ICYMI: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

As I normally use MIPEX to compare OECD country policies, missed just how low India’s rank is:

India ranked the lowest among 52 countries assessed for key indices of migrant inclusivity in 2020, shows the recently launched Migrant Integration Policy Index.

India scored the least, 24 out of 100, far lower than the average of 50, putting it in a category where migrant integration is deemed “denied”.

The index, a policy tool that measures a country’s national policies on international immigrants across eight parameters, is published jointly by two European think-tanks, the Migration Policy Group of Brussels and the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, and was first released in 2014.

While other Asian countries such as China and Indonesia have improved their integration policies, India’s score has remained unchanged in the last five years. India’s Migrant Integration Policy Index scores fell below 20 in key policy areas including the labour market, education, health, access to nationality and anti-discrimination actions.

This is significant for two reasons: Although not the world’s most important migrant destination, India is home to 5 million immigrants, according to the Census 2011. Data from 2019 from the Population Division of the United Nations’ Department of Economic and Social Affairs noted a decline in immigrant numbers in India from 7.6 million in 1990 to 5.1 million in 2019.

Although the number of refugees and asylum seekers has gone down between 1990 and 2019 (from 212,700 to 207,600), they constitute an increasing proportion of the total immigrant population in India (2.8% in 1990 to 4% in 2019). Similar estimates from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees suggest that the number of refugees and asylum seekers in 2020 was 210,201, according to their January 2020 India Factsheet.

Further, 95.3% of India’s immigrants in 2019 also originated in the same SDG region (Central and Southern Asia comprising neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan) – a number that has not changed significantly from 1990 (96.8%).

This characteristic of immigration to India is also highlighted in a 2017 article by the Pew Research Center. However, the existing immigrant population continues to face integration barriers in various aspects of daily life, which impact their entry into the workplace, access to justice, and educational experiences, concluded the Migrant Integration Policy Index analysis.

India also sends out the world’s largest number of emigrants – 17.5 million as per estimates from the International Organisation for Migration’s (UN-IOM) World Migration Report 2020, and is, therefore, a critical voice in immigrant integration.

Migrants move seeking better livelihoods and education, so an increase in immigration rates is an indicator of a country’s growth and development trajectory. As India develops in the coming decades and takes on a leadership role in the South Asian region, integration of immigrants and their issues will only become more important, experts say.

“There is very little by way of comprehensive immigration policy in India today – access to social security benefits or the labour market is limited and often foreign nationals face discrimination as reported in the media,” said migration policy expert Meera Sethi, formerly of the UN-IOM.

Originally devised to measure the integration of Third Country Nationals – or non-European Union nationals – in the EU, Migrant Integration Policy Index is now a major policy tool to analyse and measure migrant integration in destination countries around the world: in developed countries including the United States, Canada, Australia, Japan and Norway, as well as in developing countries such as Brazil, Indonesia, China, India and Turkey. The assessment for India was conducted by Migration Policy Group’s country partner India Migration Now, a Mumbai-based research non-profit.

Low scores across key indices

India’s overall Migrant Integration Policy Index score is the lowest because of below-average scores in all policy areas except for family reunion (assessing how easy it is for immigrants to reunite with their families) where the score is 75, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 58. The country fares worse in certain policy areas such as anti-discrimination, health, labour market mobility and access to nationality.

In the area of labour market mobility, India scored 17 while the Migrant Integration Policy Index average is 51. Accessing an employment visa in India carries certain conditions – only those from highly skilled backgrounds earning more than $25,000 per annum are eligible.

Furthermore, employment visas are not granted for jobs for which qualified Indians are available, according to informationput out by the Ministry of Home Affairs. Foreign residents on business visas have the option of self-employment, but no measures exist to promote access to the labour market or provide support to improve professional skills or opportunities.

