India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China

Executive Summary

India and China boast two of the largest and most extensive diasporas in the world, both having a long history of settlement and contribution abroad. MPC’s latest research report “India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China” discusses the history and main characteristics of the diaspora policies of the two countries.  Moreover, the report highlights new forms of citizenship such as “emotional citizenship” and “flexible citizenship” which are increasingly emerging as a result of transnational migration. The report concludes with policy recommendations for the Indian government in the field of diaspora relations.

India’s diaspora policy

In 2001, the High Level Committee on the Indian diaspora established by the Indian government estimated the global Indian diaspora at 20 million people (representing 1.9% of the total Indian population). In India, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) has a number of special programmes for overseas Indians. Two successful examples are – the PIO or Person of Indian Origin Card (introduced in 2002) and the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card introduced in 2006. The PIO card grants visa free travel to India for a period of 15 years and cardholders are exempt from registering with the police if their stay does not exceed 180 days. The card is designed for foreign passport holders of Indian origin up to the fourth generation settled throughout the world except for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Although similar to the PIO card, the OCI card gives visa free, multiple entry and multi-purpose travel for life, as well as permanently exempts its owners from ever having to register with the police. Its eligibility criteria is slightly more restrictive, being aimed at foreign passport holders of Indian origin (except Pakistan and Bangladesh) up to the third rather than fourth generation. It has been a great success, as measured from the latest MOIA annual report which reports that a total of 1,029,131 individuals of Indian origin have successfully applied for OCI status as of Feb 14 2012.

In addition, the MOIA also initiated the ´Know India´ (launched in 2004) and ´Study India´ (introduced in 2012) schemes. These are aimed at youth aged 18-26 years, who are selected by Indian missions abroad to participate in three or four week long study sessions in order to get to know their Indian roots and become acquainted with contemporary Indian society.

China´s diaspora policy

Compared to India, China has developed a more extensive diaspora engagement policy and institutional apparatus. The Global Commission on International Migration in 2005 estimated the worldwide Chinese diaspora at between 30-40 million people (representing 2.9% of the total Chinese population). [1] The government has made a concerted attempt to embrace all ethnic Chinese, regardless of nationality or date of migration, as part of the Chinese family and hence inextricably tied to the Chinese nation. Its discourse, like that of India’s, stresses the importance of ethnic identity and pride in one’s heritage.

The aims of the Chinese and Indian governments are thus similar: both have sought to expand and de-territorialise the concept of “Chinese” or “Indian” in an attempt to promote their economic and social development.

However, the focus of their diaspora policies has differed. China’s “Roots Seeking” programmes for overseas youth promotes Chinese language and culture abroad but China has not introduced special visa-free administrative schemes for the overseas Chinese. On the contrary, China has over the last two decades aggressively courted the return of its highly-skilled diaspora through a variety of employment and scholarship programmes.

One example is China´s flagship programme for attracting overseas talent – known as “1000 Talents”. This programme offers high-level academic positions to senior Chinese scholars with PhDs (earned overseas at salaries) up to 20 times higher than what local faculty make. In large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, annual salaries reach 1, 000, 000 RMB or 121, 000 Euros annually (in comparison with around 200, 000 RMB or 24 000 Euros for locals), enhanced by a one-time relocation payment of 1, 000, 000 RMB, generous research funding, a living allowance, social security benefits and access to prestigious university-affiliated primary/secondary schools for their children. Thus far, 2263 Chinese scientists and other academics have returned under this programme, although not without provoking local resentment at their much superior living and working conditions.

A second strand of the 1000 Talents programme seeks to draw innovators (for example patent holders) in specialist engineering and high technology sectors who will create companies or jobs in China. Their salaries are even higher, at 3, 000, 000 RMB per year (363 330 Euros). More than 2100 academics and high achieving innovators have returned to China thanks to the 1000 Talents programme, exceeding the original target of 2000 individuals.

Lessons for India?

China can claim success in attracting a significant number of “sea turtles” as returnees are known, back to Chinese universities and research parks, and has also been very successful in attracting ethnic Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Although FDI figures from the Indian diaspora have been disappointing, India is the leading recipient of remittances worldwide, and its “Person of Indian Origin” and “Overseas Citizen of India” schemes have enjoyed great popularity among the Indian diaspora.

