Migration in a Globalised World: India’s Experience

Ms. Neelam D. Sabharwal

The movement of people from one place to another be it within a country or international has been part of the growth and evolution of societies. It has gained salience in today’s globalising world with transformation of countries into knowledge-based economies, circulation of knowledge, its appropriation and use for production, internationalisation of capital and uneven economic development.  Migration according to this perspective, is determined by the obstacles to development that are associated with such a global economic system and its uncertainties and opportunities. The improved transportation and communication links have further accelerated movement of people across political boundaries. Human mobility in this globalized context is thus about political, economic, cultural contexts and social conditions, personal choices of education prospects and professional exposure.

An Alternative Perspective

A distinguishing characteristic of the present wave of migration is the mobility of the highly skilled human resource from developing countries to the industrialised countries as a powerful vehicle for boosting growth in both countries of origin and destination. This has brought a paradigm shift in perception of positive effects of skilled migration and thus the phenomenon of migration as a positive and dynamic process. (Gabriela Tejada et al eds.: Indian Skilled Migration to Europe and Back 2014) The governments are increasingly recognizing migration as a productive asset in innovation and development and the need to adopt appropriate policies to facilitate international mobility of people.

The discourse on migration has hitherto ignored the benefits of educated and skilled workers, student migration along with the financial resources for the developed countries. It tends to focus mainly on the gains for the sending countries, as remittances and return migration with enhanced skills as ‘Brain Gain’. The stereotype sees migration as a sign of crisis in situations of armed conflict, social and political turmoil and economic hardship. Such migrants tend to be seen as intruders cutting into the national resources of the destination countries. Whereas, migrants usually fill vacancies where there are recognized skill shortages. Indeed, post second world war period of rapid economic growth in Western economies saw an increased trend in South-North migration. However, “Data in recent World Migration Reports shows that nearly 60% of all global migration takes place within the developed world and 40% within the developing countries. International migrants do not always originate in the poorest countries but from developing economies following structural transformation, environmental changes and the resultant displacement creates sections of mobile population which migrates internally and internationally.” (Didar Singh and Rajan 2016)

Migration a global phenomenon

However, this phenomenon is not faced by the developed world alone. The political, ethnic and religious conflicts in various regions have confronted many countries with influx of migrants. Take India’s case, which receives 2.3% of World’s migration (UN 2013) with an estimated total of 5.4 million international migrants, ranked at eighth position in the migrant receiving countries list (UN 2009). Immigration in India is largely a regional phenomenon from neighbouring countries because of contiguous and largely porous borders, and cultural and linguistic affinities. (India Migration Report 2009: Ed B. Khadria) Unofficially, the figures may be twice as much going by reports of daily issuance of nearly a thousand visas to Bangladeshis alone and free movement from Nepal under a bilateral agreement. At the time of creation of Bangladesh in 1971, ten million refugees migrated to west Bengal in India. There are still close to two million refugees from Tibet, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Myanmar residing in India.

Salience of Migration in Development

It is therefore not surprising that movement of people across national borders is increasingly emerging as a key issue in the conversation on development. This was foreshadowed by the well-known economist, Bhagwati, Jagadish (A stream of windows: Unsettling reflections on Trade, Immigration and Democracy, 1999), when he advanced the argument, ”if global development was dominated by the movement of goods in the nineteenth century and by the movement of capital in the twentieth century, the development imperatives of the twenty first century will be dominated by the movement of people across national borders“. Yet, while trade and capital flows have seen liberalisation, movement of people have been constrained by geo-political factors.

Temporary Labour Migration: A flawed system in need of reform

What then could be the way ahead? Professor Graziano Battistella in his kick-off article draws our attention to the temporary labour migration system as a choice that migrants have taken and policy that countries have adopted. He mentions the precedent in the traditional countries of immigration, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand which developed temporary labour migration arrangements, targeting highly skilled workers, other times focusing on agricultural workers, which sometimes included conversion into permanent residence status. West European Countries also experimented with variants of temporary labour migration. Belgium, France, Switzerland and UK began such short duration programmes in mid twentieth century followed by Germany, Austria, and the Netherlands. These continued until the seventies and comprised many small scale, often seasonal project tied workers, trainees, border commuters. Some continue while others have been abandoned. The objective of these programmes was to ensure rotation of workers, restrict their rights and limit family reunion. By using these arrangements the countries were importing labour and not migrants.