In education too, India scored 19, less than half the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 40. There are no measures in place in the country that recognise the unique requirements of immigrant children. They only benefit from general measures available for all children in India under the Right to Education Act, 2009. This is a lacuna evident for India’s interstate migrants as well, who face exclusion when they move from one state to another, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis of 2020. Typically, states require migrants to furnish proof of residence, which can be in the form of a domicile certificate or a school transfer certificate from the destination state, which migrants often find difficult to produce because they are not domiciles of the destination state and had acquired education in their source states, the IMPEX analysis showed.

These issues are further aggravated for immigrant families and while many have managed to utilise Right to Education provisions, their children often face discrimination and cultural barriers at Indian schools, according to this January 2020 articlein The Wire, which focuses on the Rohingya refugee community. Refugee communities such as the Rohingya are reliant on philanthropic initiatives and the work of NGOs to fill these crucial policy gaps, according to an earlier 2018 field report from The Wire.

In the area of political participation, India scored 0. The right to vote, to stand in elections, and form political parties/associations are limited to the citizens of India. These limitations often also extend to interstate migrants as voter identity is connected to the electoral roll at the place of origin, found IMN’s IMPEX analysis. Although Indian citizens are eligible to transfer to new electoral rolls when they move, the process is not easy, particularly for short-term seasonal migrants who move often.

Poor access to health

In the field of health, immigrants and asylum seekers face additional requirements to access the Indian health system and enjoy little information or support targeted to meet their specific health needs. Schemes such as Ayushman Bharat extend to those families categorised in the lower-income brackets as defined by the socio-economic and caste census of 2011 and therefore exclude immigrants. However, schemes under the Integrated Child Development Services, which provides supplementary nutrition, pre-school and non-formal education, immunisation, and health check-ups to children aged 0 years to 6 years, can usually be availed without proof of identity.

The services of public health facilities like primary healthcare centres are also open to immigrant communities and asylum seekers in India – both of these options are recommended for the communities by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in India as well. These schemes may be utilised by immigrants in the same manner as RTE is.

Schemes of the Delhi government such as the Aam Aadmi Mohalla Clinic serve all residents living in areas deemed eligible (usually slum and jhuggi jhopri areas) and are available to immigrants as well.

Specific health schemes exist for Tibetan and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees as part of central level integration policies for these communities – these include the Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy of 2014 and specific schemes for maternal and child health by the government of Tamil Nadu for Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. However, these communities number approximately 200,000 in total and only form 3%-4% of the estimated legal immigrant population. Covid-19 has aggravated the existing policy gaps for refugee communities, as IndiaSpend reported in April 2020 and as argued by this September 2020 opinion editorial in Migration Policy Institute, a migration research think-tank based out of Washington DC, USA.

India’s score in the policy area of anti-discrimination is 9, compared to the Migrant Integration Policy Index average of 71. There is currently no legislation related to discrimination against immigrant communities. Article 15 of the Constitution of India addresses direct and/or indirect discrimination and/or harassment and/or instruction to discriminate on grounds of race, ethnicity, religion and belief – a provision that only exists for citizens.

It has also been argued that these provisions are, in themselves, inadequate, and India needs a comprehensive internal anti-discrimination law. Discrimination against immigrant communities is an issue and has occurred against various refugee groups as well as student groups from African countries such as Nigeria who have faced racist attacks.

In India, the path to permanent residence is mainly linked to the ability to fulfil certain economic requirements. However, even permanent residents are denied equal treatment with Indian nationals in key areas of life such as social security and assistance. For accessing citizenship in India, a person can apply for citizenship by naturalisation if they meet certain qualifications such as residence in India or service in the central government for a certain period of time: (i) for the 12 months immediately preceding the application for citizenship, and (ii) for 11 of the 14 years preceding the 12-month period, as specified in The Citizenship Act, 1955 Act. The process of accessing citizenship requires more than 10 years of residence and India does not offer dual nationality.

Among the eight policy areas, India has the highest score in family reunion. This policy area assesses if foreign residents can reunite with their families – for instance, whether legally resident foreign citizens can sponsor their entire families. Whether family members need prerequisites such as learning a language before departure for the destination country.

