March 3, 2017

India is a top source and destination for world’s migrants

Construction workers from India wait for transportation near the Grand Hormuz Hotel in Muscat, Oman. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Construction workers from India wait for transportation near the Grand Hormuz Hotel in Muscat, Oman. (Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

India has a long history of migration. More than a century ago, large numbers of Indian migrants – many of them involuntary ones – moved to Africa, the Caribbean and within the Indian subcontinent itself. Some of the top destinations of Indian migrants in more recent decades include Persian Gulf countries, North America and Europe. Here are five facts about India and migration.

1India is the top source of international migrants, with one-in-twenty migrants worldwide born in India. As of 2015, 15.6 million people born in India were living in other countries. India has been among the world’s top origin countries of migrants since the United Nations started tracking migrant origins in 1990. The number of international Indian migrants has more than doubled over the past 25 years, growing about twice as fast as the world’s total migrant population.

(Use the interactive below to explore migration trends for India and other countries.)

Interactive: Origins and Destinations of International Migrants

Nearly half of India’s migrants are in just three countries: the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and the United States. About 3.5 million Indians live in the UAE, the top destination country for Indian migrants. Over the past two decades, millions of Indians have migrated there to find employment as laborers. Pakistan has the second-largest number of migrants, with 2 million.

Almost 2 million more live in the U.S., making up the country’s third-largest immigrant group. Among Indian Americans, nearly nine-in-ten were born in India. As a whole, Indian Americans are among the highest educated and have some of the highest income among racial and ethnic groups in the U.S.

2India is also one of the world’s top destinations for international migrants. As of 2015, about 5.2 million immigrants live in India, making it the 12th-largest immigrant population in the world. The overwhelming majority of India’s immigrants are from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh (3.2 million), Pakistan (1.1 million), Nepal (540,000) and Sri Lanka (160,000).

3Even though the country is the top source of the world’s migrants in total numbers, India has one of the world’s lowest emigration rates. Only about 1% of India’s birth population lives outside of the country, a similar emigration rate to that of the U.S. At more than 1 billion, India’s population is the second-largest in the world behind China. Consequently, it would take tens of millions more people to leave India before its emigration rate reached the world’s 3% average.

4India receives more remittances from migrants than any other country. About $69 billion was sent by Indian migrants to family and friends in India in 2015, amounting to roughly 3% of the country’s gross domestic product, according to the World Bank estimates. Most of the money comes from Indians living in Persian Gulf countries as well as the U.S., the UK and Canada. India has been the world’s top recipient of migrant remittances since 2008, when it overtook China on this measure.

5India’s religious minorities have been more likely to migrate internationally. Religious minorities make up a larger share of India’s international migrant population than they do among the nation’s domestic population, according to 2010 Pew Research Center estimates. For example, about 19% of the Indian international migrant population was Christian, compared with only 3% of the population in India. Similarly, an estimated 27% of the Indian international migrant population was Muslim, compared with 14% of the population in India. The reverse is true for Hindus: Only 45% of India’s international migrant population was Hindu, compared with 80% of the population in India.

Topics: Asia and the Pacific, Immigration, Immigration Trends, Migration, Religious Affiliation

  1. Photo of Phillip Connor

    is a research associate focusing on demography and migration studies at Pew Research Center.

14 Comments

  1. Anonymous2 months ago

    i want to know particular sikh minority migration report, which is lacking in your article

  2. Anonymous2 months ago

    Your observations are circumspect in many ways. The article seems to be bereft of a sound analysis and not drawn any verifiable inferences from historical reasons and has just considered only gross numbers.

    1. A number of Muslims living in India preferred to migrate to Pakistan as a result of the partition in 1947. And that is the reason behind your remark ” Pakistan has the second-largest number of migrants, with 2 million. ”

    2. “” an estimated 27% of the Indian international migrant population was Muslim, compared with 14% of the population in India “” Again shows lack of analysis at your end. During the 1947 partition, people of both faiths , Hindus and Muslims, moved to India and Pakistan respectively.

    3. ” about 19% of the Indian international migrant population was Christian, compared with only 3% of the population in India. ” : After independence, a number of Anglo-Indians moved to Australia and UK in search of better employment opportunities. This fact has again been presented without doing any research at your end.

    I might go on pointing out some more of gross anomalies in the article , but am refraining myself from that exercise.

    I think the writer should have striven to do a lot more research rather than presenting something by way of pure numbers, which more often than not can be deceptive and not present the true picture.

    1. Anonymous1 month ago

      Except that’s what they were trying to do?? Sorry they didn’t meet your standards /s

  3. Anonymous2 months ago

    The figures for migration from within South Asia need to be questioned. India has a long record of #fakenews approach to the issue. For example, the artificial border created by England’s colonialism in Greater Bengal resulted in families being divided, even homes having two nationalities: Indian and Bangladesh.
    Hindu fundamentalists amd their allies have long used Muslim faith of Indian nationals as a weapon of violence and politics.
    It would be tragic if PEW were to become an agent of misinformation and propaganda.

    1. Anonymous2 months ago

      “Hindu fundamentalists amd their allies have long used Muslim faith of Indian nationals as a weapon of violence and politics”
      I beg to differ. The first and foremost attempt to bank on religious fault-lines in the subcontinent was by the Muslims. And I don’t mean extremists, Muslims all over India voted for the partition which resulted in the creation of Pakistan and later Bangladesh. You can ridicule the Hindus all you want but the state of this community in both Pakistan and Bangladesh is a marker of where the blame should lie.

    2. Anonymous2 months ago

      Hindu fundamentalist harrasing muslims in India ?? Excuse me. Muslims in India are the most appeased n pampered in India & are no longer a minority. In fact muslims are attacking n killing hindus in India. Its a fact

  4. Anonymous2 months ago

    Have you normalised the stats for pre-1947 births? The 2 million Indian-borns in Pakistan are most likely those born in undivided India, and would not fall under the “migrant” category in the traditional sense. The same applies to the 1.1 Pakistan-born individuals living in India.

  5. Dilip Deodhar2 months ago

    “…27% of the Indian international migrant population was Muslim”
    I am curious, what is the destination wise breakdown of these 27% Muslims? Do more Muslims migrate to Muslim countries than to US/Europe?

  6. Nitish Hooda2 months ago

    “Pakistan has the second-largest number of migrants, with 2 million.”

    Can you please share the source for this? As no large migration from India to Pakistan has taken place since partition.

    1. Divjot Punia2 months ago

      The source is linked in the article. I checked it beacuse, as you, the numbers didnt look right. It turns out the key word is ‘born’. My mom, in delhi, is 75 and was born in Pakistan. Am sure there are many people in my moms category (partition migrants who were very young at that time and are still alive). A casual reader can be mislead easily and assume the numbers represent routine immigration. They do not. They represent cumulative immigration over 60 to 70 odd years.

    2. Zumba Kumba2 months ago

      They are taking into consideration the Indians who migrated during the time of Independence. This is historically correct, but not what we would consider immigrants.

    3. Harry Das2 months ago

      You misunderstood boss! Pakistan has the second-largest migrant (sic) contributor after India, that is provider of 2 million migrants vs India’s 15.6.

      1. Anonymous2 months ago

        Check the opening sentence.
        “Nearly half of India’s migrants are in just three countries: the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan and the United States.”

    4. Anonymous2 months ago

      I think they are counting people born pre-partition. Otherwise, other than through marriage, immigration between the two countries is next to none.