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Decline in migration to Gulf, rise in student migration: What the Kerala Migration Survey 2023 says | Explained News

The Kerala Migration Survey (KMS) 2023 report was unveiled at the Lok Kerala Sabha, state government-constituted platform for Keralites abroad and in other states, last week in Thiruvananthapuram.

Prepared by the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMD) and Gulati Institute of Finance and Taxation, the report reveals the findings of the sixth KMS, conducted every five years since 1998.

Sample selection

The survey looked at 20,000 households from all 14 districts of Kerala, selected via a stratified multi-stage random sampling method.

Rural and urban areas within the districts were considered distinct strata, and within each stratum, localities (Gram Panchayats or Municipal Wards) were selected based on the number of households in that particular stratum. In total, 500 localities were selected statewide.

In each of these 500 localities, 40 households were identified using systematic random sampling at the time of the survey — meaning each household (in a locality) had an equal chance of being chosen. The total sample of 20,000 households makes KMS among the biggest socio-economic surveys ever conducted in Kerala. For comparison, the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) sampled only 12,330 households statewide.

Three hundred trained investigators were deployed for the survey, which for the first time, used a digital data collection tool.

Key findings

The KMS 2023 estimated the number of emigrants from Kerala to be 2.2 million, slightly more than the 2.1 million recorded in 2018. But the number of emigrants to return home has also gone up, from 1.2 million in 2018 to 1.8 million in 2023. Here are some interesting trends:

DECLINE IN EMIGRATION TO THE GULF: Preference for destinations beyond the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE) has grown from 10.8% in 2018 to 19.5% in 2023.This is in line with the trend seen since 1998, when GCC destinations accounted for 93.8% of Kerala’s emigrants.

RISING STUDENT EMIGRATION: Rising number of student emigrants, who do not prefer GCC countries for their higher education, could be behind the aforementioned shift. In fact, it is students who have helped maintain the overall number of emigrants from the state even as there has been a decline in emigration among other populations. They constitute 11.3% of total emigrants from Kerala, with overall numbers almost doubling since 2018 — from 129,763 to 250,000.

MORE WOMEN EMIGRATING: Women are another category of emigrants who have seen a rise in their numbers and proportion, up from 15.8% in 2018 to 19.1% in 2023.They are generally better qualified than their male counterparts, with 71.5% women being graduates as against 34.7% men. Around 51.6% of women emigrants work in the nursing sector. Women also make up 45.6% of Kerala’s student migrant population. Around 40.5% of women emigrants are in Western countries, compared to only 14.6% of male emigrants.

NORTH KERALA SENDS MOST EMIGRANTS: Around 41.8% of emigrants hail from North Kerala, which is the home to a large section of migrants in GCC countries. Tirur taluk in the Muslim-majority Malappuram district continues to send the most migrants abroad. Central Kerala contributes to 33.1% of Kerala’s emigrant population, with migration to non-GCC destinations more prevalent. South Kerala sends 25% of the state’s emigrants.

OVER 40% EMIGRANTS ARE MUSLIMS: Muslims, who make up 26% of Kerala’s population (according to the 2011 census), make up 41.9% of the state’s emigrants. For comparison, Hindus comprise 35.2% of the migrant population, even as they make up about 54% of the state’s overall population. About 22.3% of Kerala’s migrants are Christians, who account for 18% of the state’s population.

GROWING REMITTANCES: Total remittances to Kerala saw a significant surge after the pandemic, reaching Rs 216,893 crores in 2023 from Rs 85,092 crores in 2018. This marks a 154.9% increase since 2018, and amounts to a per capital remittance of Rs 61,118 for the state’s population of 3.55 crores. Average remittance per emigrant household also increased to Rs 2.24 lakh in 2023, compared to Rs 96,185 in 2018. The data show that migrant households spent remittances on a variety of things: renovation of houses/shops account for 15.8%, paying of bank loans account for 14%, educational expenses 10 percent, and medical bills 7.7%. Only 6.9% of remittances are used for day-to-day expenditure.

INCREASE IN RETURNEES: The number of emigrants who have returned home has been growing over the decades. The last five years has seen the largest increase of returnees — 495,962 individuals or 38.3% — in the history of Kerala migration surveys. This, in no small part, due to Covid-19 pandemic-induced job loss. Around 18.4% of respondents reported job loss as a reason for return, 13.8% cited low wages, 7.5% poor working conditions, and 11.2% illness or accident. The desire to work in Kerala (16.1%), homesickness (10.2 %) and retirement (12.1%) were other key reasons.

Trends over last 30 years

The first KMS in 1998, had estimated that roughly 1.4 million Keralites had emigrated abroad. This figure rose to 1.8 million in 2003, 2.2 million in 2008, and 2.4 million in 2013 before declining to 2.1 million in 2018.

The global Malayali diaspora is estimated to be 5 million, with another 3 million Malyalis living outside Kerala but within India.

Road ahead

More and more Indian students are going abroad to study. Findings from the KMS reflect this, with Kerala poised to become among the leading states when it comes to Indians studying abroad.

This comes with profound policy implications. The study suggests that there is an urgent need to enhance the state’s educational infrastructure, and provide resources that ensure safe migration pathways for future student emigrants. Regular monitoring and regulation of language training centres and recruitment agencies is crucial for reducing instances of deceit and fraud by agents. It is also important to develop new policies that will encourage those studying abroad to return home after acquiring valuable skills, fostering a wave of “brain gain”.

At the same time, given that 76.9% of Kerala’s emigrants are labour emigrants, it is essential to improve and strengthen their skills to help them secure better employment opportunities and pay abroad. This approach could also lead to emigrants choosing non-GCC countries, especially in the West, as destinations.

Lastly, the growing number of return migrants necessitates comprehensive rehabilitation and reintegration measures.

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