August 02, 2020
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The jamboree that was the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas only shows up that swadeshi be damned, videsh is where middle India wants to be

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The First Wave
Late 19th Century

  • Nature of migrants: Voluntary emigrants, traders, indentured labour
  • Destinations: Africa, Southeast Asia, West Indies

The Second Wave

  • Nature of migrants: Professionals and entrepreneurs
  • Destinations: US, Europe, West Asia

The Third Wave
The biggest one, happening now

  • Nature of migrants: White-collar professionals, students, diploma-holders.
  • Destinations: Canada, New Zealand, Australia, USA.

Indians Living Abroad

Indians who migrated to the US in the last two years

Skilled computer professionals leaving India every year contributing to annual 'resource loss' of $2 billion

Number of Indians who migrated to New Zealand in the last three years

Number of Indians who migrated to Canada in 2002

Percentage of IIT graduates leaving India every year

Percentage of medical school graduates leaving India every year

India’s rank among countries exporting people to the US. Mexico is number 1.

India’s rank among countries exporting students to the US. 90 per cent of them never return.

Source: Ministry of External Affairs; Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC; Institute of International Education; International Migration Report 2002 of United Nations Population Fund; New Zealand Immigration Service; Department of Immigration and Multicultural And Indigenous Affairs, Australia
Narender Chandok, 48, is a Delhi-based businessman who runs a pool parlour and a small construction firm. His wife, Raka, 47, owns a beauty salon. They live with their three school- and college-going children Tanya, Gaurav and Petal in a three-storey family home in posh Defence Colony. The seemingly comfortably settled Chandoks are not exactly the archetype of a family that wants to quit India for a better life abroad, right? Not quite. A year ago, a neighbour returned from a holiday in Canada and told them of the good life there. The Chandoks gave migrating to Canada a good, hard thought. How would it be to begin a new life in a foreign land in their middle age? Would they be able to cope with the cultural dislocation? Were they ready to slog it out in hardscrabble supermarket and supervisory jobs? Much soul-searching later, the family applied for migration to give their children a better life and beat the creeping recession in India that they feel is slowly crippling first-generation businesses like theirs. They even got Raka's brother, an accountant with a Delhi-based luxury hotel, to join the bandwagon. "You have to be excellent in India to survive," says Raka. "If you are not and your children aren't very bright, then you are sunk." Then there's the crime, pollution and the scramble for basic necessities. "You read the papers and worry every day about your children returning home safely, about your future. The system sucks."

Far away, in lawless Patna, Man Mohan Jha, 52, a manager with steel ropes-manufacturer Usha Martin, is counting his days to July when he'll get on a flight to the US, where he's migrating to with his wife. "I am fed up with India," says Jha. "Everything works on power and connections. There's no scope for growth and security for people like us. It's the insecurity and lawlessness that's compelling me to leave. Otherwise, who goes to an alien land at this age?"

Hear out a desperate Nalin Gomes, 25, a Delhi-based online booking agency hand who's sold his family apartment to raise money for migrating to Canada: "I work 16 hours a day and get Rs 10,000 at the end of the month. What does this money buy? In Canada, I want to be rich and successful in five years and run my own business." Well-settled Delhi-based marketing consultant Manmohan Sethi, 48, who's submitted his papers for migrating to Canada with his wife and two children, finds living in India "chaotic and unsafe". "If my children's schoolbus is delayed by 30 minutes, I'm in a state of panic. When we go out, I don't know whether we'd return home safely. I'm ready to burn my bridges and leave." Laments Amit Raisinghani, 28, an accountant with a Mumbai firm who has applied for migration to New Zealand, "I am just fed up with the low quality of life here. The pollution, overcrowding, the open corruption. How long can you bear it?"

What's happening? "People seem to have given up on India," says B.S. Sandhu, who runs Worldwide Immigration Consultancy Services (WWICS), India's biggest agency helping people migrate. If it's not the rage against a rotten system, it's the lure of the lifestyle that's been snaring people like Bangalore-based Joseph Prabhakar, 45, and his wife, Sagaya Mary, 30, who are packing their bags and migrating to New Zealand next month with their two children.Things had also begun to look a tad uncertain for Prabhakar, an engineering diploma-holder, after the electrical equipment company where he had been working for the past 25 years began slipping into the red.So he did what he thought was the smartest thing: he went on a tourist visa to New Zealand, got himself a job in a plastics company in Auckland, and has now returned for his family. "The lifestyle is swell. I can own a house much faster there, instead of a plot of land that I've bought in an area where there's no electricity.Then, there's no corruption and everybody is equal before the law," says Prabhakar. Wife Sagaya Mary says she will miss her relatives, "but we have to think of our future and our children".

Make no mistake about it. These people are not loony mavericks leaving their country of birth in a fit and emigrating mid-career with their families. They are among the legions of hopeless Indians who see a bleaker future than ever before in their homeland. They are families who did not find a place in last week's platitude-soaked celebrations of Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, a flashy jamboree 'honouring' the Indian diaspora in Delhi. The rising economic uncertainty with the collapse of the old (and now, new) economy firms, the absence of a social security net, relentlessly rising crime and terrorism, the lack of clean air, water, enough good schools, and a venal political culture where power, pelf and connections matter most are triggering a fresh wave of near-panicky exodus of Indians. It is also helping enormously that countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada, the three most sought-after countries, are inviting migrants through a passmark system. "The greatest thing about migrating," says Abdul Majid, 36, a Vancouver-based architect who migrated to Canada with his family three years ago, "is the feeling that I am finally a part of a civilised, law-abiding society and everybody is actually accountable".

To be sure, Indians have been migrating since the 19th century when they left in droves for Africa, Southeast Asia, Fiji and the Caribbean in response to demand for cheap labour after the abolition of slavery. Then came the second wave of migration in late 20th century when some of the country's best professionals and entrepreneurs left for the West and semi-skilled workers flocked to the Gulf and other parts of West Asia after the oil boom of the '70s. The third wave of migration now cuts across class, age and profession—from students to mid-career professionals to a 70-year-old man from Delhi who wants to migrate because he wants to "show my talent that's been unrecognised in India" to a businessman in Rourkela, Orissa, who says money can't buy you clean air to the chairman of a leading private power company who wants to migrate simply to take his children out of India.

The evidence is getting stronger by the day. Today, the Indian diaspora is 20 million—Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who hold Indian passports and People of Indian Origin (pios) who are foreign citizens of Indian descent—in 110 countries and growing, according to the ministry of external affairs. India is among the world's top 10 exporters of migrants, says a recent UN report. Indians are now second only to Mexicans in migrating to the US: some 2.46 lakh of them have migrated to the US in the last two years alone, according to the Washington, DC-based research group Center for Immigration Studies. Now chew on the frightful brain drain that Sandhu quirkily describes as "actually a good thing because the brains are being taken out of the drains in India": 20 per cent of our medical school graduates leave the country, half of the iit graduates do the same and 85,000 skilled computer professionals leave the country every year, leading to a UN-estimated 'resource loss' of $2 billion to the nation.

Gone are the days when only the very best of our students went abroad on scholarships for post-graduate degrees and doctoral reasearch. India is already the largest source of foreign students in US universities and colleges, according to a report by the Washington, DC-based Institute of International Education. Some 67,000 Indians enrolled with US tertiary-level schools in the past academic year, up by 22 per cent over the previous year and surpassing China, which was the leading source country for most of the '90s.In fact, the report said that the number of Indian students who had enrolled in US schools had doubled in the past seven years. "Students who don't gain admission to India's premier institutions see the US as an alternative that will open doors for them in the future," says Jane Schukoske, director of the US Educational Foundation in India.

The new Quit India movement is now playing at migration agencies, embassies, high commissions and international airports around the country. "It's absolutely amazing how much people here are interested about our immigration policy," says Dominique Collinge, counsellor (immigration) at the Canadian High Commission. No wonder, over 27,000 Indians migrated to Canada last year alone, up from 16,300 in 1995. The high commission received 16,400 applications for migration in the skilled workers category—most of Indian white-collar migration happens under this—in 2001, up from 4,400 applications in 1999. Some 2,000 immigration applications landed in the New Zealand High Commission in Delhi, "leaving no standing space in the office", according to a commission official, between April and mid-June last year, all pouring in in order to reach before the higher passmarks the country announced for migration kicked in. Indians were third in the list of top 10 nationalities who migrated to New Zealand in 2001-02. "There has been a dramatic increase in the interest in Indian migration to New Zealand in the past two years," says Simon Smith, first secretary (immigration) at the high commission. In 2001, India came in at No. 9 of the top 10 birthplaces of Australia's residents with close to 1 lakh Indians living there, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Over 5,000 Indians chose to settle in Australia in just the last year alone. There's no let-up of interest even in the US, which has some of the toughest immigration laws. "The demand is going up. Immigration generates more immigration," says William M. Barlett, minister-counsellor for consular services at the US Embassy.

You find the evidence in the throngs at the immigration agencies that have sprung up all over, from Kochi to Calcutta. For a fat fee, the agencies help you with filling up immigration forms and once your application is cleared, even set you up in their accommodation in the new country for a month and sometimes even promise jobs. At WWICS' plush Delhi office, posters even advise 'clients' (aspiring migrants) 'how to catch fish' (getting a job) on reaching Canada: you must buy a car "within 10 days" of reaching the country, be a "go-getter, aggressive, live on sharing basis and learn cooking" and "even start the day early, do not waste time in meeting friends and relatives". The 40-office agency now plans to expand into places like Patiala, Khanna, Amritsar and Ludhiana in Punjab.Two months ago, it began a 24-hour, toll-free emigration helpline that claims to do a near-instant assessment of a caller's chances of emigrating. The agency also rents huge auditoria to conduct 'motivational seminars'—70 in Delhi alone in the last few years—where they show lifestyle country videos and hold Q&A sessions. In a basement in congested Kalkaji in Delhi, Suresh Dutt Sharma's Real Services Agency is plastered with inviting posters saying 'Reserve your seat for World-class Life', 'Sky is The Limit' and 'Think and Go Internationally' (sic) with a photograph of a sleeping man morphed over a subway train. Dutt Sharma, a small-time textile exporter from Panipat-turned migration agent who takes around Rs 2.5 lakh per client to move the migration papers and "guarantees a job on arrival in six to nine months' time", says 1,200 people signed up with his agency last year to migrate while another 10,000 contacted the agency for details. "People are crazy about migrating these days," he says.

You see the craze in the queues at high commissions and embassies for immigration forms. On a freezing Delhi evening last week, it's a near-full house at the New Zealand High Commission's weekly hour-long advisory session for aspiring migrants. The questions fly thick and fast. An anxious young man says he's already quit his job, hoping for his application to be cleared fast. "I would like to take my parents too, and my pet dog as well," says a young lady. "Tell me the rules." A middle-aged man in a hurry to migrate is trying to find the fastest way out of the country. "Can my father purchase a farmhouse in New Zealand? If he buys, can he become a permanent resident? How much money is needed?" Then there's a gloomy middle-aged professional, who says, "I have come from Hisar (in Haryana) to attend this. I have a lot of questions on migration as do a lot of the people in my area. Can you attend to these questions on the phone?"

But the Promised Land is also turning out to be a Indian migrant's nightmare these days. The global economic downturn and the fact that the migrants' favoured countries don't fully recognise Indian degrees and job experience means that most of them have to spend their money, study afresh and be prepared for an unexpectedly long haul. Lured by its vast expanses, mild weather and high standards of living, Subhas Kumar, 25, an infotech worker from Hyderabad, migrated to Australia three months ago, confident that he would begin work with an IT company.On landing in Sydney he discovered that the job would not be available for another few months. Kumar is now saving money cooking at home and says when his visa expires in two years, he would like to go back home. "Sydney is very expensive," he says. A 39-year-old journalist, who worked as a deputy editor of an Indian business magazine and prefers to remained unnamed, has not found a firm job after migrating to Australia 18 months ago. He put in three dozen applications with media houses around the country but only two translated into interviews. "I've been doing a whole range of casual jobs as research assistant, standing in front of supermarkets, proof reading. But there's nothing concrete happening," says the journalist, who ekes out a student-like existence in Sydney on earnings of around Australian $800.

In New Zealand, where 60,000 Indians live today, up from 11,000 two decades ago, new migrants are finding it hard to land jobs of their choice. Auckland-based consultant Harjeet Golian warns that it usually takes his clients three to six months before they find a job, any job. "I have seen immigrants getting really frustrated. And some aren't prepared to do hard jobs at all. They say, 'Why? I was better off there.'" There are qualified Indians working as fruit pickers, gas station attendants, cleaners, taxi drivers and cutting vegies at McDonald's. Jahangir Ahmed, 29, from Mumbai and who holds a diploma in marketing, roamed the streets of Auckland for days looking for a job after arriving two months ago. After waiting in an Indian eatery which refused to pay him $800 in back wages, he's now working 20 hours a day at two jobs and earning between $1,500 and $2,000. "You have to be ready for the extreme grind if you are not exceptionally qualified. I wish my agent had warned me about that before I left India," says Ahmed.

Joydeep Bhattacharyya, 38, a marketing manager who spent nine months in Toronto with his lawyer wife after migrating and tried setting up operations for a Calcutta-based software company, found a lot of the new Indian migrants in a funk. "Countries like Canada need immigrants quite desperately for blue-collar jobs," says Bhattacharyya. "But most of the Indians who land up are white-collar people and end up frustrated with the kind of jobs they get." He remembers meeting a middle-aged Indian who had left his job as the deputy general manager of a steel plant in Rourkela to migrate and now works as a $10-an-hour security guard. Also, a doctorate in metallurgy from Punjab working in a furniture shop. Bhattacharyya, who has returned to India, has a piece of sage advice for aspiring migrants: "If you're below 30, not professionally qualified, willing to struggle hard, have no qualms about taking up any job that comes your way, only then you should think about migrating now."

Even the favoured countries seem to have realised the perils of rising 'unsuccessful' migrations. So much so that the New Zealand government has commissioned a survey on the status of migrants—5,000 migrants living in that country over the last three years will be asked on how they have fared and coped. New Zealand, Canada and Australia have already toughened controls, imposing higher passmarks and upping English proficiency scores and trying to link the number of migrants with the availability of the jobs in specific professions.So look before you leap.
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