In this article, You will read Migration in India – for UPSC (Population and Settlement Geography – Geography Optional).

Migration in India

  • One important facet of study on population is the study of migration arising out of various social, economic, or political reasons. For a large country like India, the study of the movement of population in different parts of the country helps in understanding the dynamics of the society better.
  • At this junction in the economic development, in the country, especially when many states are undergoing faster economic development, particularly in areas, such as manufacturing, information technology, or service sectors, the data migration profile of the population has become more important.
  • When a person is enumerated in census at a different place than his/her place of birth, she/he is considered a migrant. This may be due to marriage, which is the most common reason for migration among females, or for work, what is the case as generally among males, etc.
  • Migration data in India is derived from the census data table. Collection of migratory data till 1961 census was in reference to “BIRTH PLACE”.
  • The 1971 census added migration by the last place of residence and it is since the 1981 census that causes of migratory decisions have been integrated into the collection of migration data.
  • As census data takes into account a gap of 10 years, minor migratory movement is overlooked, and therefore data by NSSO is integrated to analyze the migratory trends.
  • As per census data, 25% of the country’s population form migrates with rural dwellers showing more migratory tendency than other counterparts. The main cause of migration in India is economic.
  • As per the census of India, there are 7 broad reasons for migration.
    • For business
    • For work and employment
    • Marriage
    • Moved at birth (child moving with parents)
    • Moved with families (dependent population moved along with employed population)
    • Political reasons ( mostly forced migration including ethnic, tribal, religious conflicts and displacement due to development projects)
    • Education
  • The in-migration in India is more of a recent trend and most of it is because of political refugees (from Bangladesh, Tibet, etc).
  • The out-migration in India has happened broadly at four instances:
    • Indentured labour
    • Toward Europe and the USA (professionals)
    • Because of partition
    • Present phase (professional/IT Sector)
  • Most of the migrations are largely internal as the Indian population is considered as the least mobile people in the world
  • At every census 90% of the people are enumerated in the same district as their place of birth and of the remainder, 7% were born in the neighboring district.
  • Family system, agrarian culture, widespread poverty, lack of adequate means of transportation and communication, lack of knowledge about options outside are the causes of poor mobility.
Migration in India - UPSC

Internal Migration

  • Internal migration is the movement of people from one defined area to another within a country.
  • There are two types of internal migration:
    • Inter-regional migration involves movement from one region of the country to another.
    • Intra-regional migration involves the movement within the same region of the country. E.g. Rural to Rural, Rural to Urban, etc.
  • Internal migration in India is primarily of two types:
    • Long-term migration, resulting in the relocation of an individual or household.
    • Short-term migration, involving back and forth movement between source and destination.
  • Key source states for internal migration in India are Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, and Chhattisgarh.
  • Key destination states involve Delhi, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab, and Karnataka.
  • Internal migrants in India constitute a large population of 309 million internal migrants or 30 % of the population (census 2001)
  • Female Migration: Out of total internal migrants, 70.7% are women, and marriage is one of the major reasons for female migration in both the rural and urban areas.
  • Male Migration: Migration for employment-related reasons is one of the prominent reasons for male migration in both rural and urban areas.
  • Employing Sectors: Migrants are mostly employed in sub-sectors like construction, domestic works, textile, brick-kilns, transportation, mines, quarries, and agriculture.
  • Urbanization: rates of urbanization influence rural-urban wage differences and an increase in the demand for labour in urban areas, which can push up urban wages and increase migration.
  • Intraregional migration is not of much socio-economic significance.
  • The rural to urban migration is due to various factors.
    • Middle and high-income groups migrate for better facilities.
    • Landless labourers perform seasonal shifts (when the number of agricultural activities are to be performed in rural areas.
    • E.g. Dr. Satyadev Sinha’s study in Patna reveals that there is seasonal migration leading to an increase in rickshaws on streets, squatter settlements, and informal activities.
  • Religious and tourist places e.g. Kedarnath and Badrinath are closed in winters but in spring local people migrate to these townships.
  • Tourist centres become the source of alternate livelihood for people living in adjacent villages.
  • Rural unrest- It is especially in Central plains i.e. Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, East Uttar Pradesh, etc. Many well off families of these areas have settled in nearby urban areas due to this reason. Insecurity is the principal cause of this migration. E.g. smaller towns like Jehanabad, Aurangabad, Buxar in Bihar
  • Matrimonial alliance also facilitates migration.
  • Although there are some defined trends of intraregional migration but the impact has not been so much socially and economically as Interregional migration.
Inter Regional migration

