Internal Migration in India and associated challenges: Explained, pointwise

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Recently, a fake video was found in Tamil Nadu that showed images of locals beating up migrant workers. Representatives from Bihar and Jharkhand have been to Tamil Nadu to check out the situation. The issue once again stirred the debates on issues of Internal Migration in India.

What is the Internal Migration? 

Migration is the geographic movement of people across a specified boundary for the purpose of establishing a new permanent or semi-permanent residence. The term in migration and out migration are used for movement between areas within a country (internal migration).

Note: The terms “immigration” and “emigration” are used to refer to moves between countries (international migration). 

What are the constitutional provisions that facilitate Internal migration?

  • Migration within the country for work is a fundamental right of a citizen as upheld by Article 19 of the Constitution of India. 
  • The fundamental rights further prohibit human trafficking and guarantee freedom from discrimination based on place of birth, equal opportunities for employment, and protection from forced as well as child labour.  
  • Interstate migration comes under the seventh schedule of the Constitution, List I (Union List), entrusting the authority to the central government. 

What is the status of Internal Migration in India?

Internal Migration
Source: Census

According to the 2011 Census, India had 45.6 crore migrants in 2011 (38% of the population) compared to 31.5 crore migrants in 2001 (31% of the population). In 2011,99% of total migration was internal and immigrants (international migrants) comprised just 1%. 

In 2017, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation stated that 17 districts accounted for the top 25% of India’s total male out-migration.

According to the Economic Survey of 2022-23, Tamil Nadu has the highest number of interstate migrants over 25 lakh people engaged in factories in India. States like Jharkhand and Bihar are amongst the lowest. 

What are the benefits of Internal Migration in India? 

Internal migration in India
Source: MoHUA

Match labour demand and supply: Migration fills gaps in the demand for and supply of labour, efficiently allocates skilled labour, unskilled labour, and cheap labour. 

Availability of cheap labour: Internal migration offers a competitive environment for manufacturing especially the availability of cheap labour. 

Improve inequity: Due to internal migration, wages in rural areas increase. The people from the poorer section get the job, and inequality improves. Some migrate for seasonal work, and then they come back with remittances. There are two channels that work to improve inequalities in the areas of origin areas. 

Reap the demographic dividend: Migrant workers can help the economy reap the demographic dividend when quality jobs, adequate healthcare and nutrition and universal social protection are provided. 

Circular migration or repeat migration: It is the temporary and usually repetitive movement of a migrant worker between home and host areas, typically for the purpose of employment. circular migrants are the backbone of our economy and contribute at least 10% of India’s gross domestic product (GDP).  

Improve Quality of Life: Migration enhances chances of employment and economic prosperity which in turn improves quality of life. 

Social Remittances: Migration makes migrants’ social lives better because they learn about new cultures, customs, and languages. This helps people get along better with each other and makes sure that people are more equal and tolerant. 

Help India reach Sustainable Development Goal 8 (SDG-8): It will “Promote sustained, inclusive, and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment, and decent work for all.”  

What are the challenges faced by Internal migrants? 

Internal Migration

Lack of social security and health benefits and poor implementation of minimum safety standards law. 

Lack of access to affordable housing and basic amenities in urban areas. 

Exclusion from Political Rights: Migrant workers are deprived of many opportunities to exercise their political rights like the right to vote. 

Language, food and other cultural barriers: Most of the internal migrants come from rural areas. They mostly speak only their mother tongue and cannot converse sufficiently well in other regional language.

Neither the local people are conversant. Hence, communication with local people and employers, travelling, accessing government benefits, medical facilities, reading and writing and integration with the local culture and food habits are major challenges for migrants. 

Exploitation, discrimination and non-payment of wage: The vulnerability of the migrants is vivid, especially when it comes to working hours, safety measures, hazardous jobs and low wages compared to the local workers. 

Sexual abuse and gender violence: Women migrants are the most vulnerable. Women face double victimisation, wages are lower than that of men, and they are sexually abused and harassed.

