Anyone in Kerala who attempted to get a visa for a western country in July-August last year will testify the queues at collection centres were serpentine and mainly consisted of potential university students.
For many in the state, a higher education in Canada, the UK, US or Australia are seen as the best route to ensure a bright future.
Some of these countries also have a relatively easy procedure to obtain the rights to work and live once a student gets a degree in a local university.
So, the lure for many young people to study in the West is to ensure they get to stay back.
This was an option that just did not exist for Malayalis who went to the oil-rich Persian Gulf sheikhdoms from the 1960s.
The new wave of emigration, however, helped level the economic playing field in the state and bring about the kind of general prosperity hardly visible anywhere else in India.
The return of the Gulf Malayali to Kerala has also helped bring about a better food scene and better standards of service.
Unfortunately, Kerala just does not have the kind of economic and financial opportunities that other states in India or foreign countries offer.
The pandemic has, however, brought one important change into the mainstream in Kerala -- remote working. There are no reliable figures on how many young people moved back to the state from other parts of the world in the horrible year -- 2020.
However, many families talk of young people with jobs in places like Bangalore and Hyderabad coming back home, and finding it much easier to continue working remotely even after pandemic-related restrictions were lifted across India.
There are also cases of people coming back to Kerala from places like Singapore. Such people are required to go back just for a few weeks a year, so essentially, their higher salaries can be stretched in the state.
Back from the West
There’s no doubt majority of students who go to western countries will try and secure permanent residency and maybe citizenship there, but a significant number will come back.
These are the young people who would be able to bring back the expertise they gained abroad and put it to use in Kerala. In this age of start-ups, many digital nomads are looking to live in places like Thailand, Costa Rica and Bali.
For a Malayali looking to do the same thing, there’s no place like Kerala. The weather is the same as those places. There are no legal restrictions in terms of visas and residence permits. Then, of course, there are no language barriers or a new kind of bureaucracy to tackle. And there is the social capital that Kerala offers.
A new generation of Malayalis educated abroad could help turn Kerala into a breeding ground of fresh ideas and maybe the next best invention. There is already enough evidence that the state is in the early stages of such a phenomenon. This writer has been increasingly spending time in Kozhikode, where its clearly evident that a significant number of young people educated abroad are living a happy and fulfilling life back home.
There are architects, IT and financial professionals and even medical professionals employed in hospitals that treat patients from abroad and can pay competitively.
Young people returning from abroad can also be the agents of social change in a society that still does not treat women with the amount of respect they deserve. Living away from rigid patriarchal structures could do wonders for young Malayali men.
Those returning to Kerala could also pave the way for people from other countries to explore living in the state. Cultures do not evolve in isolation, and foreigners have greatly enhanced the melting pot known as Kerala in the past.
More young Malayalis should be encouraged to study and work abroad, and not just in western countries. We often tend to overlook the opportunities in places that are not hotspots for migration.
A young population with a cosmopolitan outlook will only help Kerala progress economically and socially. For those who argue about the impact of migration on the state’s ageing population, this is a problem that many societies are facing around the world and will require out of the box thinking to resolve.