A few months ago, while checking in for a flight to Dubai, I was told by the counter girl that she would not check me in. The reason was that my passport did not have a ECNR stamp (supposed to be given to any genuine 12th standard student or graduate from an Indian university).

The matter escalated to the immigration manager who hemmed, hawed, expressed much disappointment in educated people not being aware of the law and after much haranguing, gave me a temporary clearance. This, after I, brandished copies of my IT returns (I was forewarned about the hurdle at immigration since the ticket was bought just a day before), pointed out that I was not likely to work as a driver with a sheikh or a menial worker whose passport might get confiscated and my work was only for two days (do see my tickets). So, he or the Government of India did not have to worry about `protecting’ me from being sold for cheap in the middle eastern job market.

It was half an hour to go and the aircraft doors were about to close. I was now mentally ready to stay back in my dear country which cared so much for my welfare outside that I was tempted to ask if my job would ever be protected inside. Even the last, last boarding calls had stopped. But lo and behold, the immigration officer himself walked back with me to the check-in counter to request the airline people to allow me in. So, after putting me through 45 minutes of agony, he did his kind deed for the morning.

Look Ma, No ECNR

For various reasons, this writer has the distinction of not having a ECNR (Emigration Check Not Required) clearance on his passport. This is despite several legitimate attempts to get it knocked off. They include the travel agent producing my graduation mark sheet, my three years of income tax returns only to be told only the graduation certificate and the original copies of the returns would do.

What, I asked my travel agent, about my PAN card ? There is a number there with a photograph, which clearly shows I am registered and filing taxes. Why can’t the passport officer or the protectorate or emigrants hook up with the Income Tax database and verify for himself ?

“Sorry sir, they can’t do it, you have to go yourself and explain or get the originals.” How in the lord’s name is one expected to produce certificates from crumbling universities (Bombay) or stand in line at the passport office starting 8 am with originals of my IT filings. Sure I can do it, but why should I ? Why does the government collect taxes from me, put me through hell while paying them and not have the common sense to share that information with its own bretheren ?

Temporary Suspension..

There is an option. You can get your ECNR temporarily `suspended’ by going to a small building in one corner of north Bombay housing the relevant arm of the Ministry of Labour. There, on showing your passport and return air ticket, you are given a one-month relief on the ECNR. That means you can travel to all the aforementioned countries, though there is no real proof otherwise that you would return, ever.

Four days before I was leaving for China last month, my alert travel agent was on the line. “Have you got your ECNR done ?” she asked. No, I said, wanting to add I was now thinking of suing the Ministry of Labour for even thinking it could protect me when its Ministry of Surface Transport (presumably a sister concern) has broken my vertebral column with its terrible roads. Sure, some roads are state subjects but so what.

“You need to have one,” she said or you can’t go there. I then remembered the travel agent getting it done for my previous visits as well, so back went my passport. I was spared personal agony (though another page on my passport is gone) as the travel agent got it done but this surely took the cake. How can the Government of India ask Indians to have an ECNR for China, a country where its own residents can’t move freely from one place to another ?

Labour Belaboured

The point is that labour markets have changed in the last few years. The middle east continues to be tricky in more ways than one. But not south east Asia and surely not China. For one, China is not a place you can be smuggled in to work in a sweat shop (I would surely like to know if you can be). For one, there are enough Chinese to work in sweat shops.

More simply, in China or South Korea (exempted after an exhaustive review), as an Indian, you will stand out from a mile. No one may look at you oddly but that does not mean you have blended with the dormitories of Shenzhen or wherever. And finally, do trust the Chinese government to do a better job of managing migratory flows (of its own and outsiders) than your own Ministry of Labour.