Temporary labour migration has been recommended by global and competent UN institutions as a successful model which maximises the benefits for countries of destination, countries of origin and the migrants themselves. But this model could not stand scrutiny in Prof. Battistella’s analysis of case studies and experience of temporary immigrant labour in Asian economies. He finds it flawed and has reached the conclusion that the flaws are inherent in the system. He argues the foremost flaw in the temporary labour migration is that temporariness of labour migration deprives the migrants of some fundamental rights and denies them the opportunity to accumulate social benefits. The objective of ensuring that migrants do not become permanent residents because the local societies are not willing to incorporate cultural minorities reduces migrants to labour providers.

Changing socio-economic dynamics: Demand for highly skilled migrants

The policies of temporary labour migration with all their flaws may have worked as they were designed to recruit low skilled workers, whereas today the demand for immigrants in the EU is for high skilled workers, due to slowing economic growth, ageing of population, growing competition for skilled resources and the need to regulate migration. As per the 2012 Eurostat publication ‘The EU in the World 2013- A Statistical Portrait’, all member states of the EU are facing the problem of ageing which is expected to continue for at least another 50 years. The share of people above 65 years or above is expected to increase from 17. 1% to 30.0% by 2060, when the declining ratio of working population will have two working people against four in 2008 for every 65 years, or above EU citizen. (source: Gupta, Pralok, Facilitating Migration between India and the EU: A Policy Perspective CARIM- India Research Report 2013/06, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, san Domenico di Fiesole: European University Institute 2013).

Circular Migration: A Variant of Temporary Labour Migration

Recognising the potential benefits of skilled migrants, the EU and its member states have adopted migratory policies to facilitate international skilled migration over the last few years. These have included legislative measures, mobility partnerships and bilateral agreements. The central principle is the concept of ‘Circular Migration‘, formulated in 2007. In essence, it is a form of temporary migration as opposed to permanent settlement of migrants to ensure rotation of workers and social cohesion of developed countries. (B. Khadria, An Exploratory study on Circular Migration from India to the European Union)

In the absence of a pan-European harmonized migration policy, the term means different things to different EU countries. Some are prepared to give circular migration rights to highly skilled migrants while others feel the idea is best suited for seasonal migrants in the agriculture, construction and hospitality industries. A number of experiments have been made by different member states, such as Germany’s Seasonal workers programme, Spain and Colombia’s Temporary and circular Migration Model (TCLM), Dutch ‘Blue Bird’ pilot programme (2009) to involve semi-skilled migrants, issuance of ‘golden visas’ by UK and Portugal, Latvia’s immigrant investor visa, Cyprus’s ‘fast track citizenship’ and the delayed indefinitely Malta’s ‘instant citizenship’.

The EU wide ‘blue card’ (excludes Denmark, Ireland and the UK),  for entry and residence of high skill employment aimed to establish a common criteria and fast track procedure for issuing residence and work permits, based on the US green card, however, met with a dismal fate with only 13,852 work permits issued, of which 87% were granted by Germany. It was originally proposed in 2007 and finally opened for application in 2012 only to be withdrawn shortly thereafter. In June this year, there were again reports from Brussels of EU’s plans to revive Blue Card visa system and of voters concerns over allowing a greater level of immigration.

India’s emergence as a Major Source of Workforce

India has emerged as one of the major sources for global workforce in the twenty first century. Its experience as a country with the second largest diaspora, estimated at around 25 million, has seen a dramatic transition over the last two centuries, from forced migration of thousands of Indians as indentured labour to the colonies to meet the demand supply gap in the plantation economies of the Caribbean, the Indian Ocean, South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Pacific in late 19th and early 20th centuries, to voluntary migration to the metropolitan centres of the Commonwealth in the middle of 20th century, followed by movement of  skilled technical professionals and students to the US and Europe, on the one hand and emigration of low and semi skilled Indians to the oil rich Gulf countries, in the last three decades of the 20th century.

