According to Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, India has the second largest diaspora in the
world after Overseas Chinese. The overseas Indian community estimated at over 25 million is
spread across every major region in the world. By creating an independent Ministry of Overseas
Indian Affairs, India has given mainstream attention to this 25 million strong Overseas Indian
community. The experience gained from bilateral and multilateral engagement with the Diaspora,
and with migration related institutions has helped India develop appropriate and well-calibrated
institutional responses both for Diaspora engagement and migration management. The common
thread that binds India with its Diaspora together is the idea of India and its intrinsic values.
The primary motivation for migration is economic and, at the heart of migration management, is
the imperative to maximise the development impact of international migration for all.
A person of Indian origin (PIO) is a person of Indian origin or ancestry (other than from
Pakistan, Bangladesh, and some other countries) who was or whose ancestors were born in
India but is not a citizen of India and is the citizen of another country. A PIO might have
been a citizen of India and subsequently taken the citizenship of another country.
The Indian government considers anyone of Indian origin up to four generations removed to be
a PIO, with the exception of those who were ever nationals of Afghanistan, Bangladesh,
Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, or Sri Lanka. The prohibited list periodically includes Iran as
The government issues a PIO Card to a PIO after verification of his or her origin or ancestry
and this card entitles a PIO to enter India without a visa. The spouse of a PIO can also be
issued a PIO card though the spouse might not be a PIO. This latter category includes foreign
spouses of Indian nationals, regardless of ethnic origin, so long as they were not born in, or
ever nationals of, the aforementioned prohibited countries. PIO Cards exempt holders from
many restrictions that apply to foreign nationals, such as visa and work permit requirements,
along with certain other economic limitations.
A non-resident Indian (NRI) is a citizen of India who holds an Indian passport and has
temporarily emigrated to another country for six months or more for work, residence or any
The term non-resident refers only to the tax status of a person who, as per section 6 of the
Income-tax Act of 1961, has not resided in India for a specified period for the purposes of the
Income Tax Act. The rates of income tax are different for persons who are “resident in India”
and for NRIs.
Emigration, Immigration, and Diaspora Relations in India
During the 19th century and until the end of the British Raj, much of the migration that occurred was
of poor workers to other British colonies under the indenture system. The major destinations, in
chronological order, were Mauritius, Guyana, the Caribbean, Fiji, and East Africa. Before the
larger wave of migration during the British colonial era, a significant group of South Asians,
especially from the west coast (Sindh, Surat, Konkan, Malabar and Lanka) regularly travelled to
East Africa, especially Zanzibar. It is believed that they travelled in Arab dhows, Maratha Navy
ships (under Kanhoji Angre), and possibly Chinese junks and Portuguese vessels. Some of these
people settled in East Africa and later spread to places like present day Uganda. Later they mingled
with the much larger wave of South Asians who came with the British.
Indian migration to the modern countries of Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania started nearly a century
ago when these were part of British East Africa. Most of these migrants were of Gujarati or
Punjabi origin. Indian-led businesses are the backbone of the economies of these countries. These
ranged in the past from small ruralgrocery stores to sugar mills. After independence from Britain in
the 1960s, the majority of Asians, as they were known, moved out or were forced out from these
countries (in 1970’s by Idi Amin in Uganda). Most of them moved to Britain, or India, or other
popular destinations like the USA and Canada.
Gujarati and Sindhi merchants and traders settled in Iran, Aden, Oman, Bahrain, Dubai, South
Africa and East African countries, most of which were ruled by the British. Indian Rupee was the
legal currency in many countries of Arabian Peninsula.
After the 1970s oil boom in the Middle East, numerous Indians emigrated to work in the Gulf
countries. With modern transportation and expectations, this was on a contractual basis rather than
permanent as in the 19 th century cases. These Gulf countries have a common policy of not
naturalizing non-Arabs, even if they are born there.
The 1990s IT boom and rising economy in the USA attracted numerous Indians who emigrated to
the United States of America. Today, the USA has the third largest number of Indians. Also, as per UNESCO Institute for Statistics the number of Indian students make India second after China
among the world’s largest sending countries for tertiary students.
In addition, Indian professionals, such as doctors, teachers, engineers, also played an important part
in the development of these countries.
Thus, contemporary flows from India are of two kinds:
The first is the emigration of highly skilled professionals, workers and students with tertiary
and higher educational qualifications migrating to developed countries, particularly to the USA,
UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. As discussed, this flow started after Indian
independence and gathered momentum with the emigration of IT professional in the 1990s.
The second is the flow of unskilled and semi-skilled workers going mostly to the Gulf
countries and Malaysia, following the oil boom in the Gulf countries, mainly from Kerala and
other south Indian states. Of late, however northern states in India like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
have also emerged as the leading states of origin for such migration.
