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Top Source of Migrants in the World – India


It is well known that India has the largest diaspora in the world. The United Nation’s migration report for 2015 indicates that there are 16 million persons from India living outside the country of birth.


The 2015 International Migration report found that India has the largest diaspora in the world. While China is still the most populous country with a population of 1.4 billion, it only has 10 million persons living outside China. India has a population of 1.3 billion but has 16 million persons from India living outside the country of birth.

The report indicated that more than 40% of the Indian diaspora lives in three countries.  United Arab Emirates (UAE) has the largest number of persons born in India at 3 million. Pakistan and United States of America (USA) have 2 million persons each, who were born in India but live in those countries.

The International Labor Organization states that economic migration in the south Asian region is one of the top livelihoods option for many who look at it as a development tool as well as a solution to reduce individual and collective poverty. The beginning of Indians migrating to the UAE and USA in considerable numbers was for seasonal, contractual and long-term labor work.

Indian Born Persons in United Arab Emirates (UAE) – 3 Million

According to the World Migration Report- 2005, South Asians started migrating to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) around 1970 due to labor-intensive construction boom and the boom peaked around the 1990’s bringing in a lot of unskilled labor to UAE.  Current estimates indicate that UAE has a population of 9.2 million, out which 85% are foreign born/immigrants.

UAE currently has an Indian diaspora of 3 million. Initially, the government managed recruitment for work in the UAE, but now agencies and middlemen place majority of the aspiring migrants to the UAE from India. As a result of private agencies managing recruitment and placement, a large number of contract workers have been exploited – many of who become victims of debt bondage.

But in an attempt to diversify its economy and not become too dependent on oil, UAE has opened its doors to sectors like technology and manufacturing attracting high skilled migrants. 2015 Migration Center Report states foreign-born population were found in retail trade (17 per cent), in construction (14 per cent), in the domestic services sector (15 per cent) and in manufacturing as well as transport sectors (9 per cent each). The “real estate and business” as well as the “public administration” sectors each also employed 7 per cent of foreign laborers. This further highlights the scale of expatriates’ participation in the UAE economy in the private and public sectors, as well as the diversity of the non- national population, in terms of skills and areas of specialization.

Even though Indian born persons have sustained UAE’s economic growth, they remain non-nationals immaterial of how long they reside. They do not have any birthright citizenship or naturalization unless married to an Emirati man or born as child to one.

Indian born persons in United States of America (USA) – 2 Million

According to the Migration Policy Institute, “ Similar to early Chinese and Japanese immigrants, Indian arrivals in the 19th century were largely unskilled and uneducated farmers. Most came to work in agriculture in California. The restrictive Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924, which effectively banned immigration from Asia, brought the already low levels of migration from India to a halt. As of 1960, there were only 12,000 Indian immigrants in the United States, representing less than 0.5 percent of the 9.7 million foreign-born populations at the time.”

Indians migrating to USA for resettlement were limited till 1980 and only sky rocketed after immigration policies were relaxed. The biggest increase in Indian born population happened after 1990 when temporary worker visas were increased and employment based immigration policies allowed applying for permanent residency. India is the top recipient of employment-based visas and is in the top two countries with highest number of students studying in the US.

According to US Census ACS 2009-2013, about 70 percent of Indian immigrants ages 16 and over were in the civilian labor force, compared to 67 percent and 63 percent of the total foreign- and native-born populations, respectively. Indian immigrants were more than twice as likely to be employed in management, business, science, and arts occupations (73 percent) than both the overall foreign-born (30 percent) and native-born (38 percent) populations. In 2013, similar to the overall foreign-born population, 47 percent of the 2 million Indian immigrants residing in the United States were naturalized U.S. citizens.

Five Indian- Americans Kamala Harris, Ro Khanna, Raja Krishnamurthy, Pramila Jayapal and Ami Berra have been elected to United States Congress in the recent election cycle expanding Indian-Americans participation in Public life.

Migrating to Pakistan – 2 Million

India and Pakistan have had a politically hostile environment since their partition in 1947. There are no known mass migratory patterns to Pakistan from India, besides the mass migration of people during the 1947 partition.

According to the UNESCO, the term ‘migrant’ is any person who lives temporarily or permanently in a country where he or she was not born.  So, it is possible that the displaced population during partition, which made Pakistan its home and was born on the other side of the border- in India, has been considered as migrated population for the purpose of tracking migration in various regions by the United Nations. Pakistan currently has 2 million persons who were born in India. It is interesting to note that the Government of India’s data shows that not a single Person of Indian Origin (PIO) or a Non Resident Indian (NRI) lives in Pakistan.

Highest Remittances Destination – India

According to Migration and Remittances Fact book 2016, India had remittance inflows of $72 billion in 2015. With an Indian born population of 16 million living outside India; India tops the list of countries receiving remittances than any other country in the world.

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 As a Destination for Migrants – India

A recent PEW Research Center Report, India has the 12th largest immigrant populations in the world and that a majority of India’s immigrants are from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh (3.2 Million), Pakistan (1.1 million), Nepal (54,000) and Sri Lanka (160,000), considering that the World Migration Report 2015 indicates that in many parts of the globe, migration primarily occurs between countries that are located within the same major area of the world and that Asia region has seen rapid economic activity between 2000 and 2015.

Also, World Migration Reports over the years have clearly shown that migration in search of economic opportunities is deeply entrenched in most Asian economies and is facilitated by recruiters, agents and has been promoted for a long time by labor surplus countries, which could at the same time have high poverty or weak economies.

Featured Image: Top Source of Migrants in the World – India


About Author

Tejeswi Pratima Dodda is a communications professional. She is passionate about social justice, gender mainstreaming and conflict.

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