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Research Areas / International Migration

Indians in the Gulf: The Migration Question and the Way Forward

Published on July 25, 2023


S Irudaya Rajan, Chair, (IIMAD), Kerala, India and Divya Balan, Assistant Professor, FLAME University, Pune and Senior Research Fellow, IIMAD.

The India-Gulf migration corridor is centuries old and built upon the historic trade and
commercial routes to and via Arab lands. Principally for economic reasons, the modern day Gulf migration from India was prompted by the discovery of oil reserves in the
region in the 1930s. However, the mass migration of Indians through formal and informal
channels kick-started with the oil boom of the 1970s. There has been an uninterrupted
migration flow since then and today India is among the top sources of migrant workers
in the region. Multitudinous studies have explored the political economy of Gulf
migration from India and the crucial role of its migrant workers in driving the migration development nexus and the infrastructural and societal transformation both India and the
Gulf States have witnessed in the past many decades. However, a critical gap exists in
drawing public and policy attention to the fault lines in the long-established India-Gulf
migration corridor. This is particularly crucial in the post-pandemic context as COVID-19
has exposed several previously neglected but prevailing barriers in ensuring rights-based
legal mobility between India and the Gulf, decent work conditions for white and blue collar Gulf migrants, and their reintegration upon returning to India. The pandemic has
worsened the migration synergies, and hence it is imperative to re-evaluate the Indian
labour migration to the Gulf to mainstream the conversations related to the issues migrant
workers face while in employment and upon their return. There is a vital need for migrant centric and sustainable policies at home and in host countries to humanize the corridor and
realise the potential and welfare of the migrants and returnees.