In absolute numbers, India is one of the top ten out-migration countries in the world and the leading country of origin in South and South-West Asia. In 2010, two of the world’s top ten migration corridors included India, Bangladesh-India, with 3.5 million migrants, and India–United Arab Emirates, with 2.2 million migrants (IOM 2010). The types of out-migrants include among others, low-skilled temporary workers, students and people who migrate to OECD countries and then often end up settling permanently in the host country.

After China, India has the second largest diaspora in the world, with about 27 million people spread across the globe.3 These overseas communities not only serve as a significant resource for the development of the country, but also as a vital link to access knowledge, skills, expertise, resources and markets. The largest diaspora communities are found in the United States of America, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. Given the increasing recognition of the role diasporas can play in assisting countries of origin, the Government of India has incorporated partnerships with overseas Indian communities into the centre of its migration management policies (India MOIA 2011).

The type of migration usually varies by skill level. Low- or semi-skilled migrants typically work temporarily in Western Asia or South-East Asia while skilled workers are more inclined to work in OECD countries. Precise data on all migrant outflows from India are difficult to obtain.

The Ministry of Overseas Affairs (MOIA) only keeps detailed records of the outflows of low- and semi-skilled workers who have not completed ten years of schooling, as this category of migrants are the only ones that need clearance from the Ministry. Moreover, as of 2011, even those without ten years of schooling require emigration clearance to work in just 18 countries, among them are the six GCC countries. In 2008, almost 850,000 low- and semi-skilled workers from India migrated to work abroad. The number dropped after 2009 due to the global economic crisis. The main destination countries for low- and semi-skilled workers are GCC countries, particularly Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates. In recent years, more than 95 per-cent of low- and semi-skilled workers migrated to GCC countries (figure 1).

MOIA does not publish sex-disaggregated data, making it difficult to obtain exact numbers of women migrating for work. However, based on information from various sources, the number of women engaged in international migration increased over the last decade. For instance the proportion of women migrants from the Indian state of Kerala increased from 9.3 per cent in 1998 to 14.6 per cent in 2008 (Zachariah and Rajan 2010). Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Maharshtra are the main regions of origin for low-skilled women migrating to work in GCC countries. A large percentage of women migrants are domestic workers (Rajan and Sukendran 2010). However, of note, a number of nurses, particularly from Kerala, also migrate to work overseas (Percot 2006).

The Government of India prohibits women less than 30 years of age from migrating for employment if they hold emigration check required (ECR) passports4 (Rajan and others 2010). However, many women under this age still leave the country in search of jobs but they do so through unofficial channels, making them vulnerable to unlawful practices and exploitation. One study indicated that more migrant women (80 per cent) than migrant men (54 per cent) were forced to hand over their passports, job contracts and other legal documents to their employers (Ranjana and Shamim 2010).

Following the mass evacuation of migrant workers from Libya to bordering countries in February 2011 due to civil and political unrest, the MOIA facilitated the repatriation of Indian nationals—estimated to be 18,000. In addition, it made arrangements for their onward journey once repatriated back to India. By the second week of March, approximately 15,000 Indian migrants had been safely repatriated to India (India MOIA 2011).

Migrants are employed either directly by the employers or through outsourcing agencies and recruitment agents. There are currently 1,800 registered recruitment agents, of which 600 actively recruit semi-skilled workers, and three times as many unregistered ones (Rajan and others 2011). These agents liaise with the overseas employers and facilitate the migration process for the workers. However, there are frequent reports of fraudulent activities by these agents. Additionally, India has a number of human resources agencies which are engaged in recruitment for developed countries in high skill sectors.

Also of note, MOIA has launched a scheme to provide life insurance coverage for Indian workers who have migration clearance and migrated overseas on contractual/employment visas. In addition, the Ministry is looking to launch a plan to provide a pension at later ages in their life through the model of welfare funds. The plan would facilitate savings for migrant workers when they return to India and help with their reintegration.

Highly skilled workers migrate predominately to Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries, but also to GCC countries. In recent years, out-migration of highly skilled labour to many developed countries, such as Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America, has been rising while new destinations, such as Japan, have emerged (table 2).

Out-migration from India is expected to continue to increase over the next two to three decades. This is based on projections that the country would have a manpower surplus of 47 million in 2020, which could be used to fill labour gaps in many countries, particularly developed ones, experiencing labour shortages due to an ageing population (India Planning Commission 2009).

India receives 10 per cent of total global remittances, putting it along with China as one of the top two remittance-receiving countries in the world (Khadria 2009). In the last decade, the volume of remittances increased strongly from $15.8 billion in 2000 to $53.8 billion in 2009 (India MOIA 2011).
A recent phenomenon of migration from India is that of students heading to developed countries with student visas. In many cases, the students become permanent residents of the respective countries after completion of their studies.

After China, India is the largest country of origin of student migrants. The United States of America is the leading destination country with more than half of all Indian expatriate students, followed by Australia and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Students from India are also the highest number of international students in the United States of America, comprising 15 per cent of the total (Roberts 2009).


3 Among them, 10 to 12 million hold Indian passports and the rest have foreign passports.

4 As per the Emigration Act, 1983, Indian passports are divided into two categories, passports with the endorsement “emigration check required” (ECR) and passports with the endorsement “emigration check not required” (ECNR). Holders of those with a stamp of ECR, are required to get emigration clearance from the Protector of Emigrants if they are going to any country except Pakistan, Bangladesh, European countries (excluding CIS countries), all countries of North America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand, Singapore, Republic of Korea, and South Africa.