Mumbai: As India has become wealthier, more of its citizens are leaving its shores.
An estimated 17 million Indians were living abroad in 2017, making India the largest source country for international migrants globally, up from seven million in 1990 and a 143 per cent increase, according to an IndiaSpend analysis of data from the United Nations Department of Economic Affairs.
Over the same period, India’s per capita income increased by 522 per cent (from $1,134 to $7,055), providing more people the means to travel abroad in search of employment opportunities they were not finding at home.
At the same time, the number of unskilled migrants leaving the country has been falling: An estimated 391,000 left India in 2017, almost half the number in 2011 (637,000), according to a new report by the Asian Development Bank (ADB).
However, this does not necessarily mean that an increasing proportion of India’s emigrants are likely to be higher skilled or that policymakers should be worried about a rise in ‘brain drain’.
The above figures refer to unskilled migrants travelling on Emigration Check Required (ECR) passports – passports issued by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs to those leaving for employment in certain countries in the Middle East and Southeast Asia.
Changes in the government criteria used to class workers as unskilled, leading to more migrants travelling on non-ECR passports, could be part of the reason for the declining trend.
“Over the years India has made internal adjustments to who gets an ECR passport. A lot of people are entitled to non-ECR passports and take that route to migrate instead – this is data which is not publicly available and therefore cannot be analysed,” Seeta Sharma, Technical Officer (ILO) for EU-India Cooperation and Dialogue on Migration and Mobility, told IndiaSpend.
India’s working age population is currently growing by 1.3 million each month, exacerbating a stagnant job market that is further afflicted by a lack of employment.
Over almost three decades, between 1990-2017, India witnessed waves of skilled and unskilled labour emigration. Indians living in Qatar increased 82,669 per cent – from 2,738 to 2.2 million – over 27 years to 2017, more than in any other country. In the two years between 2015-2017, the Indian population in Qatar more than tripled.