A quick glance through world history reveals that humanity was always on the move.
Mass migrations happened throughout centuries, often resulting in cultural changes in origin and destination localities.
As the world became more inclusive, there was a marked change in the pattern and nature of migrations.
While at one time, people moved from one place to another within the country in search of better living conditions, their descendants have crossed seas to travel to various parts of the world.
These new generations of immigrants do their best to adjust and adapt to the new cultures to live the life of their dreams.
Globally, Indians top the chart of immigrants. The Indian youths are migrating to foreign countries for better education and job prospects.
A majority of them settle there and are not ready to come back. Lakhs of Indians have migrated to foreign nations in the last few years.
Many countries, which had a scarce population, have registered an increase in their total population on account of the growing number of international migrants. A majority of them are Indians.
India is also the world's largest recipient of remittances. Though the remittance flows from migrants have significantly strengthened the country's economy, the brain drain on account of its smart and talented professionals settling and working in foreign nations is a huge challenge.
Why are the Indian youth leaving the country for greener pastures abroad? Why are the high net worth Indians prefer to settle in foreign countries? How will the large-scale migration going to hurt the Indian economy? Which countries are the preferred choices of the Indian new generation to work and settle down? What factors prompt them to leave the country and settle abroad? Will the students migrating to foreign countries for higher education return back? We can discuss all these factors in detail.
The preferred destinations of Indian immigrants
Initially, many skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled Indian labour migrated to the oil-rich Gulf countries. With the technology sector's growth, the Indian youths also travelled to the US and European countries.
The United Arab Emirates has the largest number of Indian migrants in the world, the statistics till 2020 show. Around 34 lakh Indian natives migrated to the UAE by 2020. The UAE was third among countries in terms of Indian diaspora back in 2005. The US had topped the list then.
The increase in the number of Indian immigrants in the UAE in 2020 compared to 1990 is a whopping 657 percent. The UAE became the top destination country for Indian migrants in 2010 itself.
The Indian diaspora is the third largest immigrant group if we consider the international migrants who arrived in the country searching for jobs. The largest migration corridor in the world is from Mexico to the US, while the immigration of Syrians to Turkey comes second on the list. After the UAE, the US and Saudi Arabia are the major destination countries for Indian migrants.
Nearly 25 lakh Indians work in Saudi Arabia, according to the data till 2020.
The migration of Indians to the UAE, the US, and Saudi Arabia has increased significantly in the last three decades. However, post-2020, the preferred destinations of the Indian diaspora are the UK, Canada, the US, Australia, and Ireland.
America, the preferred destination
After the UAE, the US has been one of the most preferred destinations for Indians. The Information Technology revolution resulted in the creation of immense job opportunities in America.
There was a high demand for English-speaking educated youths in the country, and the Indian youth fit the bill perfectly. The migration of Indians to the US received a new lease of life. A large number of expert technicians migrated to the US. As per the 2020 data, 27 lakh Indian migrants live in the US.
Immigration to Pakistan
During the period from 1990 to 2005, the largest number of Indians migrated abroad was to Pakistan. Around 28 lakh Indians moved and settled in the neighbouring country till 1990.
However, there was a sudden fall in the migrants crossing over to Pakistan later. In 2020, the number of Indians in Pakistan was only 16 lakh.
Fall in people migrating to Gulf
If 7.6 lakh Indians completed the emigration clearance in 2015 to leave for Gulf countries, the number fell to 3.5 lakh in 2019 and further reduced to 90,000 in 2020, when the Covid crisis peaked.
The largest number of people migrated was to Saudi Arabia. While 3.1 lakh Indian migrants arrived in Saudi in 2019, only 1.6 lakh people moved to the Gulf country in 2020. Similarly, the number of Indian migrants to the UAE reduced to 80,000 from 2.3 lakh.
As per the NORKA data, 14.7 lakh Non-Resident Keralites have returned home from abroad in the wake of the Covid crisis. Out of this, 59 percent of the returnees were from the UAE.
