Indians Abroad (Indian Diaspora)

According to the Global Migration Report 2020, India continues to be the largest country of origin for international migrants, with a diaspora of 17.5 million people worldwide, and it received the highest remittances from Indians living abroad, totaling $78.6 billion (or 3.4 percent of India’s GDP).

Today’s Indian diaspora is more prosperous than in the past, and their contribution to India’s growth is growing. It contributes by remittances, investment, campaigning for India, promoting Indian culture overseas, and with their intelligence and industry, they help develop a positive image of India.

The term “diaspora” originates from the Greek term diaspeirein, which translates as “dispersion.” The phrase expanded over time and now broadly refers to anyone who is a citizen of a certain country and shares a common ancestry or culture but resides beyond their homeland for a variety of reasons.

In India, the term “diaspora” refers to Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs), and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), the latter of which was amalgamated into a single category – OCI — in 2015.

During British administration, vast numbers of Indians migrated as indentured labourers to former colonies such as Fiji, Kenya, and Malaysia. It continued post-independence, with Indians of various social classes migrating to countries such as the United Kingdom, the United States, and Gulf countries.

India’s Policy Towards the Diaspora

  • India was initially concerned that advocating for overseas Indians might insult host countries, which should have full responsibility for their welfare and security.
  • According to J L Nehru, the diaspora could not expect India to fight for their rights, and hence India’s foreign policy in the 1950s was built as a model of non-intervention whenever emigrant Indians encountered difficulties in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and elsewhere.
  • However, Rajiv Gandhi was the first Prime Minister to alter the diaspora policy in the 1980s, by urging Indians living abroad, regardless of their nationality, to join in nation-building efforts, similar to the overseas Chinese communities.
  • After 2000, under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, a slew of positive measures were introduced, including a separate Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs, the Person of Indian Origin (PIO) Card, Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, Overseas Citizen of India Card, NRI funds, and voting rights for Indian citizens living abroad.
  • Additionally, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the e-migrate system in 2015, which requires all foreign employers to register with the database.
  • The present government started a diaspora engagement initiative called the ‘Know India Program’ (KIP) in 2016 to educate Indian-origin youngsters (18-30 years) with their Indian ancestry and modern India.

Significance of Indian Diaspora

  • Economic Front: The fact that the Indian diaspora is one of the wealthiest minorities in a number of developed countries aided them in lobbying for favourable terms regarding India’s interests. For example, while Indians make up less than 1% of the US population (2.8 million), they are the most educated and wealthiest minority, according to a 2013 Pew survey. The migration of low-skilled labour (particularly to West Asia) has also aided in the reduction of India’s disguised unemployment. In general, migrant remittances benefit the balance of payments. $70-80 billion in remittances assist in bridging a larger trade deficit. Migrant labour encouraged the flow of tacit information, commercial and business concepts, and technologies into India by weaving a web of cross-national networks.
  • Political Front: Numerous people of Indian origin hold senior political posts in a number of nations; in the United States, they currently constitute a sizable portion of the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the government. The political weight of India’s diaspora can be gauged by the fact that it was instrumental in convincing sceptical legislators to support the India-US nuclear deal.
  • Foreign Policy Front: The Indian diaspora is not only a source of soft power for India, but also a fully transferrable political vote bank. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reception at Madison Square Garden is intended to express gratitude to members of the Indian-American community who contributed significantly to his electronic campaign and election funds. The institutionalisation of “diaspora diplomacy” is a clear indication that a country’s diaspora community has become a far more significant focus of foreign policy and associated government activities.
  • Enhancing India’s Soft Power: In many affluent countries, the Indian diaspora is one of the wealthiest minorities. Their advantage is evident in what is known as “diaspora diplomacy,” in which they serve as “bridge-builders” between their native and adoptive countries. For instance, the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Deal serves as an example, as ethnic Indians in the United States successfully advocated for the deal’s signature. Additionally, the Indian diaspora is not just a source of soft power for India, but also a fully transferable political vote bank. Additionally, a large number of persons of Indian descent hold senior political posts in a number of nations, bolstering India’s political power in multilateral institutions such as the United Nations.


  • Diverse diaspora: The Indian Diaspora has a variety of demands of the Indian Government. For example, the Gulf diaspora looks to India for assistance with social issues. While individuals from wealthy countries such as the United States seek investment opportunities in India. Meanwhile, Indian populations in nations such as Fiji and Mauritius seek cultural reconnection with their homeland.
  • Anti-Globalization: With the anti-globalization trend gaining momentum, there has been an uptick in suspected hate crimes against the Indian minority.
  • Crisis in West Asia: The instability in West Asia, combined with the decline in oil prices, has fueled fears of a mass return of Indian nationals, squeezing remittances and putting pressure on the labour market. India must also recognise that the diaspora in West Asia is largely unskilled and involved primarily in the infrastructure sector. After the infrastructure boom is complete, India should prepare for the possibility of returning Indian employees.
  • Cholesterol Control: There are numerous shortcomings in the Indian system that make it difficult for the diaspora to engage with or invest in the country. For instance, concerns such as red tape, repeated clearances, and distrust of the government operate as impediments to taking advantage of opportunities given by the Indian Diaspora.
  • Negative Repercussions: It’s worth noting that a robust diaspora does not always translate into benefits for the home country. India has encountered difficulties with negative advertising and foreign backing for separatist activities such as the Khalistan movement.
  • The Diaspora’s Impact on Indian Democracy: The Indian diaspora is a diverse population with distinct requests from the Indian government. Negative campaigning and foreign money follow as a result. As a result, these demands are in direct opposition to the Indian government’s policy. The latest demonstration in support of farmer protests exemplifies this. Many Indian diaspora organisations have previously called for the repeal of Article 370 in Kashmir, as well as the Citizenship (Amendment) Act and the National Register of Citizens (NRC).
  • Impact of Covid-19: Covid-19 has generated an anti-globalization wave, with many migrant workers being forced to return to India and now facing emigration restrictions. Both the Indian diaspora and the Indian economy have suffered as a result of this.

