Traditionally the cost of ‘brain drain’ has been the financial loss of investment in education and the skill loss to the country when highly educated Indian workers migrated and settled abroad. Conversely, the primary benefits are seen to be the monetary remittances, the transfer of technology, and the return migration of those Indians further educated and experienced abroad. Consequently, the wheels of perception in India have moved from ‘brain drain’ of the 1960-70s to ‘brain bank’ of the 1980-90s, and subsequently to ‘brain gain’ in the 21st century, currently giving a boost to temporary and circular immigration policies that have been increasingly put in place of the permanent immigration policies by the developed destination countries. The ‘India Migration Report 2009’, launched on the International Migrants’ Day, 18th December, 2010, spanning seven concise chapters, focuses on such issues of international mobility and highlights concerns such as remittances, gender and migration of health professionals apart from new issues of terrorism, security, and climate change.
There are 25 million Indians (non-resident Indians and persons of Indian origin) living overseas. In terms of sheer numbers, that translates into a diaspora that is larger than the population of Australia. Over the last two decades, Indian migration patterns are beginning to shift. The new Indian emigrant is younger, seeks different destinations and professions, and returns for reasons other than sheer nationalism.
Skill and Destination
The US is the biggest magnet for the new highly-skilled Indian emigrant. The UK, Australia and Canada are significant destinations as well. However, although the oil-rich West Asia remains the top destination for Indian emigrants, almost 80 per cent of the highly skilled migrants continue to choose the US as the most favoured destination apart from Canada. For example, this is reflected in the fact that since 2000 at least 64 percent of the Indian diaspora population in the US have been holders of Bachelor’s degree or more, and at least 60 percent have been engaged in the high-tier managerial, professional and related occupations, both rankings being the highest amongst the Asian diasporas, including the Chinese.
East Asian countries such as Japan are new hubs for Indian emigrants, largely due to demographic factors. Japan has low birth rate and an ageing population, which is leading to a shortage of young workers. In 2007, nearly 6,000 Indians entered Japan. Throughout Europe, the number of Indian migrants has risen, although the levels of increase vary across the continent. Indian migrants there are primarily engaged in sales and service. In recent years, the demand for foreign health professionals has escalated in high income countries with the focus shifting from the West Asia primarily to the UK, the US, Canada and Australia.
Most of the migrants to Middle East oil exporting countries are semi-skilled and unskilled workers – temporary migrants who return to India after expiry of their contractual employment. During the year 1999 there was a sharp decline in the number of persons emigrating for employment to these countries primarily due to the determined efforts of the governments of the Gulf countries to provide jobs to the local population, maintenance of ethnic balance, completion of various projects and more rigorous scrutiny before
visas were granted. Of late some Gulf countries have imposed restrictions on issuance of visa for the unskilled. However, the situation has improved considerably since 2004. Indian emigrants to the Gulf are now more likely to engage in highly skilled jobs than ever before. White-collar workers now comprise 30 per cent of the total Indian workers in the region.