Context- The increased access to modern forms of transport and communication, social
networks and the growth of multinational corporations have aided the advent of circular
- Circular migration is a repetitive form of migration wherein people move to another
place (the destination country) and back (country of origin) according to the availability
Impacts of Circular Migration
- The movement of citizens from the Global South to the West in search of more
employment opportunities or a better standard of living creates brain drain for their
origin countries and competition for the citizens of the destination countries.
- Similarly, the flow of people moving from rural areas to more urban areas of the same
country, results in the breakdown of infrastructure and agrarian stagnation.
- Circular migration is now seen as the best way forward to balance the needs of
development and individual economic advancement. It looks at migration not only from
the point of view of the receiving country but also of the sending nation.
- For the country of origin, migration, especially international migration, is beneficial due
to the flow of remittances which will boost the economy ensuring more infrastructure,
more jobs and by association, a better standard of living.
- The host countries, especially those of the West having lesser population and a higher
access to education resulted in a large dearth of low-income low-skill jobs which
migrants have been able to fill.
Circular Migration Within India
- In India, internal migration has almost always been circular. With the advent of jobs in
the manufacturing, construction and services sector, there has been a huge flow of
migrants from rural areas to urban cities.
- Between 2004–2005 and 2011–2012, the construction sector witnessed one of the
largest net increases in employment for all workers, specifically for rural males.
- This has led to rural populations and their economy dwindling and urban spaces, while
booming, witnessing infrastructural collapse as they are unable to properly house
- In India, the uneven development post-liberalisation, has led to a lot of inter-State
migration, with States like West Bengal, Odisha and Bihar having some of the highest
rates of out-migration.
- Initially, while most of the migration was to Delhi, nowadays it has increased to southern
States as well.
- A 2020 study of the circular migration of rural males of West Bengal states that most of
the rural migrants were occupied in agricultural jobs in their origin States; and when
they migrated a majority of them were engaged in low-skill jobs.
Impacts of Such Migration
- The positive outcomes of such inter-State migration include increased access to higher
paying jobs when compared to origin States, better household welfare due to
remittances, ease of mobility etc.
- Some reports have even stated how women get more autonomy and decision-making
power in the family due to the absence of men who migrate.
- However, in such migration, especially to southern States where the language barrier is a
big obstacle, rural circular migrants are often at the mercy of middlemen or brokers.
- They are made to work in unhygienic and unsafe conditions with little to no protective
- They are routinely exploited and suffer significant ‘unfreedoms’ in host States.
- Additionally, indigenous wage groups and unions resent these migrants as they are seen
as taking away their jobs by agreeing to work for lower wages.
- The 2020 study also says that this kind of migration is merely subsistence migration —
it’s the bare minimum.
- The migrants are able to barely provide for themselves and their families, with no scope
for further asset creation or savings.
- There is also a certain precarity associated with these jobs as they are seasonal and
often irregular. This precarity was on clear display during the pandemic in 2020 when
migrants en-masse started walking back to their hometowns.
- In destination areas, rural or urban, circular migrants remain at the margins of physical,
social, cultural, and political spaces. It is high time that States start actively formulating
policy to understand the extent of circular migration.
- While some States like Kerala have announced health insurance schemes for migrant
workers (Awaz Health scheme), there needs to be more effort to ensure migrants rights.
- The precarity of workers needs to be addressed and there should be more efforts to
integrate them in the destination States