Indians travelling overseas for work or study is not a new phenomenon. However, the pace with which Indians relinquish their Indian citizenship is not quite normal. As per the data provided by the Ministry of Home Affairs, responding to a Parliament query, over six lakh of Indians gave up their Indian citizenship from 2017 to 2021.
In 2021 alone, 1,63,370 Indians renounced their citizenship. In 2020, the figure was around 85,000. Now, this is also the highest in the last five years. From 2019 to 2021, 3.92 lakh people shipped out of India and relinquished their Indian passports. Furthermore, according to the Ministry of External Affairs data, more than 8.5 lakh people gave up their citizenship between 2015 and September 2021.
Where Are These Indians Heading?
Western countries are the top choices for Indians leaving their country after renouncing their citizenship. Of the 1.63 lakh people relinquishing their passports in 2021, over 78,000 went to the United States of America. The US is their top choice.
Canada is another destination, with over 21,000 Indians opting for its passport. The United Kingdom continues to feature among the top five destinations, with over 14,500 Indians swapping their Indian passport with the ones issued by the UK. Australia is another familiar port of call for many Indians wanting to leave. Over 22,500 opted for Australian citizenship in 2021.
In Southeast Asia, the destination of choice appears to be Singapore. Over 2500 Indians have applied and have taken up citizenship in Singapore.
In Europe, Italy is the fast-growing destination for several Indians, with nearly 6000 people choosing the Mediterranean country. Meanwhile, Spain saw nearly 1600 Indians apply for and secure their citizenship. Neighbouring Portugal saw more than 700 Indians take up citizenship.
Why Is This Happening?
Why are Indians leaving one of the fastest growing economies in the world, a nation that aspires to be a five trillion-dollar economy and one which is attracting a substantial amount of foreign investment?
There are several factors or reasons behind why Indians renounce their Indian citizenship. However, the Minister of State for Home Affairs, Mr Nityanand Rai, says that the reason for surrendering their Indian passport was personal to them.
High-net-worth Indians do not want to be in this country, and there is a year-on-year growth in the number of Indians leaving. Above the personal reasons, there should be specific causes for such kind of massive immigration.
1. No Dual Citizenship
Indians are not allowed to hold dual citizenship. Thus, when faced with a choice, many choose to give up their Indian passport. Those who prefer or choose another passport that attaches more value or weight to their preferred passport show better prospects and status than in the country where they were born and raised. So, there are no two options to take surrendering or renouncing versus choosing and preferring the country of birth and being raised to the country of preference and destiny.
2. Low Passport Index
Low passport index ranking is one of the primary reasons behind the mass exodus. According to Henley Passport Index in 2022, the Indian passport ranked 87th among 199 passports. India offers visa-free travel to just 58 destinations. Japan ranks number one with access to 193 countries, and Singapore and South Korea ranked number two with entry to 192 countries.
Among other top countries are EU Nations, US, UK, and Australia. Pakistan has one of the least powerful passports, ranked at 109. The higher the passport index rating, the better access to travel visa-free to many countries. These also lead to exemption from bureaucratic delays, and the immigration process benefits traders and business people.
3. Better Opportunities
India is facing a severe epic crisis in employment opportunities. Only 42% of the working-age Indians have jobs. Many Indians have found better work opportunities in western nations than in India. Furthermore, Indians who go abroad for higher education often decide to stay there and find a job with attractive salaries.
International immigration generally rises with economic development. As the nation gets wealthier, more Indians are immigrating.. In the case of education, India has ensured that almost every child goes to primary school, but higher education is still a challenge. India has some stellar institutions like the IITs and IIMs, but they hardly appear on the list of top global universities. So, students leave to study abroad to land better-paying jobs. Despite the high expense of these degrees, they attract hundreds and thousands of Indian students.
4. Standard of Living & Social Security
The quality of life remains one of the significant criteria for moving abroad. Indians sought a better standard of living for the taxes they paid. The safety of women and better education for children also added to a better life. Daily lifestyle factors such as pollution and climate change also drive Indians to move to another country.
According to a report by IQAir in 2021, sixty-three Indian cities featured among the top 100 polluted cities in the world.
5. Availability of Citizenship/Residence by Investment
Countries like Portugal run a golden visa program for citizenship by investment or residence by investment. Availability of citizenship by investment program provides citizenship by buying a residence in the country. Moreover, some entrepreneurs believe they would get a larger pool of capital and investors for their business. The US provides EB-5 program visas to attract investors to permanent residence in the country.
There has also been a 63% rise in citizenship by investment queries made by Indians. As control over migration has increased amid the pandemic, second citizenship or residence has been claimed to provide more stability. However, Indians seeking citizenship by investment also have to give up their Indian passports.
6. Gender Equality
In 2021, the gender gap in India widened to 62.5%. There are not enough women in technical and leadership roles, which stems from gender disparities in education, labour force participation, and income levels. This led to a highly skilled woman shifting abroad without intentions to return.
7. Reforms in Immigration Policies
After the COVID crisis, many countries went through several reforms in their immigration policies to attract immigrants. Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom are the major countries that have come out with point-based systems to streamline human resources for coming to those countries. This also led to one of the major factors attracting Indians to migrate to those countries.
For several reasons, on average,1,21,632 people have given up Indian citizenship annually. However, only an average of 1,044 people took Indian citizenship in the last five years, which means that the total intake was only one percent of the renunciation.
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About the Author
Anwar Shahid is an Academic professional in International Relations and Political Science with a broad knowledge of Research and Analytical Skills. He is currently working as an Assistant Professor in Political Science at Beja Model College of Arts and Science, Nettanige, Kasaragod, Kerala. He has keen interest in the areas of International Cyber Security, Contemporary International Politics, Foreign Affairs, Diplomacy and Indian Politics.