Whether the state protects family members from discretionary procedures (such as in deciding permit durations, considering personal circumstances when allowing or refusing entry, and giving the applicant a chance to appeal) and whether the family members get the same rights as their sponsor. Although India scores 75 in the policy area and many foreign citizens are eligible to apply for their dependent family members, according to information provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, there are no additional integration measures for these reunited families.

Flawed public perception

The understanding of the impacts and contributions of immigrants to developing countries’ economies is limited. Besides adding to the overall social and cultural diversity, immigrants from neighbouring countries such as Nepal have been contributing to the Indian economy in the informal sector as construction workers, domestic help, cleaners, bar and restaurant workers, and petty traders. Unfortunately, such contributions have not been assessed or measured, found a 2015 paper published in the Economic and Political Weekly.

Cross-border migrants often face harassment, are exploited by brokers, paid irregularly and sometimes substantially less than what they are promised by the employers, and are often ill-treated by the border security forces – as reported in this 2015 research study by the Mahanirban Calcutta Research Group, which conducted fieldwork with cross-border Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants. India has no formal immigration policy framework but existing policies regulate the entry and exit of people through the border.

The Indian government has also set up special tribunals for the determination of the question of whether a person is an illegal immigrant as per the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunals) Act, 1983. Beyond this, there are ad hoc policies and executive orders for the entry and rehabilitation of Tibetan and Sri Lankan refugees and for religious minorities from neighbouring Muslim majority countries. Even the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 – facilitating citizenship for religious minorities from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh – is estimated to actually benefit only 31,313 people, as detailed in the joint parliamentary committee report on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill (then, a Bill) in 2016.

The lack of policy intervention is further aggravated by the public perception and rhetoric around illegal immigration (mostly from Bangladesh), which have often been election issuesin India. The data, however, do not bear this out: Improved developmental outcomes in Bangladesh in recent years have brought the two countries on par, argues this opinion editorial in The Indian Express – as a result, immigrants from Bangladesh may no longer be seeking out India as a destination.

In a fast globalising world, as Indian emigrants in various destination countries benefit from effective integration schemes, policy in India for the country’s over 5 million immigrant population has clearly not kept pace, said experts.

“Countries have already started to invest in ensuring basic rights and a secure future for international migrants. Now, they need to guarantee migrants the same equal opportunities as nationals,” said Giacomo Solano, policy and statistical analyst at MPG, Brussels, where the Migrant Integration Policy Index was formulated.

Source: While millions of Indians seek better lives abroad, India treats its immigrants poorly

A new ranking is giving Canada’s approach to immigrants top marks, with a notable exception

Good summary of the report and findings. MIPEX is policy-based and evaluates policies, not how effectively they have been implemented or the actual socioeconomic outcomes.

For that reason, I prefer the OECD’s integration indicators approach as they compare outcomes such as unemployment, educational attainment, low-income etc. Have not yet updated this table with selected OECD indicators yet but unlikely that these have changed significantly.

And I remain to be convinced that access to municipal voting is that important in Canada given that we have a relatively straightforward citizenship path, one that will become even more facilitative should the Liberal government implement its election commitment to eliminate citizenship fees.

Nevertheless, policy comparison indices like MIPEX are useful policy tools given their comprehensive nature to understand differences between countries as long as one also looks at the actual socioeconomic indicators:

Canada has been ranked fourth in the world when it comes to integrating immigrants, after it fell out of the top five nations under the former Conservative government in the previous survey.

The country jumped two spots in the latest Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX) computed by an international network of experts in recognition of policies that emphasize equal rights, opportunities and security for newcomers.

The index, last released in 2015, puts Canada ahead of the world’s major immigration destinations: Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

“Since the last edition of MIPEX, Canada returned to its traditional path to citizenship and strengthened its commitment to equal rights and opportunities,” said the 2019 MIPEX profile on Canada to be released Wednesday.

“Over the past five years, Canada improved policies on access to basic rights and equal opportunities.”

Some improvements cited in the MIPEX profile of Canada include the 2017 Citizenship Act, by which the Liberal government removed obstacles for immigrants to meet residence and language requirements created by its Conservative predecessor; and the restoration of health care for asylum seekers.

