term solution is to enable Bangladesh to prosper economically, put pressure on it to ensure reforms for FDI to flow-in, put pressure to open up its market , thereby create an environment where jobs are created locally in Bangladesh.

    India must always work hard to improve whole of South Asia, allowing immigrants will not work. India must work very hard to minimise immigrants by all means — bigger boder walls, work permits also can be tried (points system, a high-cost “fee”), legalising could help us to collect taxes. But the objective must always be to minimize immigrants!

  8. Simple. Hire Israeli engineers to construct a West Bank-like wall. Start a labor visa regime with NO PATH TO CITIZENSHIP, and deport all current illegal migrants. Save the border towns

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