This article deals with ‘ Migration.’ This is part of our series on ‘Society’ which is important pillar of GS-1 syllabus . For more articles , you can click here .

What is Migration?

  • Migration refers to spatial mobility between one geographical unit and another, generally involving a change of residence for a considerable period.
  • The Census defines a migrant as a person residing in a place other than their place of birth or who has changed his/ her usual residence to another place. 
  • Migration includes both additive (at the place of destination) and separative (at the place of origin) aspects. 

Types of Migration in India

India has witnessed waves of migrants coming from Central and West Asia. The history of India is a history of waves of migrants arriving and settling one after another in different parts of the country. Similarly, many people from India have been migrating to places in search of better opportunities, especially to the Middle East, Western Europe, America, Australia and East and South East Asia. 

Based on Origin and Destination

Migration can be divided into the following types based on origin and destination:

  1. Rural to Rural R → R (mostly in cases of marriages only)  
  2. Rural to Urban R → U (also known as Urbanisation)   
  3. Urban to Urban U → U
  4. Urban to Rural U → R (very unlikely. It includes government employees going to a village for a job or reverse migration of the earlier migrant) 

Based on Country of Destination

Another basis of division can be whether within or outside the country.

  1. Internal Migration: Internal Migration occurs within the same country. It can further be divided into
    • Intra-state: Within State 
    • Inter-state: Between States 
  2. International Migration: International Migration occurs from one country to another country.

Based on Duration

Migration can also be classified based on the duration. 

  1. Permanent Migration 
  2. Semi-Permanent (due to a lack of economic resources, people cannot sustain their living in the destination regions and are forced to migrate back).
  3. Seasonal / Circular (because of the rainfed nature of our agriculture and the lack of employment opportunities, people migrate to other areas during lean season and return to the source region once that period is over).

Trends of migration in India

According to Census 2011, 45.36 crore people, i.e. 37% of the population or every third citizen of India is a migrant —now settled in a place different from their previous residence.  

Level of Migration in India

1 . Intrastate Migration

  • About three-fourths of all intrastate migrants were females, demonstrating that marriage is the prime reason for such migration. Most people, 49%, migrate for marriage (while globally, migration is an attempt by people to survive and prosper, in India, marriage appears to be the biggest reason why people migrate). 
  • Other reasons 
    • Rural to Urban in search of good jobs and educational facilities.
    • Urban to Urban: Due to job transfers 

2 . Interstate Migration

  • In India, people migrate from underdeveloped states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar etc., to comparatively developed regions like Maharashtra, Punjab, NCR Delhi, Chandigarh etc.
  • As per the 2001 census, Maharashtra occupied first place in the list with 2.3 million net in-migrants, followed by Delhi, Gujarat and Haryana. On the other hand, Uttar Pradesh (-2.6 million) and Bihar (-1.7 million) were the states which had the largest number of net out-migrants from the state. 

Interstate Migration is also of two types with different destinations. 

2.1 Rural as Destination

  • Agricultural labourers from underdeveloped states migrating to Punjab, Haryana etc.

2.2 Urban as Destination

  • These include groups of industrial labourers.
  • Due to the ICT revolution, there is large migration of skilled professionals in IT sectors to Bangalore, NCR, Mysore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh etc., where BPOs are situated. 

3 . International Migration

Large-scale international migration is seen from the whole country, especially Kerala & Punjab. 

Kerala Mainly to Gulf Nations
Punjab Mainly to Canada, UK, Australia and to lesser extend to Gulf nations
International Migration

Side Topic : Curious Case of Mexican International Migrants

  • Mexico’s emigration problem is a unique one, with more than 98% of all Mexican migrants living in the U.S.A, the country with which Mexico shares a border that runs 3110 km in length.
  • The Mexican emigration rate increased substantially since the 1960s and, with more than 11% of Mexicans living abroad, Mexico is the country with the largest number of emigrants in the world.
Mexican Migration to USA

Side Topic: Brain Drain

  • Brain drain is related to the selective migration of educated people. Some countries are losing the most educated segment of their population. It can be both a benefit for the receiving country and a problem for the country of origin.

Impact on receiving country

  • Receiving country gets highly qualified labour which contributes to the economy right away. 
  • It promotes economic growth in strategic sectors, especially science and technology. 
  • Receiving country doesn’t have to pay for education and health costs; for example, 30% of Mexicans with a PhD are in the US.

Country of origin

  • Education and health costs are not paid back to the country of origin.
  • It has a long-term impact on economic growth. It has the possibility of getting remittances. Many brain-drain migrants have skills that they can’t use at home. The resources and technology may not be available there.  

Theories of Migration

1. Ravenstein’s Gravity Model

  • According to Ravenstein’s Model, the movement of the population gravitates around the centres of socio-economic opportunities.  
  • Ravenstein’s model accepts the Distance Decay Principle, according to which ‘as distance increases, the tendency to migrate decreases’. 

2. Pull-Push Hypothesis

Migration is the result of an interplay between expulsive forces at the place of origin and attractive forces at the destination.

Push Factors 1. Famine & Floods
2. War
3. Huge Crime Rate
4. Low Jobs
5. Harsh Climate
Pull Factors 1. Better Jobs
2. Good education opportunities
3. Cleanliness
4. Better Standard of living
5. Better Climate

3. Cost and Benefit Model

Difference between cost and benefits that will accrue after migration determines Migration.

Cost of Migration Cost of travelling  Costs of searching job Getting training  Psychic costs 
Benefit More earnings Better living standard Enhancement of prestige

Causes of Migration

1 . Push Factors

Push factors are the factors forcing a person to leave his residence and move to some other place.

1.1 Economic Causes

  • Lack of jobs
  • Rural Poverty
  • Low levels of Economic development.
  • Development-led migration: For example, building a dam can force a number of villages to be evacuated.
  • The pressure of population has resulted in a high man-to-land ratio.

1.2 Socio-Cultural Causes

  • Caste System: Dalits feel suffocated in villages due to the low status bestowed upon them by the caste system. Hence, they migrate to an urban place where they can live anonymously. 
  • Higher pressure on limited land in bigger families forces some members to migrate and search for jobs other than agriculture.
  • Marriage: Most people, 49%, migrate for marriage purposes. 
  • Family conflicts also cause migration.

1.3 Political Causes

  • Targeted violence against the community creates fear among the survivors. It forces them to migrate. E.g., Large Sikh migration from Delhi to Punjab post-1984 riots and exodus of Kashmiri pandits from the valley. 
  • Adoption of the ‘sons of the soil policy’ by the State governments. E.g., The rise of Shiv Sena in Bombay, with its hatred for the migrants and the occasional eruption of violence in the name of local parochial patriotism.

2. Pull Factors

Migrants are lured by the attractive conditions in the new place, called Pull Factors.

2.1 Economic Causes

  • Economic opportunities & jobs in cities and abroad act as an incentive to migrate.
  • Better standard of living, health & educational facilities at the destination point act as a huge pull factor to migrate. E.g., In recent years, the high rate of movement of people from India to the USA, Canada & Middle East is due to better employment opportunities, higher wages & better amenities.

2.2 Socio-Cultural Causes

  • Due to urban anonymity, caste doesn’t play a significant role in urban areas.

2.3 Political Causes

  • People want to enjoy political freedom in western countries.

3. Pull Back Factors

  • Pull-back is a recent phenomenon. With better opportunities for employment (due to MGNREGA and other schemes), individuals are pulled back to their native places.

Side Topic: Internal Migration due to disasters

  • India had the highest number of internally displaced people (IDP) due to disasters worldwide (five million till 2020).
  • IDPs are different from refugees. Having not crossed a border, international refugee protections do not typically cover them. They remain subject to national laws and, as such, are afforded less protection. 

Consequences of Migration

1. On the destination

  • Migration creates pressure on urban infrastructure due to increased traffic, competition for housing facilities & water etc. 
  • Create social and ethnic tensions and xenophobia due to a clash of interests between migrants and locals.
  • Mismanaged migration leads to the formation of slums and ghettos and acts as the source of the outbreak of diseases.
  • It leads to a skewed sex ratio in favour of males. 

2. On the source

Cost of Migration on the Source 

  • Migration results in the separation of individual migrants from their origin & relatives.
  • It results in a loss of human resources for the state, especially if the migration is of employable people. 
  • Impact on women: It leads to ‘Feminisation of labour & agriculture’ at the source. Additionally, because of the male migration, wives suffer from neurosis, hysteria and depression. 

Benefits of Migration on the Source

  • Migrants act as agents of social change. Internalised urban values are transmitted to the native place. 
  • Remittances sent by migrants have an important impact. Remittances are mainly used for food, repayment of debts, treatment, marriages, children’s education, agricultural inputs, construction of houses, etc. For thousands of the poor villages of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh etc., internal remittance works as the lifeblood of their economy.
  • Migration leads to the evolution of composite culture and broadens the mental horizon of the people at large.
  • Migration also changes the demographic profile of rural areas in following ways following ways
    • Reduced family size among the migrants as compared to non-migrants. The separation of rural male migrants from their wives for long durations tends to reduce the birth rate. 
    • Ageing of Villages as migrants are young, leaving old age in villages.   
    • Increased Sex Ratio in villages as men usually migrate, leaving females behind.

3. On migrants

  • The problem of identity documents deprives them of social security benefits and government socio-economic programs.
  • Migration and slums are inextricably linked. The migrants inhabit most slums. Such slums are deprived of primary healthcare and sanitation facilities.  
  • Limited access to Formal Financial Services results in them being exploited by their employers, and they risk theft and personal injury while transferring their earnings. 
  • They face political exclusion because they often don’t have voting rights at their place of destination. Further, they are the target of political rhetoric of local identity politics and are subjected to violence and abuse. 
  • Augmenting Human capital: Evidence reveals that with rising incomes, migrant remittances can encourage investment in human capital formation through increased expenditure on health and education. 

Consequences of Migration

Legal Measures and Government Schemes

Inter-State Migrant Workmen Act, 1979, requires all establishments that hired inter-state migrants to be registered and all contractors who recruited these workers to be licensed. The aim was to protect the migrant workers. But it has major lacunae as it covers only those migrant workers who are hired through contractors. 


  • ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme: The government of India started the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme in 2021 to benefit the migrant population. The migrants don’t need to make separate Ration Cards at each place, and the same Ration Card can work throughout the country.
  • (State Specific) Project Changathi: Implemented by the Kerala State Literacy Mission, this is a literacy scheme targeted at migrant children to learn Malayalam. It helps in better integration of migrants into the local society.

Way forward

  • There is legislation, i.e. Interstate Migrant Workmen Act of 1979, which aims to safeguard migrant workers. But its ambit needs to be increased (as suggested above). 
  • Rather than treating migration as a problem, destination states should aim to accommodate them into the state’s economy. There is ample evidence to support the fact that migrants generally take up those jobs and businesses, which the locals do not do. 
  • The planning of cities should keep in mind the needs of the migrants. 
  • Political class, civil society and NGOs should conduct inter-group interactions to ward off mistrust between natives and migrants. 

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