Now, most Indian youths are migrating to countries like the UK, Canada, the US, and Australia. If the remittance from Gulf countries in 2015 was half of the total remittances sent by the Indian diaspora abroad, it has now reduced to 30 percent of the total remittances.
The latest data reveals that if the UAE topped the chart of NRI remittances five years ago, the US (22.9 percent) has replaced it. The remittance from UAE in 2016 was 26.9 percent of the total remittances. The same got reduced to 18 percent now. As per the 2020-21 statistics, 36 percent of the NRI remittances to India are from the US, the UK, and Singapore.
The main reasons for the fall in the number of Indians migrating to the Gulf are the rise in the number of Gulf returnees who lost their job, the challenges created by the Covid pandemic, and the change in the immigration patterns.
Figures reveal the true picture
According to the UN Migrant Stock Database, the population of Indians living abroad has grown steadily since 1990 to touch 1.80 crores in 2020. The average annual increase in the immigrant population between 1990 and 2020 was 3.4 percent.
The exodus was higher in some years in between. Though the Indians started migrating to foreign countries at the beginning of the 21st century, a significant rise in the immigrant population was witnessed from 2005 to 2010.
The big inflow of remittances from foreign countries contributed to India’s economic prosperity. As the migrant population began to enjoy financial stability and their standard of living improved, more and more Indians began to settle abroad during this period.
Migrating to foreign lands; a life goal for many
These days, many harbor dreams of studying and working in foreign countries from their childhood days itself. Their minds will be filled with thoughts of the possibilities and the ways to make them happen as they grow up.
When studying in foreign countries, most international students search for part-time jobs. They can do such jobs five days a week and keep aside two full days for studying.
What is really bothering the students is how to land in foreign countries. Once they reach there, their life is secure, they believe. 99 percent of the students going abroad for studies don’t wish to come back.
They want to settle in countries like the UK and Canada, given the fantastic facilities and opportunities.
Last year, nearly five lakh students from India submitted applications to study in foreign countries, Ajinorah Institutions MD Aji Mathew says.
There were over one lakh students from Kerala alone. Going by the trend, an additional 50 percent of students than that of the previous year are getting ready to study in foreign varsities and institutions, Aji Mathew adds.
Many favourable factors lure students to go abroad for higher studies like high-quality education, work permit programs that allow students to earn while they learn, freedom to make their own choices and to take up jobs of their liking, etc.
Countries like Canada have rolled out attractive programs and incentives to encourage international students to study and work there. The preferred destinations of Indian students like Canada, the UK, and Germany are reputed for their openness to immigration and have a business angle in mind.
They are among the least populated, and the youth are far less in number. By attracting students from countries like India, they can supplement declining domestic enrollment rates in their universities and fill labour gaps caused by an aging population, Aji Mathew points out.
Fewer job prospects in India; attractive pay scale abroad
India has a rich pool of educated, talented youth. However, the bright students struggle to get high-paying jobs matching their skills, forcing them to look for greener pastures abroad.
The situation in the country is such that one in every five students successfully completing the degree courses fails to get a job, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy highlights in its 2021 report.
As per the 2018 statistics, the rate of unemployment among educated youths in the country is 13.2 percent against 12.7 percent in 2017. This means the unemployment crisis gets graver every year.
The youth are also not happy with the working hours in India. Their idea of high-paying jobs and convenient working hours abroad lures many to foreign lands. The main advantage they see in foreign countries is that people work less and live better there, while in India, you need to work for long hours at lesser pay.
Also, you get enough time to spend with your family if you take up jobs abroad. The youth opinion that the job culture in India gives little importance to employees' family life. The workers are forced to spend a major part of their life in offices.
The young Indian generation wants to know why they should neglect the immense career prospects and living facilities offered in foreign countries.
The technological growth and commutation facilities are the best in such developed countries. In this digital era, they can easily get in touch with their dear ones back home or reach back home during emergencies in no time. The youths vouch that settling in foreign countries poses no such challenges and feel like working in any other city in India.