And this is when the Al Qaeeda is picking up Indian truck drivers and using them for target practice when it wants to. Believe me, if more Indians are not getting kidnapped in Iraq or Afghanistan or being targeted in Saudi Arabia, its because they really don’t have the same `market-value’ as unfortunately, some westerners do. As a friend working in a middle eastern oil company and who travels regularly to Riyadh told me, “As an Indian, you have nothing to fear, but as a westerner, its tough. You have to constantly live under tight security.”

The Emigration Act, 1983

I digress. As always, there is a law which in some meritorious way, makes sense. The Emigration Act, 1983 provides a framework that hopes to regulate emigration of Indian workers overseas, particularly those on contractual basis and seeks to safeguard their interests and ensure their welfare. These words are the Government’s not mine.

Some of them unfortunately do need safeguarding, but that’s because this country for all its great IT and manufacturing resurgence story does not offer them better opportunities. I don’t see why a normal person with a family would want to become a truck driver in Iraq. I always thought the attraction for those kind of jobs in that part of the world was high in the eighties and early nineties and started waning since. I was totally wrong and the figures are if anything startling. Anyway that’s a larger issue.

In practice, the law its an utter disaster. And I return to my original point. Forget the destination country, I can be stopped at immigration and sent back if this I am not able to prove something the government makes my life miserable in trying to prove. And no, my PAN card won’t do, because it belongs to another department.

Nor will my credit cards because quite possibly, the poor and uknowing banks who issue them usually do so to jobless workers wanting to flee to the United Arab Emirates. And nor will the government put a man at the airport to do the stamping for passengers who have the proof in their hands (permanently and non temporarily) but not the time to visit them personally.

Managing 1.3 Billion People

I am tempted to say this is another thing we should learn from the Chinese, how to manage people flows. No, its not about (as some would like to believe) strip searching and flogging people people who desert their posts or show up in the wrong county. Its about having a nationwide citizen database that works, is inter-connected and knows exactly who deserves to go where and why.

And guess what, the system does not make them sweat in long lines to prove who they are. I know, I asked a local Chinese citizen in Beijing. Even a lost citizen's card is replaced reasonably quickly in your local government office.

This is a nation of 1.3 billion people so it must not be easy. But the determination to make something work, as always, is strong. Our Ministry of Labour and its parent the Government of India should take some lessons here and not make me run around the passport office in circles.




Anonymous said…
I know you didn't mean to be funny but somehow this post kept me chuckling all through....especially the thought of you getting sold for cheap in the UAE.
Lubna said…
I know... I agree with this post. Imagine being bartered for say a 1000 yaks or whatever else. Besides, Govind, I just finished reading - Red Dust - A path through China by Ma Jian. The author now lives in London (thankfully, else he would not be alive). FT has described this book as: If you have time to read only one book on China this year, choose Red Dust. Try picking a copy, else I can give you mine when we next meet.
Anonymous said…
Yeah ... the thought of one becoming a sheikh's driver or servant is hilarious.
Anonymous said…
I was once kept waiting at the Bangalore airport since the emigration folks thought my passport was somehow fake since it was issued from Calcutta. This was when my passport had 4 visas (two from US, one from Japan, one from Thailand), numerous stamps from emigration and immigration at Delhi ,Chennai and Bombay. After waiting for 20 minutes the police inspector appeared who asked for my home address in Bangalore (thankfully I was residing in Bangalore at that time) made me sign a document stating that I do live in Bangalore and then let me go. What if I was not a Bangalore resident and merely transferring through?

Tax clearance was another hurdle which has since been removed. It was another tool for extracting bribes from innocent travellers.
K said…
Tell me about ECNR - I got my passport made while I was still in college and when I was being dispatched off to Shanghai my travel agent suddenly asked me if I had ECNR. "WTF is that?" was my polite response to him.
Anyway, I also discovered there is no benefit to being :-
a) a journalist
b) a journalist who has friends whose dads are senior IFS officers
c) son of a senior journalist
Anyway, I ended up spending the greater part of one day at the RPO in Delhi's Bhikaiji Cama Place where the 1987 era machines (this was 2002) kept on crashing. But after five or six hours - stamp - and I finally had it done.
Lesson - Big deal if you pay a quarter of your salary in taxes, and big deal if yo' daddy's an MP, you still have to stand in line. In a weird sort of way, it is a great equaliser.
But that said, why the hell do we issue passports with ECR still?
Anonymous said…
Two of us applied for passport from Bhopal when we were doing our postgraduate. My passport came with ECNR and my friends passport was ECR. Weird we both submitted same documents, his engineering was from IIT Kgp and mine from State Engg college, yet those buggers didn't give him ECNR.