Rural-Urban Migration:

  • Rural-Urban migration is a national tendency. The factors are mainly economic, social, and demographic.
  • Social factors: It includes migration due to better education, the better quality of life, health facilities, and social insecurity due to ethnic, communal, and cast tensions.
  • Economic factors: It involves unemployment in rural areas (Push factor) or attractive employment opportunities in urban areas (Pull factor)
  • Demographic factors: Rapid population growth in rural areas induces the migration of people from rural to urban areas.
  • Case Study:
    • Migration of Kashmiri pundits in large number to Jammu.
    • Social tensions between tribal and non-tribal people promoted Rural-Urban migration in North Eastern and Eastern India.
  • Rural to urban migration is created by Pull and Push factors, Pull factors are induced by urban centres and push factors work at rural areas which are the source region.
  • India has a bearing of both, but there has been a greater impact of Push forces. E.g. during Second Plan, many industrial cities were established like:
    • Bokaro Steel City:
      • Earlier Bokaro was the region of 33 villages and no townships were present
      • The population in the township in Bokaro grown to more than one lakh by 1971 and of these 95% were non-tribal. This was mainly due to Pull factors.
      • The city is planned to accommodate on 4 lack people and even to today, the migration is continued due to Push factors.
  • Metropolitan cities:
    • Metropolitan cities have phenomenal growth and 3 to 4 lack people migrate to the cities like Mumbai and Delhi every year.
    • Cities like Bangalore, Hyderabad, Ahmadabad, and Surat have a yearly inflow of more than one lakh per year
    • Cities like Patna, Lucknow, Kanpur, and Jaipur have a yearly inflow of more than 50,000 per year.
    • The Hugli Industrial Region had its catchment area up to Eastern UP till 1970, but it has now extended up to Assam and North East
    • Many suburbs of Kolkata and large areas of the Hugli Industrial Region is occupied by people from Bihar and Eastern Uttar Pradesh.
    • Large-sized cities are exploding and the number of metro cities is increasing and the major force is the push factor from rural India and small towns.
Rural Urban Migration
  • Problems created due to Rural to Urban migration
    • Slum growth: Rural to Urban migration leads to the growth of urban slums which extend in form of squatter and pavement settlements.
    • Pressure on public utility system: It involves crowded buses, drainage problems, public land and road encroachment, sanitary problems, pressure on power supply, etc.
    • Cultural tension: It involves temperamental tensions between urban dwellers and newcomers from rural areas.
    • Environment degradation of urban ecology: the problem of urban heat island, eutrophication of urban water bodies, air pollution is included in this.

Seasonal Migration:

  • it involves labour migration, migration to metropolitan areas and migration to religious and tourist centres.
  • Labour migration from Bihar, East UP, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh to Punjab, Haryana, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Jammu and Kashmir and North-East India.
Seasonal Migration
  • Seasonal migration to metropolitan cities: People go here to work in construction works and footloose industry. Most of them are underemployed but better than employment in villages.
  • Seasonal Migration to places of tourist interest and religious centres: This is prominent in South India and the Himalayan region. E.g. a large number of migrant labours from Eastern UP migrates to Uttarakhand hill stations in summer.
  • Associated problems with seasonal migration:
    • Insecurity: Migrant workers don’t have any legal support to work at these places. There are no contract papers making these migrants vulnerable to job insecurity.
    • There is no social security in absence of proper identification proof.
    • Improper benefits and remunerations lead to the exploitation of labour. E.g. low wages.
    • Agricultural Hazards: In the agricultural belt of Punjab and Haryana the migrants are facing agricultural hazards, but due to lack of employment they are ready to take huge risks for their survival.
    • Generally, the agricultural labours are SC, ST, landless labourers, BPL, etc., which creates all sorts of problems for them at the place of their destination.
  • Some solution and measures:
    • Temporary ration card should be issued to these migrant labours
    • UWIN card: Unorganised Workers’ Identification Number or UWIN is a proposed unique number to be issued as the identity proof to unorganised workers in India for creation of a single unified sanitized database for unorganised workers to act as a platform to enable social security services to be provided to unorganised workers
    • Basic amenities should be provided to these migrant labours at the place of their dwelling.
Sectoral migration

