India, no country for Indians

High migration rates defy economic indicators

Politics

March 4, 2021

/ By / New Delhi

India, no country for Indians

According to various data, with almost 18 million people, India is the highest contributor to the global migration (MIG photos/Varsha Singh)

Even though the Indian economy has definitely come a long way since the 1990s, India remains, by far, the world’s largest contributor to global migration with hundreds of thousands leaving the country each year for better economic prospects.

Whenever the data on migration for the year 2020 is compiled, one fact would be evident. After decades, the outward migration from India would show a dramatic dip. This is not because Indian migrants did not want to leave India in search of better livelihood, but only because for most of the year international borders in many parts of the world were closed, making any cross-border movement nearly impossible.

The data for the year 2019 is a good indicator on the continued push amongst Indians for finding a job overseas. And the job-seekers cover the entire spectrum of Indian society – from the uneducated or barely educated to highly skilled and while earlier the destinations for migrants were defined by their education and skill levels, this distinction has increasingly become blurred over the years.

Take Canada, for instance. For long one of the favourite destinations for Indians, notably Sikhs from Punjab, who mainly end up in farming, transport or commercial sectors. But, the mix of Indians aiming for Canada has changed significantly since 2016, once the then United States President Donald Trump began cracking on the H1B visa quotas, of which Indian ITES workers have been the largest beneficiaries for over two decades. Over the years, the denial rate of H1B applications rose four times from 3 pc in 2015, just before Trump took charge to 12 pc in 2019 and in the last year of his tenure, the application process was frozen at Trump’s frequent tantrums.

Faced with the unpredictability and numerous barriers, a number of ITES companies and their employees began looking at Canada seriously as an option, to serve as a bridgehead for the US markets. This was an opportunity for Canada and its government rapidly streamlined its work permit systems for technology workers, with a clear and rapid access to permanent residence. As a result, in first 10 months of 2019, India accounted for 25 pc of the 341,000 immigrants in Canada. India’s share in Canada’s immigrant population rose from barely 14 pc in 2015, when it was mainly driven by the low or semi-skilled workers, who also continue to be in a very high demand in Canada.

The number of Indians who became permanent residents in Canada increased from 39,340 in 2016 to 80,685 in 2019, through the first 11 months of 2019, an increase of more than 105 pc, according to a National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP) analysis of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship data in Canada.

Diversified destinations, different destinies

What is true for Canada today has been true for rest of the world for decades. India has been the top source for immigrants on a global level. While earlier most of the migration was towards the Gulf countries where low-skilled population from Kerala and a few other states went, over the past three decades, the destinations have diversified as has the profile of Indian migrants.

Since the 1990s, with the development of technology industry in the Silicon Valley, the United States and soon the United Kingdom, too, became hot destinations for Indians, while in the following decade other European Union nations followed in attracting Indian workers in diverse sectors. Three years ago, Japan became the latest to open up to Indian workers, with the requirements for the Tokyo Olympic Games in mind, though now Japan has also agreed to take in some Indian healthcare workers.

Illegal migration continues unabated

While highly skilled Indian workers are finding greater acceptance across the world, an overwhelming proportion of Indian migrants continue to be those with low or no skills at all and who use illegal methods to get through to their dream destinations since they do not find aspirational jobs or even jobs with survival salaries at home.

At the same time, the number of Indian students studying overseas has also risen, making India the second biggest source of students for western universities. According to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2018, nearly 2.2 million of the 3.9 million international tertiary level students in the OECD countries came from Asia. With 904,000 students, China was the biggest source, while Indian students numbered 317,000.

The migration from India seems to be disconnected from economic data indicators that have pointed to a rapid growth in the Indian economy and a sharp spike in the per capita income over the past 20 years or so. In this scenario, one would have expected the pace of migration to slow down. But so far the migration has continued unabated.

According to various data, including the International Organisation of Migration, with almost 18 million people, India is the highest contributor to the global migration. The next in line are Mexico and China, both of whom also have more than 10 million former residents spread around the world.

Not just that the Indians continue to migrate, but also more and more are opting for a foreign passport, often of their adopted country. Union minister of state for home Nityanand Rai told Lok Sabha in February this year that as per information available with the Ministry of External Affairs, over 676,000 Indians gave up their nationality between 2015 and 2019 and took up citizenship of other countries. He added that in 2015, 1,41,656 Indians swapped their Indian passports for a foreign one, the number was 1,44,942 in 2016, 1,27,905 in 2017, 1,25,130 in 2018 and 1,36,441 in 2019.

One of the key segments that saw a sharp spike in Indians forsaking their nationality and adopting another country’s passport is the ultrahigh net worth individuals. According to a report by Henley & Partners, high net-worth individuals (HNWI) of India topped the list of people moving out of their countries for residence or citizenship elsewhere in 2020. It said that despite the pandemic, wealthy Indians made the largest number of enquires for ‘residence-by-investment’ or ‘citizenship-by-investment’ programmes, euphemistically called Golden Passport schemes. The number of enquiries rose by 62.6 pc from 2019. Austria, Malta and Turkey drew the highest number of citizenship requests while Canada, Portugal and Austria were the top three choices for residence-by-investment programme. The report goes on to say that 7,000 HNWI, comprising of 2 percent of wealthy Indians, had left the country in 2019. Reports also say that in 2015-17, as many as 17,000 rich people, those with assets of INR 650 million had left India.

For decades, India’s biggest worries had been limited to brain drain, now the wealth drain, too, seems to have joined in.

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