Data shows rise in number of emigrants returning to Kerala: Should the state worry?

Though the remittances have increased, the number of emigrants returning to the state has gone up.
Data shows rise in number of emigrants returning to Kerala: Should the state worry?
Data shows rise in number of emigrants returning to Kerala: Should the state worry?
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The growth of the Kerala economy owes much to the remittances of Keralites working in foreign countries, especially the Gulf countries. However, in a trend that could have repercussions in the long-term for the state's economy, the number of emigrants returning is increasing.

“There are 21,21,887 emigrants from Kerala across the world. It is 1.49 lakhs lesser than the 2016 study and 2.78 lesser than 2013 study data. There is a reduction in emigration from the last ten years and 2018 is not different,” says a study report on the state emigration trend. The study – 'Emigration and Remittances: New Evidences from the Kerala Migration Survey-2018' - has been done by S Irudaya Rajan and KC Zachariah of the Centre for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, a renowned institution in the state.

The rate of growth of emigration has been continuously decreasing since 2008. However, it is to be noted that there was a positive growth in some years, particularly in the years 2011 and 2013. According to the report, 87000 more people emigrated in the period 2008 to 2011, and 1.1 lakh more have done so in the period 2011 to 2013. 

There was an increase in absolute terms from 2013 onward, but the percentage of increase was declining - from 8.1 in 2013 to 3.3 percent in 2018.  Other major findings from the study are that among the 2.1 million emigrants from Kerala across the world, 15.8 percent are females; there was a reduction of 3 lakhs emigrants during 2013-18, which is one-tenth of the 2013 emigrants. 

However, despite the trend, the remittances to the state have increased. This is, the report says, due to the fact that Keralites in the Gulf have climbed the social ladder and earn higher wages, enabling them to remit more.  The total remittance to Kerala was Rs 85,092 crores during April 2017 through March 2018. The inter-survey increase in remittance was only 20 percent.

The inflow of more than Rs 85,000 crores by way of remittances has a significant effect on the state’s economy and the living conditions of its people. For a total population of 3.459 crores, the total remittances of Rs 85,092 crores means, on an average, a per capita remittance of Rs 24,000. The corresponding per capita remittances in 2013 was Rs. 21,000, in 2011 it was Rs 14,883, and Rs. 12,840 in 2008. The increase was Rs. 3,602 during 2013-18, Rs. 6,117 during 2011- 2013 and Rs 2,043 during 2008-2011.

Highest in Kollam Taluk and Malappuram district

The number of return emigrants in 2018 reached 1.3 million. The corresponding numbers were 12.50 lakh in 2013, 11.57 lakh in 2008, 8.94 lakh in 2003 and 7.39 lakh in 1998. In 2018, highest return emigration can be seen in Kollam Taluk (82,945) followed by Tirur (75,664) and Kozhikode (75,102),

Malappuram district shows the highest emigrant returns at 3,09,881 in 2018. 

The lowest return emigration number is reported in Idukki (42,398). 

Despite the positive growth rate of return in emigration population, some districts are showing less difference or negative differences as well. 

Impact on economy

“There are two ways in which the trend is worrying; one, how the returnees can be absorbed and employed. If there are 1.5 lakh returnees, it means that the same number of families is affected. It is a huge number in Kerala. Two, the returnees are surviving on self-employment, which is not sustainable in the future. Hence in the long run, this will play a major role in the economic transition of the state,” Irudaya Rajan told TNM.

“Also, the survey for the study was done before the floods. Post the floods, there is a chance that those who returned may go back. The situation could be more aggravated if they don’t get jobs anymore in the foreign countries,” he added.

"The long history of emigration from Kerala to the Gulf is in its last phase, though remittances to the state have increased. But with the floods that caused massive loss of physical capital and land value, emigration can be conjectured to increase at least in the short run. A vibrant domestic economy is the only solution to deal with the change in migratory patterns, of which the first step should be creating a society for return emigrants,” the report suggests.


The major reasons for returning is losing jobs or being laid off. However, 14 percent returns happened due to health problems, related to illness or accident, while 12 percent returns are due to familial pressures.

It could also be due to the cumulative effects of the following reasons: demographic changes have decreased the population in the emigration-prone age group (15-29 years), wages in the Gulf economies are on the decline and wages in the domestic economy have increased.

 The 2018 survey is the eighth in the series of studies on emigration undertaken by the CDS since 1998. It examined emigration dynamics from demographic, economic and socio-political perspectives. The report is based on a large-scale sample survey of 15,000 households.

The survey was carried out in the period between January 2018 to March 2018.

 “The total number of households has increased from 8.19 million in 2013 to 8.85 million in 2018. There is visible reduction in family size in all the 14 districts. The average size of the family in Kerala shows a declining trend from 4.3 in 2011 to 4.0 in 2018. The sample population is slightly favouring women as migration is more inclined to men. The women inclination is more for the higher age group among the population. Notably, the age group of less than 20 is not gender biased, but the age groups from 20-24 is skewed to women,” the study says.

“There is a huge difference between population of single men and women, nearly half of the male population who are unmarried do not exhibit a positive demographic sign. There are more married women than men, and above half of the total population are married.  Also the Hindu community is reported to have more number of households followed by the Muslim and Christian community and Hindu population is evenly distributed over all the 14 districts,” the report shows.

Since 1998, the study has been conducted at an interval of five years. It has maintained a panel data for 10,000 households since 1998. The study has been financed by the state government, NORKA, Research and Empirical Analysis of Labour Migration of Interdisciplinary Centre for Innovation Theory and Empirics of Columbia University, World Bank and the World Programme of the CDS.

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