As number of NRIs increased, the number of unskilled workers and low-skilled workers emigrating from India declined
A traveller picking up his luggage from airport. Photo: iStock
Last year, in reply to a question in Lok Sabha, the government informed the parliament that an estimated 13.5 million Indian nationals resided in various countries in 2021, of which 8.8 million were in the Gulf.
Given the pandemic, there hasn’t been a significant change in the number of Indians settling abroad, but data between 2015 and 2018 shows that the number of Non-Resident Indians were up by 18 per cent in those years. In 2015, India had 11.4 million Indians settled abroad, which increased to 13.4 million in 2018.
Moreover, the government data also highlights an estimated 1.1 million Indian students studying in foreign varsities.
The registration of Indians moving abroad is not mandatory, except for those migrating to 18 countries under the Emigration check required (ECR) category. Hence, the government does not estimate brain drain from the country. However, an OECD report from 2015-16 provides some reference.
As per OECD data, Indians comprised the largest group of highly educated immigrants. Between 2000-01 and 2015-16, OECD data indicates 3.1 million highly educated Indians resided outside their country.
Data from ECR checks shows that nearly 3 million migrated between 2014 and 2019 to 18 countries in Asia, the Middle East and Africa. ECR checks are mandatory for people who are either unskilled or are employable in low-skilled tasks.
But as the number of NRIs have been increasing, the number of ECR jobs have also been declining since 2014. In 2014, data shows that 805,000 migrated to these 18 countries, but in 2019, immigrants from India just numbered 368,048.
Further data analysis shows that Jammu & Kashmir, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, and Uttar Pradesh increased the number of people going abroad under the ECR category between 2017 and 2019. In contrast, the rest witnessed a decline in persons migrating to the 18 countries.
While a third of people migrating to 18 countries came from Uttar Pradesh, as a proportion of the population, Kerala topped the list with 53.7 people migrating from the state for every 100,000 people, followed by UP and Punjab.