Role of Non-Resident Indians in making India Self Reliant

  • Financial Contribution: The Indian diaspora, which numbers around 18 million people, is a powerful community. In terms of global remittances, they are the leading contributors to the domestic economy. In reality, Indian remittances account for 13% of worldwide remittances. The amount of money returned back to India by Indians accounts for about 3.2 percent of the country’s GDP.
  • The contribution of the Indian diaspora to the globe: The contributions of the Indian diaspora to the world can be split into two categories (apart from others who are in myriad occupations and almost in every country in the world).
  • Technological graduates: These are engineering and management graduates who work in high-value jobs primarily in, but not exclusively in, western countries such as the United States and Europe.
  • Manual Labor: This category includes the lower-skilled population that has been employed for manual labour, primarily in Arab or West Asian countries.
  • Contribution to the place of residence: They also make a significant contribution to the country where they live. For example, the Indian diaspora in the United Kingdom accounts for over 1.8 percent of the total population but nearly 6% of the total GDP.
  • Part of Global supply chains: Self-reliant India perceives India as a contributor to the globe and a component of global supply networks, rather than being isolated from the rest of the world. The COVID crisis demonstrated the dangers of relying on foreign sources for raw materials and intermediate products. As a result, the goal of self-reliance is to develop alternative supply chains. For example, due to the origin of the COVID issue in Wuhan, Chinese industries were forced to close down, and worldwide raw material supplies were disrupted. Self-reliant India and the Japan-led Supply Chain Resilience Initiative have sprung out as a result of this.
  • Shaping perceptions: Following the 1991 LPG reforms, the departure of the Indian diaspora played a significant role in changing the world’s opinion of Indian labour. The leadership positions of many Indians in Silicon Valley tech companies have bolstered India’s image as a technology powerhouse and a source of high-quality human resources. As part of the world’s leading technology corporations, Indian executives have been acknowledged with being the forerunners of innovation. Executives such as Sundar Pichai, Satya Nadella, and others have risen to the top of their respective industries.
  • Focus on ‘Make in India’: Indians are among the world’s wealthiest people. Encourage them to invest in India to tap on this stream of capital. Indian diaspora can also contribute to India’s development storey by investing in greenfield and brownfield projects, as well as portfolio investments in India, by leveraging their corporate leadership positions in Silicon Valley and other technology industries.
  • Knowledge Economy: Experts predict that the Artificial Intelligence-driven business will create high-value jobs in the near future. In this circumstance, the country’s investment in engineering education is projected to pay dividends. Similarly, the Indian diaspora is expected to steer policymakers in the right direction so that they can get the most out of the changing global landscape. The Vaibhav conference (see inset) of Indian scientists overseas, for example, has provided several ideas for India’s benefit.
  • India’s inherent strengths: Indians, in the form of doctors and healthcare workers, are well-integrated into the global healthcare system. This, paired with India’s inherent strength in the pharmaceutical sector, can result in a productive cooperation. For example, the Oxford-Astra Zenca vaccine is manufactured by Serum Institute of India, which is a symbiotic partnership between the UK research and development business and the Indian pharmaceutical industry. Similarly, Rolls Royce will co-develop the engine for the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas in India, giving it much-needed strength and global prominence.

The Indian diaspora is India’s most valuable strategic asset

  • Global labour source: India can become a significant centre of global labour supplies since it has one of the largest pools of relatively low-wage semi-skilled and skilled labour. Migration from India to the Gulf and then to North America has increased dramatically in recent decades. Given these new realities, India should take advantage of future trends to improve not only the wellbeing of Indians living outside the country, but also the welfare of Indians living within the country.
  • Influential Positions: The list of NRIs and their contributions to the globe is infinite, from Google CEO Sundar Pichai to Nobel laureate physicist Har Gobind Khorana and Microsoft CEO Sathya Nadella to world-renowned music director Zubin Mehta. All of Singapore’s presidents, New Zealand’s governor-general, and the prime ministers of Mauritius and Trinidad & Tobago are of Indian heritage.
  • As a pressure group: The powerful Indian diaspora influences not only popular opinion, but also government policies in the countries where they dwell, all to India’s benefit. India gains a lot from these folks in terms of attracting huge international corporations and entrepreneurial enterprises. For example, in 2008, I lobbied for the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement Bill.
  • Agents of change: Diasporas function as ‘agents of change,’ facilitating and enhancing investment, driving industrial growth, and boosting international trade and tourism. An accelerating technical sector is another tangible long-term benefit of cultivating relationships with an engaged Diaspora.
  • Soft Power: Yoga, Ayurveda, Indian spiritualism, Bollywood, and Indian food have made India famous over the world. It has even resulted in the re-establishment of numerous long-dormant partnerships with various countries.
  • Humanitarian Aid: There have been numerous instances where the diaspora has stepped up to help their Indian relatives in times of tragedy. For example, during the recent Kerala floods, the diaspora provided enormous assistance in the shape of personnel, material, and money. The Indian diaspora in Shanghai, China, has contributed Rs. 32.13 lakh to the Chief Minister’s Kerala flood relief fund.
  • Political power: Numerous people of Indian heritage hold top political positions in many nations, and they are now a big component of both the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the government, in the United States. Rishi Sunak, Alok Sharma, and Priti Patel are the three ministers that now hold senior positions in the UK government.

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