Trafficking and bonded labour: Migrant workers are susceptible to human trafficking and become bonded labourers. 

Health hazards, accidents and deaths: Migrant workers are vulnerable to health hazards and infectious diseases due to deplorable living conditions often provided by the employer at the work sites. 

Xenophobia: Some examples of xenophobic tendencies are the anti-lungiwalas movement of the 1960s, the anti-bhaiya movement of the 1980s in Maharashtra, the “sons of the soil” movement in Assam, and similar anti-migrant agitations and attacks in Gujarat, Karnataka, etc. 

Vulnerability to crises and disasters: Migrant workers are highly vulnerable to disasters and often migrate to cope with droughts, floods, landslides, earthquakes or cyclones.  

What are the challenges in addressing internal labour migration issues in India? 

No policy framework: There is a lack of a policy framework for the inclusion of internal migrant workers in India. There is inadequate coordination among states on a formal exchange of information on migrant workers. 

Invisible workers: Migrant workers are not covered by protective law since India has not ratified the International Labour Organization’s Domestic Workers Convention, 2011. 

Little to no emphasis on migration: A latest report observes that there has been little to no emphasis on migration within the country. 

Informal arrangements: The lack of policy focus on internal migration within the country has been attributed to the presence of informal arrangements in which migrants work and due to the absence of reliable estimates on migrants. 

Absence of reliable databases: Migrant workers remain un-enumerated and unrecognized at the local, regional and national levels. It is challenging for local self-governments (LSGs) and labour departments to engage with high labour mobility as it is characterized by informality and lack of documentation. 

Employers incur no liability: Employers use recruiters to find and manage workers and thereby absolve themselves from any responsibility for protecting their rights and providing decent working conditions. 

What are the government policies taken to protect internal migrants? 

Central government Initiatives:

A Policy for Integrating Migrants with Development: The Ministry of Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation (MHUPA), constituted the Working Group on Migration in 2015 and it submitted a report in 2017. The report made a number of recommendations and provides a roadmap for the better inclusion of migrants at their destinations. 

Legislative arrangement: The Interstate Migrant Workmen’s Act, 1979 has been the only legislation governing the conditions of migrant workers in India. However, migrant workers have been governed by various labour laws with no focus on migration status such as the Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970; the Unorganized Workers Social Security Act, 2008. In 2020, different labour laws were amalgamated into four labour codes. 

Draft National Migrant Labour policy: In 2021, NITI Aayog has prepared a draft National Migrant Labour policy. 

Other arrangements: Some of the other projects are the One Nation One Ration Card (ONORC) project, the Affordable Rental Housing Complexes (ARHC), the PM Garib Kalyan Yojna scheme, and the e-Shram portal. 

State government Initiatives:

  • In 2012, with the help of the International Labour Organisation, an MoU was signed between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh to track labourers migrating from 11 districts of Odisha to work in brick kilns in then-united Andhra Pradesh. 
  • Kerala has set up facilitation centres for migrant workers whom the state refers to as guest workers”.  
Read more: Migrants Are All Of Us 

What should be done to protect internal migrants? 

Bring different sections together: There is a need to bring together different sectoral concerns related to migration, including social protection, housing, health and education. 

Streamlining recruitments: This is to eliminate occupational vulnerability and strive towards humane working conditions in the various sectors. 

Introduce outreach methods: This is to provide information, education and communication support to migrant workers. 

Separate management bodies for interstate migration: This will helpful in improving the data on migration, especially data on seasonal and circular migration. 

The other necessary reform include a) Ensuring financial inclusion for the migrants, b) Moving towards a universal social protection system; c) Guaranteeing dignified, safe and healthy living and working conditions; d) Enabling workers’ collectivisation and organisations, e) Bringing in technology and design innovations to address the nutrition, housing, water and sanitation needs of migrant workers, f) Conducting research and training to improve policy and practice. 


In the next ten years, migrant workers in India could be the key to the country’s growth and progress. For this reason, the government and the private sector need to take more long-term steps.

Sources: Live MintPRS, DTE (Article 1 and Article 2) and ILO.

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