“Five years ago, we were sixth and now we’re fourth. It’s worth saying that when you’re already so high up, it’s difficult to get an improvement,” said Anna Triandafyllidou, the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Migration and Integration at Ryerson University.

“I think the improvement should be valued significantly. Overall, we should congratulate ourselves.”

Basing their ranking on numerous indicators, researchers survey international government policies as to how well they treat migrants in eight areas: labour market mobility, family reunification, education, health, political participation, permanent residence, access to nationality and anti-discrimination efforts.

The index is peer-reviewed and released every five years to identify government policies that support or hinder newcomers in their integration. The number of countries covered has increased to 52 nations from 38 in the previous edition.

Top 10 countries

CountriesImmigration integration score
New Zealand77

Source: Migrant Integration Policy Index 2020 Get the data


Scoring 86 points out of 100, Sweden has remained the top ranked country, followed by Finland (86) and Portugal (81), with Canada being awarded 80 points. New Zealand, the U.S., Norway, Belgium, Australia and Brazil round up the top 10.

“Among English-speaking countries, Canada is becoming a more attractive and inclusive global destination,” said Thomas Huddleston, director of research for the Migration Policy Group, lead author of the European Union-funded index.

“Canada, along with New Zealand, is taking the place of previous top-ranking countries such as Australia, the U.K. and the United States, which all go down in the MIPEX rankings this round under pressure from populist political forces.”

The index credits Canada for overall policies that encourage the public to see immigrants as their equals, neighbours and potential citizens.

“These policies matter because the way that governments treat immigrants strongly influences how well immigrants and the public interact and think of each other,” it noted.

“Integration policies emerge as one of the strongest factors shaping not only the public’s willingness to accept and interact with immigrants, but also immigrants’ own attitudes, belonging, participation and even health in their new home country.”

Bottom 10 countries

CountriesImmigration integration score

Source: Migrant Integration Policy Index 2020 Get the data


As the world sees the rise of nationalism, populism and xenophobia, Triandafyllidou said Canada fortunately has very well established public support for immigration, with all major political parties recognizing the importance of pro-immigration policies.

But it’s not to say Canada doesn’t have room to improve on its ranking.

MIPEX found the political participation of immigrants in Canada “halfway favourable.”

While immigrants can become active in local civil society and become full citizens, it said Canada, unlike other major destinations, does not experiment in local democracy by expanding voting rights or consultative structures.

“Canada’s score is relatively lower in (newcomers’) political participation. The reason is there are no political rights for non-citizens,” said Triandafyllidou.

“It has not been part of the objective of different governments, including the current Liberal government, to open up channels for local political participation (as in) voting rights and to be a candidate.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/12/09/a-new-ranking-is-giving-canadas-approach-to-immigrants-top-marks-with-a-notable-exception.html

Canada takes a step back on immigration policy | Bauder and Omidvar

Harald Bauder and Ratna Omidvar overview on citizenship and immigration policy changes and their implications:

Ottawa has failed in our eyes to provide a convincing justification for these changes. Many dependants and elderly family members seem to be excluded not because they would be eligible for social benefits but simply because they are from low-income families.

Canada has a story of exceptionalism to tell and it is widely regarded by others as model in how it manages immigration and succeeds in integrating immigrants. However, the evidence now tells another story, one that is somewhat more tarnished than we know.

The new data signals a shift and encourages us to reflect on the most alarming trends and redirect where necessary. But there is good mixed in with the bad. Canada still leads in labour market integration, anti-discrimination and creating a sense of belonging for newcomers. The one-point drop is smoke and not fire.

Canada takes a step back on immigration policy | Toronto Star.

Canada ranked 3rd in integrating newcomers

The Annual MIPEX (international Migrant Integration Policy Index), showing Canada in third place. Canada gets lower marks for political integration as we do not provide permanent residents with municipal voting rights. However, our citizenship requirements allow more permanent residents to become citizens in less time than many of the other countries ranked higher in political integration.

Canada ranked 3rd in integrating newcomers | Toronto Star.