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Significant Diaspora Yields More Gains Than Losses

DR. MANOJ JOSHI

DR. MANOJ JOSHI

Dr. Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, India's leading think tank. He is a journalist, author, commentator, and columnist.

India has never sought to restrain migration, especially of educated personnel created through highly subsidized education. The South Asian diaspora provides not only top managerial talent around the world but also an extensive supply of skilled and semi-skilled personnel. The western Indian province of Gujarat, renowned for its business skills and entrepreneurial talent, has one of the most active diasporas in the world, predominantly spread across East Africa, the UK, and the USA.

The moving middle class

There are no accurate estimates of the South Asian diaspora. A 2005 estimate put it at around 24 million, some 2% of the South Asian population. India, with 20 million, headed the list.

South Asia provides the largest number of migrants to Canada and the USA, aided hugely by the fact that higher education in the region is largely in English. Patterns of largely middle-class migration to countries with strict selection criteria for immigrants can be extrapolated from the US census figures of April 2020: the Asian population in the USA comprises 4,506,308 Indians, 526,956 Pakistanis, 213,372 Bangladeshis, 175,005 Nepali, and 61,416 Sri Lankans. The relative difference in the numbers is due to the population base of the respective countries as well as India’s US-aided educational push in the 1960s.

India contributes to foreign direct investment 

Along with persons, India has also been a substantial provider of outward bound foreign direct investment. This effort really coincides with the opening of its economy in 1991. Currently, Indian outward bound foreign direct investment averages USD 1.5 billion to USD 2 billion per month and includes equity, loans, and guarantees by Indian firms abroad. The pattern of investments in developed countries such as the UK and the USA continues, as do flows to offshore financial centers, although the records also show investments by Indian firms across the globe.

South Asian diaspora yields political and financial gain

According to a response to a Parliament question in 2019, the Indian government listed 13.13 million non-resident Indians abroad, as well as 17.9 million persons of Indian origin, totaling 30.9 million Indians abroad in 205 countries and principalities around the world. These ranged from just 6 non-resident Indians and 6 persons of Indian origin in Nicaragua, to 1.3 million and 3.2 million, respectively, in the USA.

From about USD 0.5 billion in 1975, personal remittances of the Indian diaspora have climbed to USD 83.1 billion in 2020 — some 3% of the country’s GDP. The other South Asian countries do well, too. Bangladesh received remittances of USD 21 billion in 2020 — 6% of its GDP, and Pakistan received USD 26 billion — a hefty 10% of its GDP.

Today, India celebrates migrants as non-resident Indians and provides a range of incentives, such as long-term visas and scholarships, for persons of Indian origin. There is even talk of non-resident Indians getting the right to vote in elections. Indian diplomacy uses diaspora networks to push the national agenda.

Indian American CEOs Sundar Pichai of Google and Satya Nadella of Microsoft who recently figured in an annual Indian government list as recipients of a high national award were born and educated in India and are leaders of a global pack of CEOs that includes Shantanu Narayen of Adobe, Leena Nair of Chanel, Arvind Krishna of IBM, Sanjay Mehrotra of Micron, Nikesh Arora of Palo Alto Networks, and Parag Agarwal of Twitter.

While India may be the most active in seeking to cash in on its diaspora in political and monetary terms, the other South Asian nations are not far behind. Though the situation in each country varies somewhat.

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