A survey conducted by the InterNations Expat Insider in 2021 found that 59 percent of those residing in foreign countries have migrated for job purposes. If we take the global figures in this respect, only 47 percent had migrated to other countries in search of better job prospects.
The brighter aspects of migration
Though there is an assessment that the migration of skilled people to foreign countries would be a setback for India, there are brighter sides to migration.
The remittances from expatriates as well as the NRI deposits in Indian banks play a key role in making the Indian economy resilient.
According to the statistics of the UN, India, China, Mexico, the Philippines, and Egypt receive the highest volumes of foreign remittances.
However, the position of India and China is much higher than other countries. The external remittances to these two countries come to over $ 5900 crore. The remittances come in the form of cash and essential goods.
As per the 2020 data, external remittances to India came to $ 8315 crore in the year. In the same year, the remittance to China was $ 5951 crore.
Across the world, the US leads in remittances to other countries. A sum of $ 6800 crore is sent from the country to other countries. Indians form 5.5 percent of the immigrant population of the US. UAE ($4320 crore) and Saudi Arabia ($3460) are in the second and third places. According to the statistics of the World Bank, India received the highest external remittances in 2019 in the window of 1975 to 2020. A total of US$ 8330 crore came to India. However, the spread of Covid-19 arrested this trend.
During 2017-19, foreign currency remittances to India registered a quantum leap. But Covid-19 poured cold water over this, and it plunged to US$20 crore. The receding of the Covid wave has seen a resurgence in remittances and migration.
NRI deposits play a pivotal role in sustaining the Indian economy and Rupee. The NRI deposits, which were at US$ 4000 crore in 2008, have grown to US$ 13,900 crore in 2022. The annual growth rate was over 9 percent. If the data from 2020 to 2022 is verified, it can be understood that the average yearly NRI deposit was US$ 14000 crore.
Will strengthen Rupee
Financial experts feel that the growth of NRI deposits post Covid-19 will strengthen the Indian rupee. These deposits contribute 3 percent of the Indian GDP.
NRI deposits play a key role in holding the value of the rupee against the currencies of all other countries. The external remittances can play an essential role in holding the rupee, which plummeted to 80 against one dollar. It is estimated that the arrival of foreign currencies in India will be higher in the coming years.
Why the rich leave the country?
In search of newer skies and newer life, lakhs of Indians leave these shores. They are able to find higher living standards in developed countries.
According to the data tabled by the Central Government in the Lok Sabha in 2021, until 2015, a total of 8,81,254 persons abandoned Indian citizenship.
The Government itself revealed that in 2021 alone, a total of 1.6 lakh persons gave up Indian citizenship. In the past seven years, an average of 345 people got rid of Indian citizenship every day.
Not only those who set out in search of jobs but the super-rich Indians are also giving up Indian citizenship, relevant data shows. According to global migratory financial estimates, in 2020, a total of 7000 super-rich migrated from India to foreign countries.
Central Government data reveals that as of now, there are 1,33,83,718 Indians in foreign countries. The 2018 report by financial service company Morgan Stanley says that the most number of super-rich deserted India from 2014 to 2018. The report says that 23,000 super-rich gave up Indian citizenship during this period.
The statistics also reveal a body blow to the Indian economy. The lot that left forms 2.1 percent of the super-rich in India. The Morgan Stanley report also says that India's better tolerance of corruption and unnecessary interferences prompted big industrialists to migrate to foreign countries.
New surveys and study reports indicate that another 8000 super-rich will leave the country this year. Another reason for this exodus is the young entrepreneurs exploring global investment opportunities.
According to a study by the Henley Private Wealth Migration Dashboard, UAE will have the best income boost from the global migration of the super-rich in 2022.
Educated youth mostly migrate
According to a report published in February 2020, the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) said that its member countries have over 30 lakh educated Indians. OECD comprises 38 countries, including Canada, France, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the US. The data for 2015-16 showed that Indians led foreigners working in OECD countries.