Over all internal migration is characterized by 4 streams:

  • Rural to Rural (47%)
  • Rural-Urban (32%)
  • Urban-Urban (15%)
  • Urban to Rural (6%)
Sectoral Migration

Rural to Rural (47%):

  • This is the most dominating migratory movement identified in the country in the 2011 Census.
  • This intra-sectoral migration correlates to both intra-regional and inter-regional characteristics.
  • The intra-regional perspective involves larger migratory volumes than inter-regional
  • The main causes for this migration are:
    • Marriage migration
    • Agriculture labourers. E.g. movement of agriculture labourers from overpopulated to underpopulated areas like
      • Movement between Awadh-Rohilkhand plains to Delta plains
      • Movement between Marusthali to Banas Valley (Intra-regional)
      • Movement between UP and Bihar to Punjab, Haryana, and Assam.
    • Government decisions like:
      • Resettlement of Sikhs in Tarai region UP
      • In the Dandkaranya project government provided for the resettlement of 20,000 families.

Rural-Urban (32%)

  • It is the second prominent migratory trend. It is inter-sectoral migration that has been the most dominating migratory trend since independence.
  • It is the result of push factors in rural areas and pulls factors in urban areas. However, since 1981 census, positive effect of rural development program has resulted in easing down of push factors making this trend slump to 2nd rank.
  • It involves Megacities as a destination with rural dwellers primarily from population surplus states such as UP, Bihar, MP, etc acting as source areas.
  • Exponential increase in population and the number of megacities in the country is primary attributed to Rural-Urban migration.
  • This migratory trend also includes intra-regional and inter-regional subcategories. E.g.:
    • UP and Kerala-Intra-regional migration (i.e. migration within UP and Kerala)
    • Maharashtra, NTC, Chandigarh inter-regional migration (migration from adjacent regions)

Urban-Urban (15%)

  • It involves migration mainly from small towns to larger cities
  • This migration involves step migration i.e. first migration takes place from rural areas to small towns and then to larger cities (Class II to Class I towns)
  • Urban to Urban migration usually takes place in search of better opportunities and a better standard of living. It is dominated by people from the middle class. It creates a vacuum in small towns.

Urban to Rural (6%)

  • It is a push-back or reverses migration.
  • It takes place at the advanced level of urbanization when urban centers are characterized by over congestion, haphazard growth, and high cost of living.
  • It is less as it involves the old age population migrating largely after the completion of their professional commitment.
  • This migratory movement is technically referred to as be counter-current of migration.
Spatial trends of migration
  • UP and Bihar are the largest source regions for migrants whereas Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Haryana are preferred destinations for migration.
  • NCT, Gujarat, and Maharashtra offered industrial employment while Haryana offered agricultural employment.
  • Other preferred destination includes Karnataka which receives migrants primarily from southern states and Punjab where migrants are mainly agricultural labours.
  • Most of the migrants working as domestic help hail from Bengal.
  • Most of the peninsular states represents an example of stable areas in terms of their considerable distance from the source region.
  • The preferred destination for Eastern India has historical factors like Kolkata and the industrial regions of Damodar Valley.
  • West Bengal, Assam, and Punjab are the three states that continue to be attractive for migrants.
  • Most of the interstate migration is to states with adjoining common boundaries but there are two exceptions
    • Migrants from UP prefer Maharashtra
    • Migrants from Orissa prefer Gujarat
  • Of the developed states, the only state which doesn’t have in-migrants and is the net source of migration is Kerala because of the limited agriculture potential of Kerala, very high local labour pool and limited industrial development.
  • Most of the outmigration from India into the Middle East is from Kerala (Kerala referred to as Money order economy due to very high remittance)
  • Unfavorable remote locations such as the Northern mountain wall, Great Indian Desert, Rann of Kuchh form the example of isolated areas.

