According to the United Nations Global Migration Database, India has the largest number of in-migrants in the Asia-Pacific region. This result is based on defining migrants as the foreign-born population in country. Consequently, it may be skewed as a large number of the foreign-born population in India dates back to population movements during partition between Pakistan and India. In 2001, the total migrant population stood at 6.1 million, with 37 per cent older than 60 years and 42 per cent between 35 and 50 years old. As indicated in figure 2, almost all of the foreign-born population was born in neighbouring countries, about 3.7 million in Bangladesh, about 1.3 million in Pakistan and about 640,000 in Nepal (United Nations no date).

In addition to migrant flows related to historical events, the country’s relatively stronger economic position has generated more recent inflows from neighbouring countries. In the past few decades, India has become a destination for migrants from Nepal facilitated by an agreement on free movement between the two countries. While India itself is a country of origin of migrant workers heading abroad, the economic disparities between fast-growing India and its poorer neighbouring countries has made it an attractive destination for migrants from those countries. Many of them, however, migrate irregularly and remain unrecorded.

In addition to the large number of migrant workers from Bangladesh and Nepal, India also provides shelter to almost 400,000 refugees from neighbouring countries, such as Sri Lanka, China, and Myanmar (United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants 2009).