More Indians than ever before are leaving the country

GS Paper I & II

News Excerpt:

The out-migration of the poor, the professionals and the wealthy has increased exponentially in the past decade.

Historical background:

  • In British India, “indentured labourers” were lured from their villages with the false promise of a better life and then pushed into slavery and drudgery.
  • In the 1970s and 1980s, Indian labour was once again lured away with the promise of employment and higher income.
    • In the event, many found themselves living in inhuman conditions in the non-democratic, feudal kingdoms of West Asia.
  • Interestingly, though, neither the indentured labour of the colonial era nor the working class in the Gulf region chose to return home.
  • After 1947, the former were offered the option of taking up Indian citizenship, but most chose to live overseas.
  • Over the years, their lot has improved in countries as varied as Mauritius and Jamaica.
    • Most are better off than their relatives back home in the villages of eastern India.
  • In West Asia, too, the working class fought for better living conditions but rarely opted to return home. Rather, they have been demanding dual citizenship and voting rights.

Migration as Need

Poor vs Rich:

  • The poor Indians are jumping ship and bearing ordeals in search of decent livelihood. They are becoming victims of touts and middlemen.
  • While an increasing number of countries are selling citizenship to wealthy Indians.
  • The country’s wealthy, the so-called “high net worth individuals” (HNIs) -
    • buy golden visas to settle overseas.
    • use their marketable talent to secure work visas.
    • buy their overseas citizenship by investing in the host countries.

Out Migration of Poor:

  • From November 2022 to September 2023, The Hindu news report says, up to 96,917 Indians were arrested while crossing illegally into the US alone.
    • This compares with 19,883 Indians caught trying to sneak into the United States in 2019-20 illegally and 63,927 in 2021-22.

Outmigration of High Net-worth Individuals (HNIs):

  • The London-based global citizenship and residence advisory firm Henley & Partners reported in 2022 that 7,500 HNIs had left India to take up residence and citizenship in a foreign country.
  • The global investment bank Morgan Stanley estimated that between 2014 and 2018, as many as 23,000 Indian millionaires had moved their principal home out of India.

Government statistics regarding outmigration:

  • India’s external affairs minister stated in parliament that 2,25,260 Indians had “renounced their Indian citizenship” in 2022.
    • This compared to 85,256 in 2020.
  • Taken together, a total of 16,63,440 Indians had renounced their citizenship in the period 2011-22.
  • In the first six months of 2023, the figure was already at 87,026.
  • With over 20 lakh Indians migrating overseas yearly, the regionally and professionally diversified Indian diaspora is now close to 30 million, and non-resident Indians are now more than non-resident Chinese.

Reasons for outmigration:

  • Inhospitable conditions at home encourage poor and middle-class Indians to migrate.
    • Equally, there is a  desire for many to migrate to a better, safer life.
  • The global shortage of people has created the demand for Indian labour and professionals.
  • Fear of harassment by government agencies is driving wealthy Indians to go overseas.
  • The rising demand for school education that enables securing overseas admission indicates the middle class’s desperation to quit India.
  • Attractive citizenship policies in host countries further add to the outmigration.
  • Liberal outward remittance of foreign exchange has increased the number of Indians taking up foreign citizenship.

Pros of outmigration:

  • Overseas Indians are an asset, a “brain bank”, as claimed by the Prime Minister.
  • Inward remittances into India have increased steeply to an all-time high of US$125 billion last year.
  • A successful, prosperous, and influential diaspora is an advantage for India.
  • Unemployment is reduced, and young migrants enhance their life prospects.
  • Returning migrants bring savings, skills and international contacts.

Cons of outmigration:

  • The money inflows are not matched by “brain inflows” to justify the specious claim of overseas Indians being a “brain bank”.
    • Knowledge inflows remain nebulous, if not elusive.
  • Economic disadvantage through the loss of young workers
  • Loss of highly trained people, especially health workers.
  • Social problems for children left behind or growing up without a wider family circle.


It is clear that immigration can be beneficial for migrants, but only if their rights are protected properly. It can also be economically beneficial for both countries of origin and host countries; however, the rich and powerful peoples and countries benefit the most with present economic and trading structures. Where the economic preconditions exist, migration is inevitable. When people try to prevent immigration, it just goes underground.


Mains PYQ

Q. Discuss the changes in the trends of labour migration within and outside India in the last four decades. (UPSC 2015)


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