Sharp increase in student migration catapults total emigrants from Kerala to 2.2 million

Total remittances from migration also reaches a record ₹2,16,893 crore in 2023 from ₹85,092 crore in 2018, marking a 154.9% increase

Updated - June 14, 2024 09:48 pm IST

Published - June 14, 2024 08:47 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

S. Irudaya Rajan, chairman, IIMAD,  presenting the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS), 2023 to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the inauguration of the Loka Kerala Sabha in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday,

S. Irudaya Rajan, chairman, IIMAD, presenting the Kerala Migration Survey (KMS), 2023 to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan during the inauguration of the Loka Kerala Sabha in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday, | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Riding high on the rising student migration from Kerala, the number of emigrants from the State climbed to an estimated population of 2.2 million, closely aligning with the 2.1 million recorded in the previous migration survey held in 2018.

The Kerala Migration Survey (KMS), 2023, conducted by the Gulati Institute of Finance Taxation (GIFT) with technical support from the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), also for the first time estimated the outward remittance from Kerala at ₹43,378.6 crore, about 20% of the inward remittance, a serious issue which Kerala will have to discuss in detail in the coming days.  

The rise in student migration helped Kerala register a marginal rise in total emigration from the State compared to the previous survey in 2018. From just 1,29,763 student emigrants in 2018, the number has doubled to about 2.5 lakhs in 2023, around a 100% increase in the post-pandemic period. The significant jump in student emigration underscores a notable shift in the demographics of emigrants from Kerala, with a considerable increase in the number of emigrants leaving the State at a very young age, as early as 17 years.

Preference for non-GCC countries

The KMS 2023 has also revealed that students constitute 11.3% of total emigrants from Kerala, indicating that a growing number of younger individuals are choosing to emigrate, particularly for educational opportunities abroad. There has also been notable shift in the preference of destination for student migration with the students preferring non-GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council)  countries.

According to S. Irudaya Rajan, chairman, IIMAD, who released the survey report by giving a copy to Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Friday, the dramatic increase in student migration calls for an urgent need to enhance the State’s educational infrastructure and provide resources that ensure safe migration pathways for future student emigrants. It is also important to develop new policies that will encourage Malayalee international students to return home after acquiring valuable skills abroad, fostering a wave of brain gain, said Mr. Rajan.

The proportion of female emigration in general has also increased from 15.8% in 2018 to 19.1% in 2023.  Female migration has further seen a shift from GCC countries to Europe and other Western nations as destination countries, accounting for 40.5%. In terms of education, 71.5% of female migrants were found to have completed degree-level education as opposed to only 34.7% of male emigrants.

Decline in 9 districts

Among the general migration trends, there is only a slight increase of 32,388 emigrants in 2023. However, 9 out of the 14 districts in Kerala observed a considerable decline in the number of emigrants when compared to 2018, indicating a saturation of international migration, the survey found. North Kerala continues to dominate in the migration with Malappuram leading in the table with 3,77,647 emigrants in 2023.

With regards to the religious distribution, Muslims accounts for 41.9% of the total emigrants, followed by Hindus at 35.2% and Christians at 22.3 %. UAE continues to retain the prime choice for emigrants form Kerala in 2023. However, there has been a decline in the number of emigrants choosing GCC countries from 89.2% in 2018 to 80.5% in 2023. Simultaneously there has been a rise in the number of emigrants preferring non-GCC destination countries, from 10.8% in 2018 to 19.5% in 2023.

During the data collection, many homes were found to be locked with entire families being migrated. About 4.2 lakh (0.4 million) cases of family migration have been identified by the survey. The global Malayali diaspora is now estimated to be 5 million, whereas the Malayali diaspora outside Kerala, within India, is estimated at 3 million. Total remittances from migration also reached a record ₹2,16,893 crore in 2023 from ₹85,092 crore in 2018, marking a 154.9% increase, strengthening the economy of the State. Kerala also holds a steady 21% share of India’s NRI deposits, a figure that has remained consistent since 2019.

The number of emigrants who have returned home is also estimated to be 1.8 million, a significant increase from 1.2 million in 2018. This increase over the last few years had been expected due to the global health crisis-induced economic disruptions, stricter immigration policies, and a significant reduction in available job opportunities. The KMS also estimated a total of 0.5 million out-migrants from Kerala.

The survey conducted in the sample size of 20,000 households across 14 districts and 77 taluks of Kerala is one of the largest socio-economic surveys conducted in Kerala since the State’s formation in 1956.

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