The story of migration of educated and skilled individuals from India

Every time a person of Indian origin becomes CEO of a company abroad or acquires a powerful position, we proudly laud greatness of India and Indians. But, discussion on talent migration also reappears

Passengers at Delhi's IGI airport (Representational image)
Passengers at Delhi's IGI airport (Representational image)

Ashish Kumar Singh & Akash Singh

Every time a person of Indian origin becomes CEO of any company abroad or a successful politician, we proudly claim the greatness of India and Indians. However, immediately the discussion on migration of talents, commonly referred to as “brain-drain” also reappears.

Such migration indeed has an impact on our economy and the government too tries to take steps to minimise the brain drain.

The term 'brain-drain' was coined by British society when the British scientists migrated to USA during the 1960s. It is a global phenomenon in which there is a large emigration of individuals with technical skills or knowledge, normally due to conflict, lack of opportunity, political instability, or health risks. It is also known as Human Capital Flight.

According to the recent information from the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), more than six lakh Indians renounced their citizenship in the past five years. Till September 30, 2021, around 1,11,287 Indians have given up their citizenships. In the past two decades, there has been a continuous outflow of Indians, except during the 2008 financial crisis and in 2020-21 due to Covid-19 related travel bans.

India has become a major exporter of healthcare workers to the developed nations particularly to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, Europe, and other English-speaking countries. As per OECD data, around 69,000 Indian-trained doctors worked in the UK, US, Canada, and Australia in 2017. In these four countries, 56,000 Indian-trained nurses were working in the same year.

There are several reasons for why people choose to leave India. Some key factors are given below:

Lack of higher education opportunities - The increasing cut-offs and legion of competitive exams make access to higher education difficult in India. Abroad, they have an advantage over students from other countries in terms of skills and knowledge.

Our government also failed to provide sufficient number of educational institutes as per the increasing population. Privatisation in the educational institution and their higher tuition fee are also factors which force Indian student to migrate to other countries. In recent Ukraine-Russia conflict, we all read about how medical student are getting good education in less fee in the post-Soviet countries.

Lack of financial research support - India’s Gross domestic expenditure on research has stayed at 0.7% of the GDP for years. India has one of the lowest GERD/GDP ratios among the BRICS nations. So, the minds in R&D tend to migrate to other countries to continue their research.

Lower-income - Developed countries offer better pay to sectors like health, research, IT, etc. Income is one of the main triggers of emigration from India.

Non-recognition of talents - The chances of being recognised in one’s field are difficult in a populace this large and with conventions preferring the glamour world over academic talent; bright minds hence, choose foreign countries where their work is appreciated more.

If we look at data closely we realise that 90% of the brain drain happens only due to education, better job, pay scales and living standard. Very few persons who belong to major business groups migrated to foreign land only because above mention key factors do not work for them.

But even this is changing now. even the rich and prosperous are preferring to migrate.

In a study by Morgan Stanley, around 2300 millionaire have left India after 2014 and in the year 2019 around 7000 millionaires left India due to the taxation and revenue loss.

We can also compare a data in context of health professional availabilities in India and the US. Average one doctor is available on 2400 individual in India, whereas there is one Indian origin doctor available per 1325 Americans. 30% of the UK health workers are from the Indian origin.

Pull factors for brain drain:

Better standard of living - The developed/destination countries provide better living standards, salaries, tax benefits, etc, which become a great attraction for emigration.

Improved quality of life - It is unarguable that the facilities available abroad are yet to be matched with by developing countries, and hence until that level of life quality is achieved, such migration will continue.

Societal pressure - Indian youths are becoming more liberal and individualistic. But the society as a whole here is yet to come to terms with this kind of lifestyle. Hence, the pressure to live in a certain way among the Indian society is curbing the freedom of choice of today’s youths, encouraging them to seek western countries where the society is more liberal and non-interfering.

Easy migration policies -Many developed nations are easing migration policies to attract talents to boost their economy. They target Asians specifically to take up intellectual labor.

Better remuneration - Better pay and living standard offered by the developed countries is a foremost reason for emigration.

In a study ASSOCHAM found that India is losing around 18Bn USD every year due to student migration to foreign land. Indian government also provides the scholarship for student to study abroad but government fails to pull them back to India.

India only absorbed 50% of work force which was inducted during the era of the 1991 to 2013 as per UNDP report and India will face a major job crisis in coming 35 years. Around 30.5% youth of the India are neither involved in any education programme nor in any employment activity. Only 47% of the students are employable after passing out as per India skill report survey. This forces many individuals to find better job opportunities out of country.

India does not offer dual citizenship hence 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 (OCI) card, which gives them the benefit of residing and even running a business in India.

The Indian government has a simple online process for citizenship renouncing, making it clear that they are not much worried about the outflow of the talented population.

A reason for this is maybe the fact that the expatriates have become huge financial assets for India through remittances and investments. NRI remittances have been a major contributor to India’s forex receipts though motivated by personal gains. NRIs have contributed 81 billion dollar in 2021 only by their remittances.

There are some schemes devised by the government to bring back Indian scientists like- The Ramanujan Fellowship, Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE), The Ramalingaswamy Fellowship, Vaishvik Bharatiya Vaigyanik (VAIBHAV) summit etc.

Indian authorities need to pay special attention towards the maintenance of reasonable security for peoples' lives and property, as it is essential for economic progress. Moreover, a transparent and accountable system should be maintained throughout. The taxation process should be simplified and unnecessary burdens should be removed.

Increasing access to affordable quality education is another important point in this discussion.

The government should focus on framing policies that promote circular migration and return migration. Given our countries, high socio-economic differences, preventing such migration is certainly a herculean task, however, improving quality of life for all is a step in the right direction.

(Ashish Kumar Singh is a doctoral candidate of political science at the NRU-HSE, Moscow. Akash Singh is a business development professional in polymer and chemical sector and has worked in Oman & Qatar. Views are personal)

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