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The Great Indian Immigration: Why educated, skilled Indians are leaving the country in droves

Indian competence, linguistic prowess, and a higher level of education are the triggers for relocation to countries, which have eased visa rules to attract talent.

December 17, 2021 / 08:37 PM IST

While the elevation of a Parag Agrawal or Sundar Pichai as global CEOs warms the cockles of a billion Indian hearts, there is another subterranean shift underway that is largely going unnoticed.

A total of 8,81,254 Indians have given up their citizenship since 2015, the Ministry of Home Affairs informed the Lok Sabha last week.

The data released by the government in Parliament make for interesting reading. As many as 1,31,489 Indians renounced their citizenship in 2015. In 2016, the number was 1,41,603, which in 2017, stood at over 1,33,049.

In 2018, the number of such `unpatriotic’ Indians – no longer keen to hold on to their Indian passports - stood at 1,34,561. In 2019, the number rose to 1,44,017, resting at a sedate 85,242 in 2020.

Until September 2021, as many as 1,11,287 Indians have renounced their citizenship.

Why are Indians moving abroad? 

So, are Indians becoming less patriotic or is it just that opportunities in their own country are becoming scarcer? Could it also be that many foreign countries, aware of the intrinsic talent of Indians as engineers, doctors, and other key service providers with English as the language of communication, are increasingly opening their doors, which until now was closed?

It is probably a mix of all concerned.

Says Prof Amarjiva Lochan, Deputy Dean, International Relations, University of Delhi: "There are several factors. Countries like Singapore have opened the doors for Indians. On payment of one million dollars, you can get residency there, no questions asked. In addition, there are Scandinavian countries, which have eased immigration rules, making it easy for Indians to move there. Above all, Indian IT `coolies are heavily in demand in the US.”

Notes InterNations, a Munich-based global social networking site for expat communities: ``Indian expats are happier with their working hours and live-in countries where new concepts of work play a more important role than back home in India. Indians enjoy better working hours and a better work-life balance abroad."

What is happening? According to the Expat Insider 2021 survey by InterNations, 59 percent of Indians working abroad relocated for their career — a much higher share than the global average, which is 47 percent. Close to one-quarter (23 percent) found a job on their own, 19 percent were recruited internationally, and 14 percent were sent by their employer. Just three percent moved abroad to start their own business, which is still a slightly higher share than the global average of 2 percent.

Indian expats working abroad average 38.7 years, which is about four years younger than the global average of 43.1. The gender split among them is very uneven: 81 percent are men vs. 53 percent globally, while just 19 percent are women (vs. 46 percent globally). What is more, they are also more likely to work full time (93 percent) than the global average (82 percent).

Indians working abroad are well educated: close to nine in ten either have a bachelor’s degree (35 percent vs. 33 percent globally) or a postgraduate/master’s degree (54 percent vs. 47 percent globally).

Another six percent hold a PhD as their highest level of education, which is, however, a slightly smaller share than the global average of eight percent.

The passport issue 

India does not offer dual citizenship so people seeking citizenship in other countries must give up their Indian passport. However, Indians who renounce citizenship can still apply for an Overseas Citizen of India (OCA) card, which gives them the benefit of residing and even running a business in India.

Interestingly, the Indian government is not unduly bothered with this outflux, making the process of disowning Indian citizenship as simple as possible.

When asked if the government has simplified the process for Indians who want to renounce their citizenship and if that can be done online, Minister of Home Nityanand Rai said, “Citizenship of India may be renounced under provisions of Section 8 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 read with rule 23 of the Citizenship Rules, 2009.” And yes, it is easily done online.

For some Indian specialists, though, this migration is a case of losing the best Indian brains to foreign countries. S Irudaya Rajan, one of India’s leading migration experts, believes that this trend will continue to grow. "So-called experts come from foreign countries and hold so-called education festivals, in which they pick up the best talent available and whisk them away. While it is India that is spending on teaching students, (the IITs, IIMs and other institutes) the foreigners find ways to wean them away,” he said.

In his estimate, it is time India tries to reverse the trend by offering citizenship to bright foreigners who are studying in India. "We have to look for creative ways to attract both foreign and Indian talent,” says Rajan, who is also Chairman of The International Institute of Migration and Development, Kerala.

Sadly, this appears to be a lone voice where getting out of the country is uppermost on most minds.
Ranjit Bhushan is an independent journalist and former Nehru Fellow at Jamia Millia University. In a career spanning more than three decades, he has worked with Outlook, The Times of India, The Indian Express, the Press Trust of India, Associated Press, Financial Chronicle, and DNA.
first published: Dec 17, 2021 08:37 pm