Throughout human history, migration from one’s country has had numerous notions, not only in the migrant’s society but also in the country that is hosting the migrant. There are a plethora of reasons for people to migrate, some positive and unfortunately, some negative. Positive reasons for migration could include economic reasons like job opportunities, reduced cost of living, religious activities and higher education or training in sports. Refugees are the largest example of negative migration that is often forced upon them due to political instability and lack of basic amenities and safety in their home country. These positive forms are a phenomenon that impacts the economy of both the home country and the host country. International Migration brings large economic gains to the home country primarily through remittances and bringing in foreign currencies to India. For the host country, immigrants are often more malleable when it comes to salary and benefits which in turn benefits the profit-driven businesses that offer jobs to overseas skilled workers.
International Migration is a developing worldwide phenomena in terms of extent, complexity, and influence. Migration is both a cause and a result of larger development processes, as well as an inseparable part of our increasingly globalized world. While migration is not a substitute for development, it can be a positive element for progress if it is accompanied by the appropriate policies. International migration has now become a priority for the international community due to the rise in global mobility, the increasing complexity of migratory patterns, and their influence on governments, migrants, families, and communities (UNDESA, n.d.).
India is no stranger to migration as a phenomenon. Domestic migration is an important point of discussion currently with the issue of migrant workers being at the forefront thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic. The image below shows us the cities with the highest influx of migrants.
In the 2011 Census it was estimated that 48 crore individuals migrated away from their hometowns in India. This figure should be well over 50 crores as of today. In modern history, Indian migration has occurred since the 19th Century. According to Sengupta (2020), the spread of the Indian diaspora has occurred in three phases. After the Slavery Abolition Act in 1833, a large-scale migration from the Indian subcontinent was carried out by the British colonists. Millions of Indians were shipped to European countries as a replacement for the slaves that had been freed. This was known as the Indian Indenture system and they exported Indian labour to plantations in Mauritius, the Caribbean and South Africa. The second phase of Indian migration occurred in the late 19th Century and continued into the late 20th century. During this wave of migration, people migrated to nearby countries like Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as well as numerous countries in Africa as artisans, traders and factory workers. The sudden oil boom in the Middle East created an immense demand for skilled and semi-skilled workers, which Indians quickly took advantage of. While this started during the 1960s, the real spike in migration to the middle east occurred during the 1980s. The final phase of Indian International migration takes place from the 1960s to the present day where high-profile doctors, engineers (especially software engineers), media persons and management consultants all migrated out to the United States, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Germany. Today we can see that CEOs of top MNCs like Google, Alphabet, Microsoft, Mastercard and Pepsi are all Indians that have migrated out for positive economic reasons. This is obviously a huge benefit for India in the international community as it puts out a statement for the value that Indian migrants bring in which could influence foreign policies to lean towards Indians.
While understanding the benefits that migration has had for India, it is important to verify some important theories that are in the discourse for international migration as a concept. Ravenstein’s ‘Law of Migration’ has 11 sub sections, however the ones that we will discuss in this paper are as follows:
(a) There is an inverse relation between distance and volume of migration. Majority of migrants move to short distances only.
(b) The major direction of migration is from agricultural areas to the centres of industry and commerce.
According to PTI (2021), India has the largest diaspora population. Taking the top spot at 18 million, India is followed by Mexico, Russia (Both 11 million) and China at 10 million. The UAE has the single largest Indian diaspora population for a sovereign country at 3.5 million followed by the USA at 2.7 million people. As seen in the graph above, we can prove the first theory as true thanks to 32% of the Indian diaspora being situated close to home in the South East Asian region and as you move further away, the percentage decreases. For the second sub-theory, we can definitely confirm that India is an agricultural country as the most common occupations in India come from the agricultural industry. The USA and UAE are centres for business and commerce for varying reasons and require a large pool of skilled and semi-skilled workers in India.
For this paper we would like to look at the Gulf region, with a special focus on UAE, to analyse the economic impacts that migration has had on India. Kerala is the largest contributing state to the Indian diaspora contingent residing in the Gulf region.
