The term “diaspora” is derived from the Greek word diaspeirein, which means “dispersion”. Over time, the term evolved, and now loosely refers to any person/s belonging to a particular country with a common origin or culture, but residing outside their homeland for various reasons.

The Government of India defines the term as

  • A generic term to describe the people who migrated from territories that are currently within the borders of the Republic of India.
  • It also refers to their descendants.
  • Today, ‘diaspora’ is commonly understood to include Non-Resident Indians (NRIs), Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and Overseas Citizens of India (OCI), of which PIO and OCI card holders were merged under one category — OCI — in 2015.

According to a Ministry of External Affairs report, there are 31 million NRIs and PIOs residing outside India as of December 2018.

According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs based on migrants overseas with India as the country of citizenship at birth, in 2019 Indians comprised world’s largest migrant diaspora populations in the world with over 17.5 million (6.4% of global migrants or 0.4% of India’s population) Indians out of total 272 million migrants worldwide


In the post-World War II period, most of the Indian labor and professionals scattered and it was a worldwide phenomenon.

  • The incorporation of the British Empire in India can be linked to the existence of modern Indian Diaspora all over the world.
  • Dating back to nineteenth century, Indian indentured labor (Girmitiyas) was taken over to the British colonies in different parts of the world.
  • Over two million Indian men fought on behalf of the empire in several series of wars fought abroad, including the Boer War and the two World Wars, and some remained behind to claim the land on which they had fought as their own.
  • In the early part of 20th century many Gujarati traders left for East Africa in large numbers as if it’s an emulation of their ancestors.

In the post-World War II period, most of the Indian labor and professionals scattered and it was a worldwide phenomenon.

Legal framework

A) Non-Resident Indian (NRI)

  • Non-resident refers 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.
  • For the purposes of the Income Tax Act, “residence in India” requires stay in India of at least 182 days in a financial year or 365 days spread out over four consecutive years and at least 60 days in that year.
  • According to the act, any Indian citizen who does not meet the criteria as a “resident of India” is a non-resident of India and is treated as NRI for paying income tax.

B) Person of Indian Origin (PIO)

A Person of Indian Origin (PIO) means a foreign citizen (except a national of Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and/or Nepal), who:

  • at any time held an Indian passport, or
  • either of their parents/grandparents/great-grandparents were born and permanently resident in India as defined in Government of India Act, 1935 and other territories that became part of India thereafter provided neither was at any time a citizen of any of the aforesaid countries (as referred above), or
  • is a spouse of a citizen of India or a PIO.

C) Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI)

  • The Constitution of India does not permit full dual citizenship.
  • The OCI card is effectively a long-term visa, with restrictions on voting rights and government jobs.
  • The card is available to certain PIOs, and while it affords holders residency and other rights, it does have restrictions, and is not considered to be any type of Indian citizenship from a constitutional perspective.

Influence of Indian diaspora

A) Remittances

The greatest benefits of engaging with the over 30-million-strong Indian diaspora has been in terms of remittances.

  • India was the world’s largest recipient of remittances, receiving over US$ 62.7 billion.
  • Remittances aid in socio-economic development as it is used for the recipient family’s personal use.
  • These remittances have played a role in poverty reduction while changing consumption behavior in rural areas as the remittance was mostly used to purchase food items, other consumer goods, and healthcare.

B) Global diaspora organization and lobby groups

Political lobbying groups of Indian diaspora influence the foreign policies of other nations in India’s favor.

  • Opinions can be channeled through the media, think-tanks and the press to increase the diaspora’s bargaining strength.
  • They can effectively help shape foreign policy, and act as “bridge-builders” between their home and adopted countries.
  • Lobbying for the US-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement Bill in 2008 is a prominent example of active diaspora lobbying

C) Globalization of Indian Economy

Indian diaspora has significant impact on the globalization of economy of India

  • The long-term advantage in nurturing ties with an active diaspora is an accelerated technological sector and increased socio-economic development.
  • Some examples to illustrate this phenomenon are Bengaluru, Gurugram and Hyderabad as thriving Information Technology hubs that not only house multinational companies (MNCs) like Amazon, Google, Facebook and Uber, but also multiple Indian start-ups like Flipkart, Ola, Swiggy
  • Indian origin CEOs of top global multinational companies such as Sundar Pichai (Google/Alphabet) and Satya Nadella (Microsoft) further

D) Work as Intermediaries

  • They act as important intermediaries linking traditional development actors and local communities.
  • Their funding and support to NGOs has played a stellar role in addressing grassroots problems like poverty and illiteracy in Rural India

E) Diaspora Diplomacy

An important advantage in having a large emigrant group is “diaspora diplomacy”.

  • India’s permanent membership to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) can become a reality with support from the diaspora. Apart from political pressures and ministerial and diplomatic level lobbying, India can leverage its diaspora to influence states such as Canada and Mexico to support India’s membership
  • The large populations of Indian expatriates in countries like Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore present an opportunity to nurture a growing, mutual relationship.

F) Spread Indian culture

  • The Indian diaspora has contributed to the spread of Indian culture and creation of the Indosphere of Greater India, through historical spread of Indian architecture, Bollywood, culture, Indian cuisine, Indian martial arts, spread of Hinduism in Southeast Asia and spread of Buddhism on Silk Road.
  • Generations of diaspora have enhanced India’s soft power though proliferation of both religious and non-religious texts

G) Strengthen Brand India

  • The NRIs, PIOs and professionals settled abroad are a vast reservoir to articulate the national interests and affairs globally. This resource will be harnessed for strengthening Brand India
  • The Indian diaspora can be India’s voice even while being loyal citizens in those countries. That is the long-term goal behind the diaspora diplomacy. It is like the way the Jewish community looks out for Israel’s interests in the United States

H) Model Minority

  • The Indian diaspora is looked at as a “model minority” and comprises many accomplished individuals.
  • They are becoming increasingly visible in electoral politics, e.g. US President Donald Trump, recently appointed Indians to key positions within his administration, including Nikki Haley as US Ambassador to the UN
  • In Europe, Ireland witnessed the rise of Leo Varadkar and Portugal has Antonio Costa, both of whom serve as prime ministers in their respective countries.
  • Both Varadkar and Costa are second-generation migrants whose fathers uprooted from India— the former is from Maharashtra while the latter migrated from Goa.


A) Demand for dual citizenship in India by PIO and NRIs

  • Most Indians would not give up their Indian passports if the Indian government allowed dual-nationality.
  • In not allowing dual nationality, forcing the NRIs to choose – and they often choose the foreign passport over the Indian one purely for convenience

B) Abandoned NRI wives

  • Indian wives abandoned by NRI husbands living abroad has become an issue.
  • National Commission for Women (NCW) received 4779 complaints in 10 year period from 2009 to 2019.
  • Most complaints were received from abandoned wives in India against husbands living in USA (1105 or 23%), Australia (378 or 7%), Canada (326 or 7%).

C) Mismatch of Priorities

  • Support of the diaspora is neither automatic nor continuous, and their interests need not be India’s priorities.
  • For example, the Indian community in the US was not vocal enough in criticising President Donald Trump’s proposal to restrict the H-1B visa programme that has benefited many Indians.

D) Misuse of Remittances

  • Another challenge is that remittances may not always be used for beneficial purposes.
  • For instance, India faced problems due to foreign funding for extremist movements like the Khalistan movement

E) Policy Problem

  • the e-Migrate system and the Minimum Referral Wages policy have been detrimental to India as companies now find it easier to hire labour from countries like Bangladesh and Pakistan.
  • These policies have also faced criticism from countries like the UAE who claim it is a “breach of our sovereignty”

F) Narco-Terrosrim and Human Trafficking

  • Transnational narco-trafficking and organized human trafficking have been become a nuisance with drug mafia using ethnic immigrant communities and exploiting gaps in migration control efforts to ply their trades,

G) Racist Attacks

  • Recently with the rise of Hate crimes , people of Indian origin have repeated at the end of Racial abuse and violence

H) Protectionist regimes

  • With the rise of protectionism across the globe there has been a rising trend of anti-immigrant practices that may have an adverse effect on Indian Diaspora e.g. recently US proposed to restrict the H1B visas which has been a blessing for the Indian American community

I) PIO card renewal

  • The PIO card carries a major flaw: it still requires foreign passport holders to register themselves with the police if their stay exceeds 180 days, or six months.
  • This is a cumbersome process which requires further streamlining to make it hassle free and user friendly

Recent Indian Initiatives

A) Pravasi Bharatiya Divas

  • Since 2003, the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas is celebrated in India on 9 January each year, to “mark the contributions of the Overseas Indian community in the development of India”.
  • The day commemorates the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi in India from South Africa, and during a 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 bestowed.

B) Policy Initiatives

A number of policies have announced keeping in mind the protection of welfare and interest of Indians abroad.

  • The 2014 Minimum Referral Wages (MRW), applicable only to Emigration Check Required (ECR) countries, increased the minimum wage of Indian workers employed as industrial workers, domestic servants, cleaners and labourers.
  • To partially reduce the risk of vulnerability from fraudulent contracts, nurses for example can now only be recruited through one of the six state government placement agencies.
  • Furthermore, in 2015, the Ministry of External Affairs launched the e-migrate system that requires all foreign employers to register in the database. Cater to the needs of NRIs and OCIs by providing them with consular services, protection and conduct outreach activities to engage with them.

C) Rescue Operations

  • Operation Raahat was carried out by the Indian Armed Forces to evacuate Indian citizens and foreign nationals from Yemen during the 2015 military intervention by Saudi Arabia and its allies in that country during the Yemeni Crisis
  • Sankat Mochan, the rescue mission in South Sudan, was successfully and diligently carried out.
  • Moreover, with the economic downturn in some countries in the Middle East, many Indians found their contracts being terminated—this posed difficulties for the Indian missions in these countries as the affected workers had to return to India.
  • Rescuing these workers is costly, but India rescued 4,600 workers from Saudi Oger and Saad Group companies alone.

D) Know India Program (KIP)

  • It was launched in 2003
  • The programme is aimed mostly at Girmitiya youth and provides an opportunity for them “to better understand and appreciate contemporary India, foster closer ties with the land of their ancestors and enhance their engagement with India
  • This program will help mould them into unofficial ambassadors of India.
  • Other youth-centric outreach programmes include scholarships to pursue undergraduate courses in recognised University Grants Commission universities in India, as well as Bharat Ko Jano online quizzes that test the participants’ knowledge of India’s heritage, history and culture.

Way forward

Over the years, the diasporic populations have become an increasingly important factor in international politics. The Indian diaspora, for their part, have many of the elements required for success — they are a “model minority”, they are affluent, and they are growing in number. Many of them are willing to exert their influence in electoral politics and are engaged in multinational businesses, and are thus highly visible. This makes for a ripe environment for India to aggressively tap on their potential.

  • Today, while there is more potential for the diaspora to contribute to India’s growth story, their success will also be a reflection of the Indian government’s schemes, policies and outreach activities toward them.
  • The diaspora can step up and act as Indian ‘ambassadors’, as it is insufficient and ineffective for a country or its missions abroad to rely only on press releases to change public opinion.
  • The diaspora can provide the requisite strategic impulse, which makes it all the more important to unlock their potential. The present government is right in their focus on the diaspora as they are a strategic asset to India.
  • Indian Diaspora can help health care in two areas namely, support the ‘reform process from state level to grass root level’ and the ‘innovation process at grass root level’.

Creating policies to encourage the diaspora to contribute to India’s growth through philanthropy, knowledge transfers, and investments in innovation and assistance in other development projects will have a multiplier effect on the development of India at it is grows towards a 5 Trillion dollar economy.

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