Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

[op-ed snap] A blinkered understanding of migration


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing Much

Mains level : Issues in draft emigration Policy


The draft emigration Bill is more about managing the export of human resources than being a humanitarian framework.

Benefits of emigration

  • A large emigrant population has many benefits for India:
  • The much-discussed international remittances (which touched $80 billion in 2018)
  • A positive impact on foreign direct investments, trade and foreign relations. The Indian diaspora also provides much needed philanthropic activities in health and education to help achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.


There is another side to the Indian emigration story, which is characterised by information and power asymmetries in the global labour markets to include exploitation, inhuman living conditions, violence and human rights violations.

Lost focus

  • Since Independence, a steadily increasing number of low-skilled emigrants moved to destinations in West Asia. In order to safeguard their rights and welfare, the government enacted the Emigration Act, 1983.
  • So, in an effort to update and upgrade this framework, a draft Emigration Bill, 2019 was released.

Abolishment of two different types of passport

  • What is most positive about the draft Bill is the inclusion of all students and migrant workers within its purview and the abolishment of the two passports (emigration clearance required and emigration clearance not required, or ECR and ECNR) regime based on a person’s educational qualifications.
  • This will significantly improve the collection of migration flow data when compared to the current system, which excludes most migrants leaving India.

Crucial exclusions

1.Exclusion of dependent migrants

  •  For instance, Indians reuniting with family members abroad .
  • These “dependent migrants” have increasingly little economic or political freedom at their destinations, an example being the recent attempt by the Trump administration in the U.S. to repeal the employment eligibility of spouses of high-skilled H1B immigrants (a majority are from India).
  • Also alarming are numerous instances of Indian spouses being ‘lured’ abroad in marriage and then stranded or exploited.
  • Between January 2015 and November 2017, the government received 3,328 such complaints.

2.Undocumented migrants

  • The perception is that undocumented migrants are those persons who leave India through informal channels, but most migrants become irregular on account of expired visas/permits.
  • In West Asia, when migrant workers flee their employers to escape exploitation, a single police complaint can make them ‘undocumented’ for no fault of theirs.

3.Regulation of intermediaries

  • The intermediaries play an instrumental role in minimising information asymmetries and migration costs.
  • Thus, any regulatory framework needs to balance strong disincentives for migrant welfare-destroying practices with the efficient supply of affordable intermediary services for prospective workers and students.

4.Return migrants

  • To effectively ensure their welfare, any emigration policy framework needs to be considerate of the complete migration cycle: the pre-departure, journey, destination and return.
  • The 2019 draft Bill addresses only the first three parts of the cycle while completely ignoring return migration.
  • Globally, one in four migrants today is a return migrant.

Other issues with emigrants

  • There is no complete database number of Indian migrants abroad.
  • There is also an erroneous assumption that Indian migrants in a developed destination country have sufficient protection and welfare. 
  • The draft Bill personifies the government’s primary view of emigration policy as a means for managing the export of human resources rather than a humanitarian framework to safeguard Indian migrants overseas.


Without drastic changes to the draft Bill’s approach, we will miss the opportunity to fulfil the hard-fought shared objectives of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration.

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments