What Migrants Tell You About a Country

Remittances to India have recovered from the global financial crisis, shows a Migration Policy Institute study of recent World Bank remittance data. After stagnating in 2009, it rose in 2010 to $53.131 billion. The importance of remittances to the Indian economy continues to be evident: the inflow is equal to four per cent of India’s GDP, worth more than half the country’s service exports and a massive 2,067% more than what India gets in the way of foreign aid.

But remittance and migration data also provides a crude means to see what drives people to leave their homeland.

Here is what I have tended to assume:

Because of a whole host of internal problems, Pakistan has very high levels of migration, and especially by its educated population, in comparison to India. China should be seeing limited migration from its working class – they have less of a pocketbook incentive to go then their Indian counterparts. But the claustrophobic political environment would tend to push a disproportionately higher number of educated people to pack their bags.

Are these assumptions borne out by the migration evidence?

The official figure for net Indian emigration between 2005-2010 was minus 600,000, mostly to the Persian Gulf and North America. The skilled emigration rate, as a percentage of tertiary educated people, is given as 4.3%. That’s an 11 year old figure. I suspect its less today, given the growth in the economy and the number of trained non-resident Indians who are coming back.

Now, let’s look at Pakistan. Pakistan has about one-sixth of India’s population but its net emigration rate is about two-thirds of India: minus 400,000. What is more striking is that the comparable figure for educated migrants is three times more than India’s. Some 12.6% of tertiary educated flee the country. Again that’s a 2000 figure. I suspect that it is likely to be higher today – though possibly suppressed by the difficulties Pakistanis face in traveling to the West these days.

The Chinese figures are harder to pin down. Net migration per year is a little less than India – minus 350,000 a year. So is skilled migration at 3.8% of tertiary educated. Given that China has a GDP four times that of India’s, the net migration figure makes sense: it’s about half that of India’s. But the educated migration rate strikes me as high, just above 10% less than the Indian figure. Does politics and a desire for a freer society play a role?

I also took a peek at Bangladesh. Though most Indians don’t realize it, Bangladesh is at about the same level as India on the human development index. I would expect its migration figures, once adjusted for population, to be about the same. Its net migration per year is minus 582,000 and the percentage of tertiary educated who flee is 4.3%. A statistical carbon copy of India.



Copyright © 2011 Hindustan Times.

Back to Top Back to Top