As visible in the table alongside, through the years, remittances have made up a large chunk of the net domestic product in Kerala. Bringing in foreign currencies allows India to purchase goods, in this case oil, at better prices without having to worry about the inflated price due to exchange rates. In comparison to non-migrant households, migrant households had higher income, better consumption levels, and a superior asset position. They put a large portion of their savings into land and homes. Their investment in business is little, and their investment in productive activities is almost non-existent. Savings and financial assets are also underinvested. The findings presented above supports the widely held belief that migrant households do not invest in economic activities (Prakash, 1998).
The limitations to our paper by using the Gulf and Kerala as a case study are important to be acknowledged. The reason we have chosen the Gulf is pretty straightforward in the fact that it is a region that has the highest number of voluntary migrants. Moreover, the primary reason for these migrations is for economic benefit- an aspect that is of important focus in this paper for understanding international political economy via migration. The domestic migrant worker crisis that India is facing and the statistical data around it is also an indicator of the imbalance in development between states within India which could essentially lead to the reason for more migrations out of one state than another. The exclusion of the remaining 9 theories given by Ravenstein is also a limitation as we have picked the ones best suited for our case study of UAE and the USA (elaborated on below). Hence, the remaining 9 may not be true or even relevant to the Indian diaspora.
Before understanding, if migration does in fact reduce cultural cohesion, it is essential to define the concept and explore the themes of ‘cultural cohesion.’ Due to the broad and elusive nature of the concept, various knowledgeable researchers have attempted to understand the same. But for the purpose of this paper, one can understand ‘cultural cohesion,’ otherwise called social cohesion, as a measurement of order, stability and peace yielded out of shared principles and standards in society (Fonseca et al., 2019).
Cultural/social cohesion emphasizes an inclusive, understanding, empathetic and integrated society where individualistic or personal interests are put at the backseat.
The discourse on social cohesion identifies three principal characteristics of a culturally and socially well-integrated society.
- The inclusion and participation of migrants in political discussions and decisions, especially at a local level to build a platform to voice out their grievances.
- Revival of social dialogue and interactions based on trust, solidarity and reciprocity among members of the society.
- Elimination of the “us vs them” mentality and encouragement of shared values and feelings of togetherness among members of the community.
Along with this comes the great responsibility of having peaceful discussions and decision-making while respecting conflicting opinions, goals, and interests (Helly, 2002). The combined efforts to maintain a delicate balance among all the aforementioned variables form the fundamental bricks of social cohesion. Simply put, it attempts to ward off society from falling into the deep ditch of “atomized individuals” and segregated communities.
Now that a brief conceptual understanding has been established, the primary question to explore is “does migration reduce cultural cohesion?”. The simple answer is no. Migration strengthens cultural cohesion by enriching diversity and multiculturalism and subsequently helps boost global economic growth as showcased above. But nothing of this complex nature, which involves massive populations and large countries with varying cultures and beliefs, is that simple. There exist exceptions, outliers, and eccentricities that change the entire ballgame. The complexity of this concept can be attributed to the fact that cultural cohesion does not concern itself with singular identities or individuals. It focuses on the bigger picture of the dynamics between people in communities/societies. The concept of cultural cohesion is born out of social constructs such as societies and their requirement of social interactions (-socius in Latin means companionship). Due to the contrasting characteristics and beliefs of human beings, the reason for cultural disunity is often unfairly pinned on activities such as migration.
There is no denying that migration affects cultural cohesion in the host countries. The impact depends on the bond between different people in a neighborhood and the people’s personal sentiments and assessments of their neighbors.
Shamit Saggar, Maria Sobolewska, and the team carried out extensive research under the guidance of the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) members to study the impact of migration on social cohesion and integration. They began with an intensive study into the literature available on this discourse and then took an inductive approach to understand the variables of integration and cohesion. After empirically measuring the social impacts of migration, the research concluded that poverty and destitution negatively impact a community’s cultural cohesion and not migration. As an exception, it expands on the potential conflicts between people from earlier and newer migration waves because of the battle for the same jobs and possible identity clashes (Saggar et al., 2012).
The prominent theories citing migration as a principle reason for cultural disunity can be proven wrong using the findings of the above-mentioned research paper.
Hence, if poverty is a legitimate and proven reason behind cultural disunity, then factors that increase economic growth will directly help strengthen cultural cohesion. All that is left to prove is the relationship between migration rates and economic growth and stability.
The USA can be taken as a case study to prove the same.
Present discussions on migration generally consider it a “selfishness vs. generosity” debate and completely disregard the fact that countries work on national interest as a top priority. Throughout the course of history, the USA has allowed migrants into the country as part of economic growth and global supremacy policies. Throughout the decades of the flow of labor from different countries pouring into the USA, the reasons for migration and migration rates have faced variations. The only constant that remained through these decades is that the inflow of a more diverse and specifically skilled workforce contributes significantly to efficient use of available resources and maximizing development rates (Yglesias, 2017). Research carried out by Gianluca Santoni and Lionel Fontagne explains that regions that are more densely populated have the tools and resources to reach higher levels of labor productivity and better salaries. This research conclusion banks on very simple logic. If the population of a region is higher, there are more people with varied interests and occupations. This means that even when people specialize in niche areas of work, plenty of others are willing to interact with those goods and services economically (Florida, 2012). Subsequently, increased spending on goods and services (especially diversified goods and services ) leads to an increase in GDP and economic growth. Due to this large-scale process, the USA has been able to develop larger and smarter cities, grow into one of the world’s most dominant economies and take pride in being the home to many monumental and important companies (immigrant-founded) such as Tesla, Apple, Google, Yahoo, eBay, Pfizer and more. These migration-led achievements have made America the great nation that it is today.
This logic of the correlation between population and economic growth is widely accepted in the USA. But some citizens begin to have an issue when the population includes foreigners from different parts of the world. For example, The Texas population takes pride in the number of citizens who internally migrate to their state from other US states. Rightly so, they believe that it enriches their diversity and helps create an efficient and dynamic environment. Ironically, the same Texas population regressively believes that the fewer the immigrants, the better off they will be. There seems to be no empirical backing behind this mentality.
Texas voters’ answer to “the greatest threat to the United States?”
The structure of the USA’s welfare goals are important to be noted. The facilities that are guaranteed to the non-productive population of the USA such as healthcare and retirement security stand on the shoulders of migrants. Why? To fund the same, the country’s economy and working/productive population need to grow steadily, and the solution to both these requirements is migrants (Yglesias, 2017).
In the 21st century, another important facet of migration, which contradicts the main question, is its role in the unification of the countries and peace maintenance. The easy flow of people across borders will aid in erasing the “us vs. them” mentality. One of the numerous substantial factors of this mentality is the state identity (For example, I am Indian). But if people are free to move to countries for maximum productivity, their identities will have to accommodate extra layers depending on the land they migrate to. Another evil that spreads from the “us vs. them” notion is terrorism. But through increased migration rates and integrating people from different world regions, there is a possibility of reduced terrorist acts. Lastly, the contemporary discussion on multiculturalism is taking flight. The celebration of differences in every community, the curiosity and respect for new ideas, and the opportunity to exchange knowledge, goods, services, customs, and interests are essential factors of migration that bolster cultural cohesion.
It is important to acknowledge the existence of limitations due to various reasons such as the current availability of data and proof, etc. Here are some limitations to the answer to the question “Does Migration reduce cultural cohesion?” Social/cultural cohesion as a concept is vast and scattered. Researchers in different fields of study define it in different ways. For this paper, a certain prominent definition was chosen, limiting the scope of the topic under consideration. The word “atom” means indivisible due to the ancient belief in the atom’s indivisibility. When electrons were discovered, all literature based on an atom’s indivisibility was deemed redundant. Similarly, though legitimate research papers were chosen as literature reviews, there is always a possibility of future invalidation or expiry of the data collected, which may lead to the invalidation of the answer presented in this paper. This paper limits itself to the positives of migration for easy flow of workforce and diversity and does not explore the possible ill effects of the same such as drug smuggling, human trafficking, etc.
Having addressed all aspects of the topic at hand, we must look into what we can observe to be the immediate future in the 21st century and beyond, for International Migration in India. The theory given by Ravenstein about the relation between distance and volume of migration could be soon dismissed as the world today is more interconnected than ever and it takes no more than 48 hours to make it from one end of the globe to the other. While migration from India offers many advantages, remittances from the Gulf have pushed up prices of land, construction materials, consumer items, and health, education, and transportation costs, negatively affecting non-migrant households in the poor, middle, and fixed income categories. The UAE has started executing policies that are popularly known as ‘emiritzation’ moves that essentially aim to alter the demographic imbalance, decreasing the number of skilled and semi-skilled workers that are migrating out of the country.
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