Circular Migration

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
    of employment.
    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
    incoming populations.
  • 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.
    Way Ahead
  • 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