In order to strengthen diaspora investment and return, India can consider opening up public sector employment to Persons of Indian Origin, approve the Innovation Universities Bill which will allow the creation of private “PIO/NRI” universities in India, and accelerate the process of merging the PIO and OCI schemes into one universal and streamlined card for all persons of Indian origin. Finally, on the global stage, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which runs Indian Cultural Centres abroad, would do well to expand their number and global reach (particularly in North/South America and in continental Europe). Being visible culturally and linguistically on the global stage is vital for promoting India´s ´soft power´ and can potentially reach a much greater number of PIO youth than the current small numbers participating in its “Know India” programmes. Finally, India could do more to expand the efforts of the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, creating a sub-national network of such centres. Currently some Indian states are relatively deficient in diaspora engagement whereas others, such as Kerala, have developed an extensive diasporic infrastructure of their own. Regional Overseas Indian Facilitation Centres could launch internship programmes in priority areas and business start-up schemes that encourage talented young PIO youth living abroad to bring knowledge and business creation to India.


While India and China initially neglected their respective diasporas, their policy of indifference changed when they embarked upon economic reform. Although neither country accepts dual nationality, both have now recognised the great economic and social value of their diasporas and the potential contribution to the “homeland” that they can make from abroad. China and India have created an increasingly extensive diasporic infrastructure (such as dedicated diaspora ministries), combined with policies designed to attract investment as well as emotionally bind the diaspora to the “motherland”. While China has aggressively courted its highly skilled scientific diaspora, offering highly competitive salaries and working conditions to returnees, India has pursued a policy of offering a range of benefits (such as visa-free travel) to its diaspora, and creating two main categories of overseas Indians.

Overall, the diaspora policies of India and China demonstrate that:

1)      Although the absolute numbers of their knowledge diasporas may be small in relation to the overall size of the diaspora, their contribution to the domestic economy can be highly disproportionate; and,

2)       In order to attenuate the effects of the brain drain, it is possible for origin countries to promote diaspora engagement employing a variety of modes of ´flexible´ citizenship that allows their global diasporas to contribute without being residents.

Please Note: This is a summary of the MPC Report titled India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China.

Kathryn Lum, Research Assistant to CARIM-India

The views expressed by the authors are not necessarily the views of the Migration Policy Centre.

[1] These figures include several generations of migrants and their descendants and are not the result of an official census.


India-EU Student mobility – A Win-Win Opportunity for the EU?


  • Education services industry has a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars.
  • International student fees assist in financing the higher education sector in host countries.
  • According to available statistics present with UNESCO, there were 51566 Indian students in Europe in the year 2009 of which 34065 were based in UK.
  • According to a large number of studies, Indian students are amongst the best and the most highly achieving studentsespecially in the fields of IT, engineering, medicine and biological sciences
  • Providing better employment opportunities for Indian graduates from EU-based universities should be seen as a mutually beneficial arrangement as it addresses the growing skills shortage in the OECD countries as well as provides strong incentives for Indian students to choose EU countries for higher education.
  • Financial feasibility of foreign education and employment prospects are the driving forces for Indian students in European (non-English speaking) countries.
  • Steps should be taken to reduce the high monetary impact on Indian students by providing scholarships to meritorious students with conditions regarding their return to India.
  • European universities should implement a mechanism of integration to assist Indian students to bridge the cultural and language gaps in host (non-English speaking) EU countries.


Education is an important area of cooperation for both India and the European Union (EU). India-EU strategic partnership in education has been further strengthened through the revision of the Joint Action Plan (JAP) in 2008 which addressed the issue of student migration, education and academic exchange (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:1) Apart from promoting positive bilateral relations between the two economic powers, promoting student mobility is also mutually beneficial in terms of the huge economic incentive it provides. A profit-churning industry with a global turnover of up to 90 billion dollars (Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: x), education services is a sector that the EU should promote further in the coming decades.  

Indian students abroad

Since the past ten years, there has been a remarkable rise in the number of Indian students pursuing higher education outside India. India is one of the key markets targeted by the leading providers of higher education. India has grown considerably in terms of its contribution in the international students market and is the second most important source country after China[i]. Even though the US is till the top destination for Indian students (53.6% of Indian students abroad chose to study in the US in 2009[ii]), its market share has drastically reduced since 2000 mainly because of stricter immigration policies post 9/11.

