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Looking for a better life: the Indians coming to Armenia


Indian immi­gra­tion to Armenia has sharply increased in the last two years, with many coming to the country in search of a better life. However, endemic racism and human traf­fick­ing have revealed the dark side of the ‘Armenian dream’.

Rahul Seteh, an Indian immigrant to Armenia who has been living in the country since 2015, vividly remembers taking a phone call from an ill friend while on a minibus in Yerevan.

‘I was talking very quietly, trying to help them over the phone, when a woman started saying loudly that “she’s tired of these Indians”. Why? What bad thing have I done? I want to explain that I love Armenia; I consider it to be a part of me’.

After grad­u­at­ing from Yerevan State Medical Uni­vir­si­ty in 2008, Rahul returned to India.

In 2015, Rahul met Anna Avagyan in India and soon after they got married. After living in India for almost a year, the two moved to Armenia, where Anna is from. Now they both work at the Medical Uni­ver­si­ty in Yerevan. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

In 2015, Rahul met Anna Avagyan in India and soon after they got married. After living in India for almost a year, the two moved to Armenia, where Anna is from. Now they both work at the Medical Uni­ver­si­ty in Yerevan. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

In previous years, Indian nationals living in Armenia were almost exclu­sive­ly students and often stayed only as long their studies demanded. But today, a lib­er­alised visa regime, higher wages, and new business oppor­tu­ni­ties have led to a new wave of Indian immi­gra­tion, whose par­tic­i­pants want not to study, but to settle.

A growing community

In November 2017, the Armenian gov­ern­ment lib­er­alised the visa regime for Indian citizens. Since then, there has been an influx of Indian nationals coming to Armenia.

The Armenian Migration Service reports that last year, 1,940 Indian nationals held Armenian residence permits. Of these, 1,100 were granted for studies, 784 for employ­ment, and 54 for family reunions. In the first three months of 2019, over 9,000 Indian nationals came to Armenia — compared to only 4,226 in 2016.

But according to some, the Indian infat­u­a­tion with the country came even earlier.

‘This all started when Indian students started to come to Armenia to study’, Sam Singh, a human rights activist who has lived in Armenia for the past year tells OC Media. ‘The cost of a uni­ver­si­ty education here is cheaper in many fields as compared to India’.

Many Indian students come to eat at Indian restau­rants in Yerevan. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)
Tra­di­tion­al Indian food ready to be delivered to customers. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

According to him, when students first began to arrive they found few busi­ness­es that catered to them, such as hostels or Indian restau­rants. Some decided to stay and open such busi­ness­es them­selves. ‘[Less com­pe­ti­tion] and lower taxes lead more people from India to show their interest in this beautiful country’, Singh says.

Fitting in

It has been five years since Prangel Shah, 46, moved to Yerevan with his wife, Bipali Shah, 43. Prangel works as a diamond pro­cess­ing spe­cial­ist at a factory in Nor Hachn, a small town near the outskirts of Yerevan.

‘When I first came here, many of the taxi drivers were trying to deceive us — they demanded more money’, Prangel tells OC Media.

He added that he also had problems when shopping, but over time, developed a method for getting around these obstacles.

‘If, for example, I wanted to buy something, I waited until an Armenian would ask the price and buy it. Then I did my shopping right after him so that the seller would not lie to me and say an expensive price’.

Prangel Shah’s wife, Bipali Shah, is a spe­cial­ist in Mehndi, a form of body art using henna. She charges a minimum of ֏5,000 ($11.00) for her services. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)
Bipali Shah also teaches her craft and par­tic­i­pates in exhi­bi­tions. She has both Armenian and Indian students. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

Other Indians in Armenia have also report racist harass­ment — even assault.

‘I was standing in front of my restau­rant when some people began to beat me with stones. I hadn’t done anything’, an Indian busi­ness­man who did not wish to be named told OC Media. ‘Sometimes, I’m told that my skin smells bad. To be honest, I cannot under­stand why they hate us’.

Nev­er­the­less, if you stick it out and find a job, Prangel says,  then it is ‘an ideal place to live’.

A land of opportunity

According to five employ­ment agencies surveyed by OC Media, the number of Indian citizens seeking work in Armenia has been increas­ing, espe­cial­ly during the last half a year.

