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Gotta Keep on Movin’: May 2019 Redux

Introducing IMPEX: Integrating Migrants in India

A Primer on the Interstate Migrant Policy Index (IMPEX) + New IMN Extra Podcast with Dr. Ashwani Kumar

Internal migration (intrastate + interstate migration) is a crucial livelihood strategy for low-income households and communities in India. There is overwhelming evidence that interstate migration, especially, improves households’ socioeconomic outcomes and brings about positive changes in both sending and receiving regions. Already ~30% of India’s workforce is constituted by migrants.

But despite the importance and scale of migration within India, the academic consensus is that India’s migration levels are less than other countries at the same stage of economic development. In fact, the low level of migration, especially between Indian states, is reflected in the country’s relatively low urbanisation rate — which was 31 per cent in 2011, significantly lower than in countries with comparable Gross National Product (GNP) levels. In a cross-country comparison of internal migration rates between 2000 and 2010, it was shown that India ranks last in a sample of about 80 countries.

Based on available evidence, short term (1–3 month) seasonal migration within states, often within the same district, is the dominant migration strategy in India. A 2016 World Bank study found that the “average migration between neighbouring districts in the same state was at least 50 per cent larger than that of neighbouring districts on different sides of a state border.

There are many reasons for the dominance of intrastate migration: household income, the availability of information, as well as community networks in source and destination areas. Typically, shorter-term migration strategies are utilised by individuals from lower income and historically backward communities, while interstate and international migration are dominated by more affluent and privileged households.


In this episode of IMN Extra, Varun is joined by Dr Ashwani Kumar from the School of Development Studies at TISS, Mumbai. Dr Kumar has written some of the most cited reports on migration and elections. In a wide-ranging and instructive discussion, we cover election and welfare, the ethical dimensions of migrant voting and the nature of voting rights in India.

You can access the podcast here.

Produced by Nakul Aggarwal, theme Track from Kenji Kawai’s Ghost In The Shell (Original Soundtrack)

The Importance of Migrant Integration

There is another dimension to the low level of interstate migration in India: lack of integration possibilities for migrants in their destination states. Domicile based quotas and general apathy in state-level policies towards out of state migrants stop them from accessing jobs, education, welfare entitlements, housing, health benefits and even the electoral process.

Migrating from one state to another can lead to loss of certain entitlements enjoyed in the home/source state. Even in central government schemes, the benefits reach the people through state or local governments, available only to the permanent residents or “domiciles” of the respective state. In such a situation, the interstate migrants lose their entitlements when they cross the borders of their native state.

Simply put, interstate migrants do not get the same access to opportunities as residents of the destination states in India. When you combine this with the general vulnerabilities and challenges of being a migrant in a diverse country like India, migrating to another state is not an appealing prospect at all.

However, despite all the barriers and institutional discrimination, interstate migration in India has increased, slowly, in the past two decades. This is more a reflection of falling poverty levels and widening interregional income and wealth gaps in India. Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat along with Punjab and Haryana have been the major destination states for migrants in India.

But the challenges faced by migrants in these states are huge: their own agency is severely constrained and, invariably, they are extremely dependent on their networks and employers for their livelihood. Migrants have little or no state-level support and are often scapegoated by local law enforcement and politicians for any trouble. They are underpaid and underserved and are unable to be fully productive and fulfil their potential. Interviews with interstate migrants across India reveal widespread despondency about their quality of life and a yearning to go back home eventually.

It is essential that migrants are supported to live dignified lives and become productive members of society. To achieve this, the effective socio-economic integration of migrants is essential.

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“We are from Latur, Maharashtra but spend most of our year here at the brick kiln. My whole family is here; our children are also enrolled in local schools here. They speak better Telugu than Marathi.” — Ram Das, an interstate migrant.

Read more such stories in our photo essay on migration from and into Telangana.

IMPEX 2019

The Interstate Migrant Policy Index (IMPEX) was developed to catalogue and analyse the state level policies for the integration of out of state migrants. The aim was to address the following line of inquiries.

1. To what extent do the state level policy frameworks favour the integration of internal migrants in India?

2. How do these policy frameworks vary state-to-state?

Inspired by the Migration Policy Integration Index (MIPEX), originally used for comparing the migrant integration policy frameworks of third-country nationals in the European Union, the India Migration Now team in consultation with migrant scholars and policy experts all over India developed 63 policy indicators across 8 policy areas.

You can read more about the underlying methodology here.


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We then evaluated the major destination states for migrants in the past decade: Delhi, Maharashtra, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat along with Punjab and Haryana.

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IMPEX 2019 Results

The results of the evaluation reveal widespread apathy and discrimination towards migrants by state-level policymakers. State level policies in India have a long way to go in making migration a beneficial choice for out of state migrants.

The results also suggest that state-level social welfare systems and political participation measures need to be more inclusive to ensure the integration of migrants. Often, even if states make provisions to provide access to benefits and support, no measures are put in place to make migrants aware of the relevant schemes and policies or to facilitate their access.

Out of all the states evaluated, Kerala’s policies are relatively more considerate of internal migrants and their needs than other major migrant-receiving states. This is largely a legacy of Kerala’s labour friendly political and institutional ecosystem, and it has encouraged longer and permanent migration, especially from West Bengal and the North East. But there is still considerable improvement needed, especially in policy areas like social benefits and housing where Kerala scores below the IMPEX average.

Maharashtra and Punjab are in second place, closely followed by Haryana. These states have a slightly better policy scenario for migrants compared to Tamil Nadu, Delhi and Gujarat. Given the scale of migration into these three states, the lack of consideration of migrants in their policy formulation is a matter of great concern.


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In the coming weeks, we will release detailed analyses of each state evaluated and other IMPEX outputs on our Medium page and social media accounts.

Eventually, we hope to evaluate all the Indian states and work with policymakers to further validate and ensure the uptake of this tool for policy formulation.

We also hope that IMPEX evaluations are periodically updated in order to track policy changes over time. Through IMPEX we hope to kick start a more structured conversation around the integration of migrants in India.

If you are interested in being involved with the IMPEX project as a peer reviewer or otherwise, please drop us a line in reply.

Thank you for reading!

The IMN Team

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