External Migration

External migration in India can be classified into:

  • Emigration from India to various parts of the world.
  • Immigration of people from different countries to India.
  • Refugee migration: There had also been a significant trend of involuntary or forced immigration to India in the form of refugees.


  • Emigration during colonial rule
    • In ancient times, Indian traders established bases around the Indian and the Pacific Ocean, especially in east Africa and western and Southeast Asia. However, those flows were not the basis for Indian migration in the 19th century or the global dispersion seen today.
    • In 1834, Britain began exporting Indian labour to Mauritius. The Netherlands and France, which replicated the British system, also relied on Indian workers. By 1878, Indians were working in Guyana, Trinidad, Natal (South Africa), Suriname, and Fiji.
  • Emigration on the eve of independence
    • The partition led to an enormous migration of people which is estimated at between 12 and 18 million that took place from 1947 to 1950. About half of the migrants (mainly Muslims) moved from India to Pakistan and half (mainly Hindus and Sikhs) moved in the opposite direction.
      • This two-way migration was accompanied by server violence between caravans of migrants and in the respective source regions. Estimates of the death toll during this period range between 200,000 and 1 million.
      • During the war in East Pakistan, in 1971, which lead to the formation of Bangladesh, around 10 million refugees (80% of them Hindu) crossed the border into India of which an estimated 35,000 remained in India.
  • Post-independence emigration
    • The Supreme Court established the “right to travel” as a fundamental right under the Indian constitution, following which the Indian parliament enacted the Passports Act of 1967.
    • In the first decades after independence, unskilled, skilled, and professional workers (mostly male Punjabi Sikhs) migrated from India to the United Kingdom. This is commonly attributed to Britain’s post-war demand for low-skilled labour, postcolonial ties, and the United Kingdom’s commonwealth immigration policy, which allowed any citizen of a commonwealth country to live, work, vote, and hold public office in the United Kingdom.
  • Current scenario of emigration
    • The top three countries of origin of international migrants – India (17.5 million)> Mexico (11.8 million)> China (10.7 million).
    • The top three remittance recipients were India ($78.6 billion)> china ($67.4 billion)> Mexico ($35.7 billion).
    • The United States remained the top remittance-sending country ($68 billion) followed by the United Arab Emirates ($44.4 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($36.1 billion).


  • Immigration, process through which individuals become permanent residents or citizens of another country. Historically, the process of immigration has been of great social, economic, and cultural benefit to states.
  • According to the International Migrant Stock 2019 report, released by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), India has emerged as the leading country of origin for immigrants across the world.
  • Highlights of the report
    • The report provides the latest estimates of the number of international migrants as per their age, sex, and origin, for all countries and areas of the world.
    • India remained the top source of international migrants constituting 6.4% of the total world’s migrant population.
      • The most preferred destination of the Indian migrants was the UAE followed by the US, and then Saudi Arabia.
      • In India, the highest number of international migrants came from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. One-third of all international migrants originated from mostly 10 countries.
      • India (17.5 million international migrants) is followed by Mexico (12 million migrants), China (11 million), Russia (10 million), and Syria (8 million).

