Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

[oped of the day] Migration studies need to put in perspective changing patterns of movement


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Nothing much

Mains level : Indian Diaspora - changing patterns of migration


Migrants have made notable contributions to their countries of origin as well as destination. This is especially true for South Asia. The UN celebrates the International Migrants Day on December 18 every year.

India – Migrants

  • Highest remittances – India has ranked the highest among countries that receive remittances from migrants.
  • States – States such as Kerala have benefited enormously from migrants to countries in the Persian Gulf.

Gaps in understanding

  • There is a need to understand international migration from the country in all its diversity.
  • The distinctive characteristics of migrants from different states of the country, their choice of destinations and the patterns and purposes of migration have to be understood.

International migrants from India

  • Not just Southern – India’s international migrants are not just from the southern states but also come from the north, including from Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. This is partly due to the demographic dividend of these states. 

State of research on migration from India

  • States – Kerala has conducted a series of eight migration surveys. Tamil Nadu, Goa, Punjab and Gujarat have produced state-level data only once. 
  • Changing – Migration is a changing phenomenon. Understanding its dynamics requires research at adequate intervals. 
  • Limited surveys – state-level surveys have focused only on legal and voluntary cross-border migration.
  • Surveys have focussed on households to understand the emigrants or return migrants. Only last year, a survey in Kerala tried to understand the people intending to migrate.

Beyond labour

  • Migration studies cannot be confined to labour. 
  • Other dimensions of migration – We are yet to study cross-border human trafficking, undocumented migration, small and medium Indian entrepreneurs in different countries, student migration, family migration, left-behind husbands and the challenges faced by migrants in integration.
  • Multidisciplinary understanding – We need to understand migration through the lens of historians, psychologists, sociologists, geographers and legal specialists.
  • Gender – migration patterns are dissimilar between genders. Current research focuses on a small sub-population of woman migrants such as nurses and domestic workers.
  • Indian woman migrants also comprise students, professionals, including scientists, doctors, IT engineers and teachers as well as beauticians, sales associates and hotel workers. 
  • Women are trafficked to different countries in the Gulf for a variety of purposes ranging from domestic work to immoral activities.

Changes in destinations

  • Non-Anglophone – The preference is for non-Anglophone countries despite the integration challenges. 
  • Indian students are moving to China, Japan, Germany and the countries of the former Soviet bloc. There is also a South-South pattern of student migration along the India-Nepal corridor. 
  • India as a destination – India is also a destination for students from African countries. Nurses and teachers from India migrate to African countries such as Zambia, Ethiopia and Eretria.
  • Professionals – Indian professionals are migrating to Southeast Asian countries such as South Korea and Taiwan, and European countries such as Norway, Sweden and Belgium.
  • New issues – We need to study the challenges and problems of living in non-English speaking countries.

Distress migration

  • Such migrants can be victims of human trafficking, workers who do not have proper documents, migrants trapped in a war zone or conflict areas or those who have been involved in workplace place accidents. 
  • Indian migrants are jailed in different countries or cheated by fake recruiting agents.
  • The cases of Indian workers dying in the Gulf countries have been on the rise over the years. 
  • Lack of policies – We lack national- and state-level data on deceased Indian workers. 
  • Issues – There have been reports of Indian workers held captive by pirates in African countries. There have also been reports of human smuggling from Punjab to Greece and Italy.

Ways of communication

  • Social media has become a powerful tool to highlight the plights of migrant workers.
  • Migration studies have not given much thought to increasing the use of social media for migrant welfare.

Steps taken/ to be taken

  • Centres for migration studies can be established in universities and research institutions. 
  • A research programme on ‘International Migration from Kerala’ was inaugurated at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.
  • The erstwhile Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs had set up a research unit on international migration in 2006.
  • Bridge the knowledge gap by replicating the Kerala model of migration surveys in all states. 
  • Frame a comprehensive national migration policy to address the issues faced by migrants.
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