On one hand, the percentage of Indian students in the US has reduced, but on the other hand, a combination of political and economic developments has promoted Indian students to seek Europe, in particular UK, as a destination for higher education. UK has attracted over 17 % of Indian students in 2009[iii], becoming the second most important destination after the US. It has been the most preferred destination for Indian students in Europe due to four reasons – colonial heritage leading to a long standing relationship between UK and India; presence of reputed institutions of higher education; Indian students’ preference to study in programmes taught in English; and the presence of a large Indian diaspora in UK providing a ‘home-away-from-home’. However, UK education comes with some disadvantages as well which includes its high cost such as premium tuition fees coupled with sky-high living expenses.  

In such a situation, other European countries are slowly gaining favour amongst the Indian student community, especially countries such as France and Germany.  In addition, Indian students also fulfil the shortage created by low EU student enrolment in science and engineering courses. According to a survey carried out by the Erasmus Mundus programme[iv], students from India usually do not perceive the EU as a single entity and see differences in between member countries with regard to living costs, tuition fees, facilities provided, visa regulations, work permit regulations, quality and teaching methods. Mainland/continental European countries are slowly gaining favour among the Indian community for higher education because of cheaper tuition costs, availability of scholarships and growth in programmes taught in English.

UK has recently changed its immigration policy and removed its post-study work visa (PSW) route for non-EU nationals. This visa was an essential incentive for non-EU students to come to UK as it allowed them to work in UK for 2 years (without a need for a sponsor) after they graduate from a UK university. With the change in immigration policies in UK, it is a crucial time for other European host countries to gain momentum and attract more Indian students to join their higher education establishments.

Essential aspects for promoting India-EU student mobility:

  • Scholarships – Scholarships, such as those provided through the Erasmus Mundus Programme, need to be increased to provide financial assistance to meritorious Indian students. These should be given with conditions regarding the students’ return to India.
  • Employment – employment policies need to be made more flexible to fill labour market shortages in the EU and give an opportunity for Indian students graduating from EU-based universities to gain work experience. Internships and employment through tie-ups with European companies based in India can act as an incentive.
  • Student exchange programmes – Partnerships between Indian and EU-based universities need to be promoted so that there is exchange of students, faculty members and researchers between the two regions.
  • Advertising and Marketing – Strategic promotion has to be conducted in India to promote European universities and improve visibility of programmes taught in English through education fairs,  virtual discussions on online student forums, etc.
  • Flexible visa and immigration policies – policies tackling illegal migration should not affect genuine students and a special visa facilitation system should be introduced for students to make the visa process more standardized and simplified across the EU.
  • Integration mechanism –language training and cultural workshops need to be conducted (both pre-course training as well as later upon arrival in host country) to alleviate cultural and language barriers.

Indian students, along with the rest of the international student community, pay premium fees for studying in countries such as USA or UK which can be almost three times the amount charged to local students (Lall 2008 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). Not only is the income generated through these fees beneficial for the host country economies , but the presence of meritorious Indian students also creates a healthy competition amongst the student community and raises the performance standards of host universities (Khadria 2001 cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012:3). In the present globalised world, the EU needs to make sure that it promotes student mobility through specialized education policy framework, which can in turn maintain EU’s competitive edge at the global level and fulfil the predicted labour market shortage in specialised sectors. 

The MPC Team

[i] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 6

[ii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 8

[iii] UNESCO database on International students at tertiary level (ISCED 5 and 6) cited in Mukherjee and Chanda 2012: 13

[iv] Survey titled ‘Perceptions of European Higher Education in Third Countries’ cited in Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India


Mukherjee, S. and Chanda, R. (2012) Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, Migration Policy Center (MPC), Florence, Italy

Lall, M. (2006) Indian Students in Europe: Trends, Constraints and Prospects – Living in ‘the Age of migration’, Briefing Paper for the Academic Network for European Research on India

Note: This brief is largely based on MPC’s research report titled ‘Indian Student Mobility to European Countries: An Overview’, CARIM-India Research Report 2012, written by Shahana Mukherjee and Rupa Chanda