Since the turn of the century, India has drawn worldwide attention for   migration of knowledge workers and IT professionals to developed countries, radically transforming the image of Indian diaspora in the West. The huge success story of the Silicon Valley and profile of Indian immigrants in the US, UK, Canada, and Australia validates the assumption that the mobility of human capital through migration of high skilled diaspora and matching migratory policies are interlinked processes best addressed by a holistic approach.

Movement of Indians to the EU: A Recent Phenomenon

Migration from India to the EU has not been particularly significant except to some member states and in a few sectors. Two thirds of the EU based Indian diaspora resides in the UK and is one of the best educated and highest earning groups. More Indians have started looking to mainland Europe since the EU and its member states introduced policies to facilitate inward migration of skilled professionals. Although the movement is taking place to both the old and new EU member states, a relatively significant and stable presence of Indian diaspora is mainly in France, Germany, The Netherlands, Italy and Belgium. The signing of a bilateral social security agreement with some EU countries has also been an encouraging development.  However, labour mobility restrictions and complex procedures for visas and work permits continue to deter easy movement to the EU even as India is a priority source country for tapping skilled immigrants from among non-EU countries.

India-EU dialogue to address issues on the movement of people has been underway since 2000. A regular, comprehensive and structured dialogue on migration issues has been on the agenda of the bilateral summits since 2012. Both sides have the shared objective to promote legal migration, discourage illegal migration and work together in the area of migration and development. At the13th India-EU summit in March 2016, a Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility, the first of its kind was signed for better organizing and promoting regular promotion at relevant skill levels and fostering well managed mobility, including enhanced issuance of visas was signed in Brussels.

The establishment of the CAMM, reflects the importance of India as a strategic partner of the EU in the field of migration and mobility. As a framework of cooperation, CAMM is the start of a longer term process which will lead to deeper cooperation and solid mutual engagement on migration, a key global policy area. Both sides, through a regular dialogue will explore areas of concrete cooperation to exchange and compare information and statistics on labour and other regular migration flows, enhance the efficiency and security of respective procedures for entry, residence and registration, building legal and administrative capacity to manage and monitor migration, explore possibilities for attracting highly skilled workers, scientists and technologists both under circular migration and long term visas, and enhanced mobility and exchange of business persons, students and researchers.

India reiterated its commitment to cooperate in facilitation of return of irregular migrants on the establishment of nationality by the competent authority and seek to make the process swifter and more efficient. In practice, this concerns a negligible number of such migrants and systems have been continually upgraded for verification procedures right down to the local level.

The decision to merge the Ministry of Overseas Affairs with the Ministry of External affairs in January 2016 is an indication of the high importance to issues concerning legal migration, welfare of overseas Indians and building a good image of India by their skill industry and ability to assimilate well in host countries.

Mismatch of Approach

Although human mobility and emigration of skilled professionals from developing countries is not a new phenomenon, it is never free of tensions due to the mismatch in the approach of the source countries and immigration policy of the host countries. The migrant expects stability of employment and an opportunity to settle down, with a view to enhancing his socio-economic condition. The developed countries view it as a short term strategy to alleviate labour shortage take a restrictive approach and would only like to promote temporary migration, discourage permanent residence, avoid disturbing existing patterns of society and project return migration as beneficial to the sending side.  The uncertainties and cumbersome procedures for yearly renewal of work permits allowed only up to a maximum of four years end up in skilled migrants moving on to third countries.

Paradoxically, the socio-economic dynamics in the destination countries that require migratory policies to facilitate the entry of such skilled workers also compel restrictive, discretionary and shifting policies, impeding the objective of rectifying skill shortages. The complexities in Europe are compounded with several contradictory forces at play at the same time. On one hand are Eurozone’s problems of stagnation and unemployment, on the other developments in neighbouring regions bringing waves of refugees and economic migrants raising fears of unmanageable migration pressures on Europe, which are creating the opposite reaction.

A well-considered long-term migration policy offering stability to the skilled migrants, consistent with Europe’s own philosophy and its commitment to human rights, free movement of people is needed for successfully harnessing the gains of skilled migrants as carriers of social capital and as a factor of production to contribute to innovation, development and economic competitiveness of the host countries.