However, employers and workers are not always able to come to a common agreement due to the language barrier. As a result, many Indians in Armenia are stuck in low-wage physical labour and many choose to work with their com­pa­tri­ots to avoid the language barrier.

‘While I have Armenian workers, the majority of my workforce comes from India’, Vinay Bansal, an entre­pre­neur from New Delhi, tells OC Media.

By Vinay’s cal­cu­la­tion, he will stay in Armenia for at least 20 more years. He sees great potential, espe­cial­ly in the field of tourism. He says it is easier to work with the new gov­ern­ment. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

Bansal has been doing business in Armenia for almost five years. He is the head of six companies and owns a hotel, a hostel, and a food court in Yerevan. He also imports Indian goods, which are sold in both Armenia and neigh­bour­ing Georgia.

‘Working in Armenia is prof­itable. That’s why I am here today’, Bansal says. ‘I have invested a lot of money; I also pay taxes punc­tu­al­ly. I think I’m not a bad busi­ness­man for Armenia, though I also help my native people’.

Anjna Bansal, 48, is Vinay’s wife. She mainly takes care of the work in the restau­rant kitchen. She says her only problem is not knowing Armenian; she is currently attending Armenian language classes. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)
Vinay’s son, 23-year-old Vaibhav Bansal is currently studying at the Yerevan State Medical Uni­ver­si­ty. He says that he likes Yerevan and does not plan to leave after grad­u­at­ing. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

According to Bansal, Indians in Armenia receive a salary twice that of what they would get in India. For example, the chief cook in his hotel restau­rant receives about $950 a month.

‘The amount that my chef receives as a pure profit, he would not receive in India’, Bansal says.  ‘That’s why the Armenian labour market attracts many Indians. The salaries are high here’.

Kumar Gelash, 44, came to Armenia seven months ago with his culinary team. He works at the Bansals’ Restau­rant as the chef. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)
Rajn Kumar, 28, says he gets a good salary in Armenia, around $600. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)
Nandram Seni, 27, works at the restau­rant from 6:00 until 21:00-22:00, with only two rest days a month. But he does not complain about the job and says what’s important is that he receives a regular salary and gets paid on time. (Armine Avetisyan / OC Media)

Human trafficking

But the increase of migration from India has also attracted a less savoury brand of business. Scammers and con-artists have deceived their victims with fraud­u­lent job offers or, in some cases, have used Armenia as a dumping ground after promising to help their victims immigrate to Western countries.

Thirty-year-old Balu, who requested to only be referred to by his first name, came to Armenia six months ago. He tells OC Media that he did not know that he was going to Armenia.

‘I paid around $5,000 to move to the United States as a legal migrant. I was told that in the US I would be given a small apartment, a job, for which no strong language knowledge was needed, and that they would also help me to master the English language fluently in a short time’, Balu says.

He now works at a car wash in Yerevan. He is saving money so he can return home.

Sam Singh notes that immi­gra­tion and visa con­sul­tants in India have started to market Armenia to Indians for work, education, and business invest­ment oppor­tu­ni­ties. However, some have started to take advantage of the situation and make fake offers to the unin­formed.

Last year, the Armenian Police inves­ti­gat­ed one case in which the owner of an Indian restau­rant in Yerevan convinced several Indian nationals to relocate to Armenia with the promise of high wages.

However, upon their arrival in the country, he took their passports and forced them to work for little to no pay.

‘We are not here to compete’

After Singh moved to Armenia and saw how people were trying to cheat each other for money, he created a Facebook group to help enlighten Indian immi­grants. For example, he would write posts to help people under­stand how things work in Armenia, from reg­is­ter­ing a company to opening bank accounts. However, the name of the group became so well-known that many other people created groups with similar names to promote fake jobs.

According to Singh, many of the victims who were cheated out of their money have not returned to India.

‘Firstly, they hope that the con­sul­tant will give them their money back’, he says. ‘Secondly, they are ashamed to return empty-handed. They believe they will be a laughing-stock among their family and friends’.

Singh hopes that for all the dif­fi­cul­ties that Indians face in Armenia, they will find a place in their new home.

‘I wish to share with the people of Armenia that Indians are all over the world’, Singh says. ‘We come with peace and are globally known for our achieve­ments in terms of education, hard work, and strong cultural back­grounds. We are not here to compete, but to lend a hand.’


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