The government says that the decline in emigrants is because of a slowdown in the Gulf economy related to falling oil prices. But recruitment agents channelling workers to Gulf countries and prospective employees pin the blame elsewhere – on a digitisation initiative by the Union government that was meant to make the emigration process smoother and safer for citizens, but has instead increased paperwork for foreign employers.
Official figures from the Ministry of External Affairs reflect this reading, with emigration clearance to Gulf destinations registering a significant drop since 2015. According to a ministry official, Protector of Emigrants offices issued 8 lakh emigration clearances in 2014. In 2017, this number dropped to around 3.9 lakh clearances.