Refugee Migration

  • A refugee is defined as “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality “.
  • A refugee does not change his nationality after migration from his mother country. Example Tibetan refugees in India
  • The refugee of partition-Though people who crossed over the newly formed boundaries between India and Pakistan – by choice or forcibly – didn’t lose their nationalities.
  • The Tibetan refugees settled across northern and northeastern Indian states, and the seat of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual as well as the political leader of the Tibetan community.
  • The next major refugee crisis happened during Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971, when millions of refugees migrated from the country to India, fleeing the conflict between the Pakistani army.
  • Another sizable group of refugees in India comprises of Sri Lankan Tamils who abandoned the Island nation in wake of active discriminatory policies by successive Sri Lankan governments, events like the Black July Riots of 1983, and the bloody Sri Lankan civil war.
  • The debate over refugees gained national prominence yet again after 40,000 Rohingya Muslims escaped Myanmar to take shelter in India. The office of UNNHRC has issued identity cards to about 16,500 Rohingya in India.

International Migration

  • International Migration in India can be divided into two categories viz. International in-migration and out-migration from India.
  • International in-migration:
    • India has not constantly affected by in-migration, but some historical events have added led to the international in-migration in India such as:
      • Partition (1947-51):
        • During partition, there was an influx of 73 lakh refugees in India, but there was equally overwhelming out-migration.
        • Hindus and Sikhs came to India while Muslims left for Pakistan.
        • The in-migrants settled in urban areas, suburban refugee colonies, and Tarai belts of Uttar Pradesh.
        • They didn’t create social problems, rather contribute to the growth of the country
      • Buddhist Migration (1954-59): About 1 lakh Tibetans settled at Dharmshala in Himachal Pradesh.
      • Liberation of Bangladesh (1971): The movement launched by Mukti Bahini led to the arrival of about 10 million people in India. There is no parallel record in the world where one country provided food for one crore people for 8 months.
      • Tamil migrants: During colonial times a large number of Tamils went to Jaffna and the North-East province of Sri Lanka, it led to the eruption of grievances with local people leading to militancy. The operations against Tamil militants by the government led to the migration of Tamils to India.
      • Current times: People from different countries such as SAARC and African nations come to India for education based on scholarship, business, etc.
      • Geopolitical crisis: People of Indian origin living in Gulf counties such as Yemen, Syria, Iraq, etc. are returning back due to the volatile political situation in these areas.
  • Out-migration before independence:
    • Indian out-migration started during colonial times, mainly after the end of the slave trade (1833), after which labour shortage started which caused Indian migration from UP, Bihar to countries like the Philippines, Java in Indonesia, etc for plantation agriculture.
    • Labour migration: Labour migrations mainly happened from
      • East UP, Bihar to Central America and Mauritius for plantation agriculture
      • Western UP and Punjab to Fiji
      • Tamil Nadu to Malaysia for rubber plantation
      • These were areas important for agriculture but unsuited for Europeans. The migrants were mainly upper-class people.
    • Passage migration:
      • This migration happened from India mainly to Hong Kong, Kenya, Singapore and Uganda.
      • It was properly channelized migration.
      • The source area included Gujarat (Gujarati and Sindhi), Maharashtra, Punjab Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. They settled at these places permanently
      • The later passage was given to South Africa and New Zealand
  • Out-migration after independence
    • Brain drain migration:
      • It involved the migration of technically skilled people mainly to the USA, Canada and some European countries.
      • Indians are high earners in the USA, the average income of a US citizen is $40,000 while the average income of an Indian in the USA is $60,000 (for Silicon Valley it is $120,000).
      • In Canada, a large number of Sikhs are working in Prairies.
    • Labour migration:
      • Indian labour migration is directed mainly towards Gulf countries.
      • After the Arab-Israel war of 1972-73, there was the era of the oil crisis in the world, after which there was a boost in petroleum production in gulf countries which led to the migration of Indian labours to these countries.
      • Approximately 7 million Indians are working in Gulf countries and contributing to higher remittances.
Migration from India
Countries where Indian population is substantial
Mapping change in international migration flows
international migration
Map of major South Asian migration flows
Map of major South Asian migration flows

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Dear LotusArise,

Thank you for such precise and clear notes. Thanks for your valuable efforts and help to future civil servants. and All The Best for your journey as well.



Thankyou sir thank you very much