Role of the Diaspora as development partners
1. Building transnational networks
The Diasporas provide important links and contact points between home and host societies by building transnational networks which transact not only emotional and familial bonds, but also cultural, social and economic interests. With advances in information technology and cheaper transport services, the
Diaspora, as compared to situations prevailing earlier, are able to maintain connections with people and networks back home more effectively. Such Diaspora associations in host countries impact and influence local businesses, evenpolitical decisions, thereby ensure a friendlier environment and outcomes for the existing and prospective migrants.
2. Channel remittances, capital and investments Diaspora associations help to channel remittances, capital and investments to benefit not only home
communities, but also by developing partnerships with host country counterparts, benefiting both. The same can be said of the exchange of skills, cuisines, ideas, knowledge and technology.
3. Development-migration paradigm
With the second-largest overseas population, India has the status as the country that receives amongst the highest remittances, its experience in effectively addressing the problems of poverty, inequality and unemployment in an unfailingly democratic manner, India can provide the much needed impetus to meaningfully reinforce the symbiotic development-migration paradigm.
4. Sources of investment, expertise, knowledge and technology
These ‘Global Indians’ can serve as bridges by providing access to markets, sources of investment, expertise, knowledge and technology; they can shape, by their informed participation, the discourse on migration and development, and help articulate the need for policy coherence in the countries of destination and origin. To capitalize on such a vast base of Indian Diaspora requires not only the home country to establish conditions and institutions for a sustainable, symbiotic and mutually rewarding engagement with the Diaspora-which are central to govt. programmes and activities; but for the Diaspora to project themselves as intrinsically motivated and progressive communities as well
The Prime Minister’s Global Advisory Council (PMGAC)
PMGAC serves as a high-level body to draw upon the talent of the best Overseas Indian minds
wherever they might reside.
The India Center for Migration
Earlier called Indian Council of Overseas Employment (ICOE), a not-for-profit society, it serves as a ‘strategic think tank on matters relating to overseas employment markets for Indians and overseas Indian workers.
The Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre (OIFC)
OIFC is a not-for-profit trust in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), to serve as a one stop shop for economic engagement, investment and business.
The India Development Foundation (IDF)
It is also a not-for-profit trust to serve as a credible single window to facilitate Diaspora philanthropy and lead Overseas Indian philanthropic capital into India’s social development effort.
The Global Indian Network of Knowledge
Global-INK is an electronic platform to facilitate transfer of knowledge with the objective of leveraging the expertise, skills and experience of Overseas Indians.
Overseas Indian Centres (OIC)
OIC at the Indian Missions in Washington and Abu Dhabi, to begin with, to serve as field formations on matters relating to Overseas Indians.
Flagship Schemes for Indian Diaspora
1. Pravasi Bharatiya Divas
Since 2003, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (Overseas Indians’ Day) sponsored by Ministry of Overseas
Indian Affairs, is being celebrated on 9 January each year in India, to “mark the contribution of
Overseas Indian community in the development of India”. The day commemorate the arrival of
Mahatma Gandhi in India from South Africa, and during three-day convention held around the day, a forum for issues concerning the Indian diaspora is held and the annual Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Awards are given away.
2. “Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)” scheme
As of January 2006, The Indian government has introduced the “Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)” scheme to allow a limited form of dual citizenship to Indians, NRIs and PIOs for the first time since independence in 1947. The PIO Card scheme is expected to be phased out in coming years in favour of OCI. It is proposed to merge the PIO card and OCI card scheme and call it Overseas Indian Card
3. Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children (SPDC)
A scheme called ‘Scholarship Programme for Diaspora Children (SPDC)’ was launched in the academic year 2006-07. Under the scheme 100 scholarships upto US$ 4000 per annum are granted to PIO and
NRI students for undergraduate courses in different verticals. The scheme is being implemented by Educational Consultants India Limited (Ed. CIL), a Government of India Enterprise under the
Ministry of Human Resource Development. The scheme is open to NRIs / PIOs/ OCIs from 40
countries with substantial Indian Diaspora population. The applications from students who meet the prescribed eligibility criteria are to be evaluated and short listed by a selection committee consisting of officers from the Ministry of Human Resource Development, Ed.CIL (India) Ltd. and MOIA.
4. Pravasi Bhartiya Bima Yojana (PBBY)
The Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana is a compulsory insurance scheme for overseas Indian workers having Emigration Check Required (ECR) passport going to ECR countries.
5. Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojna
A pension and life insurance scheme called “Mahatma Gandhi Pravasi Suraksha Yojna” for the
Overseas Indian workers having Emigration Check required passports has been introduced on a pilot basis in Kerala from 1st May, 2012. The objective of the scheme is to encourage and enable such overseas Indian workers to save for old age, save for their return and Resettlement by giving
government contribution, and obtain a life insurance cover against natural death.
6. Swarnpravas Yojna
The Planning Commission accorded ‘in principle’ approval to the proposed plan Scheme namely
‘Swarnpravas Yojna’ to be launched in the 12th Five year Plan. The scheme aims to facilitate creation of a framework of internationally acceptable standards of training, certification etc. so that Indian youth are able to find employment in the International market. Outlays to be provided to MOIA during the 12th Five Year Plan for the Scheme are decided by the Planning Commission in due course.