Later in Bangalore, he had to waste one whole day, stand in queue and pay some 300INR to get it done.
Anonymous said…
I agree with Jagan on the benefit and freedom of not required to carry an ID at all time. In Europe there are many occassions where you are asked to show your ID, but if it is done in India, then our authorities will get one more channel to extort money as bribes.

K, why would having friends who have father in IFS should make you any different ? (If it was satire then I am sorry for raising this question)
Emma said…
I agree with you on the whole argument about the need for ECNR. However, I did not face any problem in getting the ECNR itself. I was not asked any questions and the only documents required were birth certificate (or 10th certificate) and degrees. No PAN card, no address proof - nothing. And the entire process - from filling up the application form to submitting it took just about an hour. I just had to go back again to collect my passport. My husband had to get his done recently too, and he did not face any hassles either. This was at the Hyderabad passport office.
Anonymous said…
I am totally with you all, A nice post. I wish this is read by our law makers. Protection!!! I dont understand that, atleast not in India. One is protected if he has vitamin M. The sole prescription. I have faced humiliation many a times even though I have not smuggled anything at all. All I had was a few hundred dollars and this looked very attractive to them. The guys in the government think that they are doing a great favour by issuing passports Et all. Little do they understand that it is our money that they survive on. They have forgotten that it is the people who have built this country and not politicians...God bless this great country.....
Rubic_Cube said…
Well, first timer here and came in via Google search for "Emigration Check Required"! I was trying to understand what this whole ECR/ECNR business was and I found my answers here in the experiences shared. I will go and get my passport updated ASAP.
Anonymous said…
ECNR didn't saved me from getting harassed by my ex-employer in UK.It's just a formality in my view.
Hey !

I have a strange problem, Would welcome responses/experiences/thoughts... I was travelling to Swaziland (!!) via South Africa and I did not have ECNR on my passport. When I was checking in - I was told that ECR was required for Swaziland, but they let me go and did not do a through and through check - they only reserved me till Johannesburg.

At immigration they stamped the passport also. They guy at the check in (duty manager) told me that there maybe a problem when I come back to India - but that I should say that I did never had a ticket to Swaziland, and I had to go there urgently, so I bought a ticket and then there should not be a problem.

I am now In Swaziland, and I don't know what they will do - when I get back... any ideas, help, support in the trying times!! Please!
Hey !

I have a strange problem, Would welcome responses/experiences/thoughts... I was travelling to Swaziland (!!) via South Africa and I did not have ECNR on my passport. When I was checking in - I was told that ECR was required for Swaziland, but they let me go and did not do a through and through check - they only reserved me till Johannesburg.

At immigration they stamped the passport also. They guy at the check in (duty manager) told me that there maybe a problem when I come back to India - but that I should say that I did never had a ticket to Swaziland, and I had to go there urgently, so I bought a ticket and then there should not be a problem.

I am now In Swaziland, and I don't know what they will do - when I get back... any ideas, help, support in the trying times!! Please!
Anonymous said…
Hi Sean

ECNR is meant to stop you from leaving the country..for reasons mentioned in this and previous articles..not prevent you from entering..

As far as I can see, as a citizen of India, you cannot and will not be stopped from entering..regardless of whether there was a problem with your ECNR.

So don't worry. Needless to add, its one of the most ridiculous laws any country can have and achieves precious little but to harass people like you and me. And I still don't have one !

