We need to make the diaspora feel more welcome in the country if we want them to show any enthusiasm to resettle/invest here
Isn’t it strange? Ask any resident Mauritian (MRU) what he is, and he will promptly tell you that he is a Hindu, Muslim, Tamil, Telegu, Marathi or Christian. Put the same question to a non-resident, and he’ll emphatically tell you that he is a Mauritian! Yes we are a strange race: we only metamorphose into a fully-fledged Mauritian when we find ourselves in a foreign country.
So it is a matter of deep regret to many that, unlike the French, Americans and many others, the non-resident MRU does not have a right of vote in MRU general elections. Yet the diaspora is not only valuable for the remittance they have always sent home but, having acquired knowledge in almost every field, they could be called upon to contribute to the further development of the country. Many already invest in property; others in hospitality business. Given the right encouragement, I am pretty sure they would invest in other sectors too but it is not an easy task to select the right one from a thousand miles away. This is where the authorities could take a more proactive role. An elected, itinerant representative would fit the bill perfectly.
In the UK, the Mauritian diaspora are defined as British people with MRU descent or MRU-born. The UK Census of 2011 recorded 42K in this category of citizens. Business Magazine estimates the number of MRU citizen living in Australia at 60k. As France is another popular destination for MRU emigrants, we can safely estimate the number to be at least equal to that of the UK. The diaspora is also very present in Canada, and to a lesser extent in Italy. Taking all this into account, we can safely advance a figure of 150k-200k.
Of course all this guesswork could be avoided by simply keeping a register at the local embassy of all MRU expatriates living in the host country, permanently or otherwise like long-term students. This is common practice in the embassies of developed countries for all citizens entering a foreign country except short term holiday-makers. If we want to play in the playground of mature, grown-ups, only dressing the part won’t do—we also need to act like them. L’habit ne fait pas le moine!
It is very interesting to note that the diaspora of 200k is larger than any of the 21 local constituencies in MRU. However most are well settled in their host countries, and they only think of returning after retirement, if at all. Now and then we hear noises from the great and good that we must cultivate a close relationship with the diaspora, but then there is little or no follow-up. A few years ago, the BOI was working to set up a database of the diaspora for the purposes of investment promotion, but that also seems to have fizzled out along the way, probably due to lack of serious intention. GM changes and, with it, it seems GM policy!
On the other hand, we need to make the diaspora feel more welcome in the country if we want them to show any enthusiasm to resettle/invest here. Our total indifference is reflected in part by the absence of a Register of expats in our embassies. Ruing the manner in which MRU treats the diaspora, I was driven to write 30 years ago in reaction to a campaign aimed at attracting expat deposits to Mauritian banks “There is no reason why one should help maintain the roof in good repair if he does not feel welcome in the house!” And I am afraid this holds true even today.
Yet if we care to look around us, the expat has been responsible for many positive socio-economic changes. For example, with their help most parents now live a better life in a better house, many of them have travelled across the world to visit their children. Others have acquired European (read the once-dreaded white) sons- and daughters-in-law, thus bringing inter-racial coexistence and harmony closer home.
Notwithstanding it remains a sad reflection of our egotistic, ungrateful society that resident Mauritians are generally quite anti-expatriate. Come over, enjoy your holiday, and go back whence you came is the insidious message that is transmitted—especially if the expat shows the slightest sign of settling in a job here. Loads have tried and have had to give up in the face of the antagonism from locals. Unable or unwilling to handle the discrimination in their own country and cope with the local work ethic (not always kosha: think on peut arranger les choses!), they simply return to their adopted country where they are judged on merit and ability to deliver. MRU must be the only country in the world where its own citizens get a worst service/welcome than foreigners.
Overseas Citizen of India (OCI)
Although the Constitution of India does not allow for the holding of dual nationality, the OCI scheme was introduced by The Citizenship Amendment ACT 2005 to satisfy demands for dual citizenship by the Indian diaspora.
Barring Bangladeshi and Pakistani citizens, anyone who is a child, grandchild or great grandchild of an Indian citizen is eligible for an OCI. Foreign spouses of Indian citizens may also apply after 2 years of their marriage. As far as MRU is concerned, the last Mauritians of Indian descent to be eligible for an OCI are the baby-boomers—because they fall in the category of great grandchild. The generations after them are obviously only eligible if their parents have applied for and received an OCI.
An OCI holder does not need to apply for an entry visa to India, and has the same rights as a NRI in matters concerning financial, economic, educational and property acquisition. In short he has the same right as a resident Indian except the right to vote in any election. Why this restriction is beyond my comprehension. Because as much as dual nationality is beneficial to the diaspora, there are benefits to mother India too in that she can tap into the capital of the diaspora, both intellectual and material.
Why not an OCM?
Thus one may wonder what is holding back the authorities from enacting an Overseas Citizen of Mauritius Act, which would not only allow MRU expatriates who hold a foreign nationality, but also their spouses, children and grandchildren to become fully fledged citizens of MRU.
Indeed we can go one better than India. Unlike the Indian position, as far as I know, the MRU constitution does not prevent MRU citizens from holding more than one nationality. Thus an OCM holder should be able to enjoy the same rights as the resident citizen, including the right to vote in general elections for one or maybe two itinerant MPs to represent their interest in Parliament.
The time for action is now. With each passing day, the first generation expats are getting older. Some have already passed away. With them gone without an OCM card, future generations will have to go through the same lengthy and not uncomplicated route as the OCI to prove their bona fide. As a consequence, like most Indo-Mauritians, they will just not make the effort—because considered too arduous. Obviously this will be their sad loss, but the greater loser will be the Republic of Mauritius!
- Published in print edition on 25 August 2017