I am seriously contemplating a PIL against the Govt of India, naming the MoF and the MoH for penalising me because they don't synchronise their records. I have a PAN card, pay all my taxes, so the Govt knows I exist and what kind of money I make.

Yet, they will not give me a stamp that is supposed to protect me from becoming indentured labour !!!!

Anonymous said…
Sean, what takes you to Swaziland by the way..!

Hey GE!

Thanks for that... I will let you know when I get back !

I too think this law is devoid of sense and feeling . The Home Affairs website says that this law is for the PoE (Protection of Emigrants), my god ! The way I see it is why protect someone who has genuine reason to immigrate. What kind of protection? and why harass people who are tax payers.

I think ECR is a way of our government proclaiming to the world that they dont have a system by which things are integrated in our country - they don't know who is a genuine tax payer and who is not.
A PIL is a very good idea, I almost came back from the airport (in Mumbai - I live in Delhi ) when they told me this. It is sad and amusing at the same time.

I am in Swaziland for an audit (I am an IT auditor) !!

Thanks again !
Anonymous said…
Hi, I read ur post, it is very well said.
My dad was to come last night to Thailand where I stay with my Mom, since my Dads passport was issued long time back with ECR (first time he was travelling outside) he was not allowed to fly out of India for bullshit ECR reasons. Moms passport was recent one, where they have removed the ECR thing. It has spoiled my plans and I have lost big money on the tickets for my parents. Above all , they travelled more than 50 kms to reach Mumbai airport with luggage and had to return back at 2 AM in the night with all the luggage.
This is really some bullshit law, my dad is well above 55 yrs and he should not have been stopped from flying out when he has 15 days Visa (tourist). The immigration officers didnt listen to him, I was not there to do anything..
Some bullshit useless law is forbiding lots of people to not to travel outside the country..
Anonymous said…
Dear Amit

Really sorry to hear about your dad..yes, its a totally useless law and worse, a tool for harassment..I am still in the non-ECNR category by the way.

The fact is that they could have allowed your dad to go through..the emigration authorities have the discretion to do so..at best the officer/police inspector at the airport would have stamped the passport. I have seen it being done and have got it done for myself as well.

It is unfair and ridiculous. Will have to take this protest to another level. Meanwhile, I hope your parents make it soon.

Anonymous said…
ECR ECNR all this is shit but the goverment. If they really are protecting the people of india then how come i still see indian laboures being eplioted in the middle east? I have just come back from Dubai. The labourers mainly from UP and other parts like andhra etc get paid very low wages and have to do unpaid overtime! This is the blistering heat. Funny how these uneducated MP's can get ECNR :P

For the reset of you. All you need is a Visa and a Return ticket and you wil be given a temporary ECNR status from the emigration office. Or catch a local agent. He should be able to do the same.
Anonymous said…
Hi i am currently in Riyadh on behalf of an IND IT co. i got my ECR suspended for one month before coming here; the period of 1 month is finished and i am still here and the plan is to stick around for a long time. Will this lead to any serious complications. please explain.
Unknown said…
Hi People
My issue is resolved and this fyi please. Any Indian citizen carrying valid degree certificate(original) is exempt from Emigration Check; this is the rule as it stands now. so we are releived.
Priyank said…
today i realized that i dont have ECNR stamp on my passport and i went to get that stamped ,i have to travel day after tomorrow to Thailand . People at the passport office said that they will deliver my passport by post which can take 8 days . No w is there any solution? or shall i be prepared for the stamp at the airport?????
Anonymous said…
Hi friends. Can somebody shed some light on the queries that I have in my mind regarding ECR/ECNR? I am travelling to UK from Mumbai. I have a stopover at Dubai and I have to change my flight over there. 1. Do I need a transit visa of UAE? 2. My passport is ECR. Will that cause any problem at immigration counter at Mumbai airport? Help me please...
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