Alarming trend of Indians renouncing citizenship depicts lack of avenues for growth despite tall claims of BJP government

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More than one and a half million people acquiring foreign citizenship by giving up Indian citizenship in the last one decade indicates that avenues for development are not sufficiently available, blasting the officially propagated myth that Indian economy has grown leaps and bounds since 2014.

By Our Correspondent

NEW DELHI – The new trend of an increasing number of people from all communities in India opting to surrender their passports and eventually renouncing their citizenship has raised alarms in the social and diplomatic circles because of its fallout for the country’s progress. The Central government has told the Parliament that more than 15 lakh Indians had relinquished their citizenship in the last decade, including about 87,000 in 2023 alone.

Most of the Indians are heading to the United States of America. If the people are acquiring foreign citizenship for better prospects and for ensuring a better future for their coming generations, this is a clear indication that the avenues for development are not sufficiently available in India. It also poses a question mark over the tall claims of the Bharatiya Janata Party government that the Indian economy has grown leaps and bounds since 2014.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has claimed in reply to a question in the Parliament that several Indians are taking up foreign citizenship to explore the global workplace and for reasons of personal convenience. But the data show that even millionaires are leaving the country. According to a report by the London-based Henley & Partners (H&P), around 6,500 high-net-worth individuals are expected to move out of India this year.

This will be the second-highest estimated net outflow globally after China. India has currently the largest emigrant population in the world. It is the top origin country with nearly 1.8 crore people living outside their homeland. Mexico ranks behind India as the second-most significant origin country, at around 1.1 crore, followed by Russia and China, according to a report prepared by the United Nation’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM).

The MEA estimated the number of Indian nationals living abroad to be around 1.2 crore in 2021.

All Indian immigrants, however, will not necessarily renounce their citizenship. This is due to a variety of factors, including the long and complex nature of the process, which is also not affordable to all.

The latest data provided by the government shows that more than 17.5 lakh Indians acquired the citizenship of another country since 2011.

The number stood at 1.22 lakh in 2011 and witnessed a moderate proportional increase over the next few years. A considerable increase in the number was seen in 2016, but there was a reverse in migration in 2020 because of the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. The upward trend was back in 2021 when 1.63 lakh people gave up their Indian citizenship as compared to 85,256 in 2020.

As restrictions eased and travel resumed in 2022, a record 2.25 lakh Indians became citizens of foreign countries, which was double the number a decade ago and approximately 1.8 times higher than the figure of 2011, when an average of 336 people gave up their Indian citizenship in a day.

The data was tabled by the MEA in a written reply to a question asked by Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram in the Lok Sabha. The Centre clarified in response to another question in the Rajya Sabha that the MEA does not have information about the professional background of individuals taking foreign citizenship.

The U.S. remains the most preferred destination among the 114 countries chosen by Indians settling abroad. Since 2018, over 3.2 lakh Indians have given up their Indian citizenship to settle in the U.S., which is closely followed by Canada (1.6 lakh), Australia (1.3 lakh) and the United Kingdom (83,648).

According to the Migration Policy Institute, as of 2022, Indians represent the second-largest immigrant group in the U.S., after Mexicans and ahead of the Chinese. The U.S. is also the most preferred destination for Indian students pursuing higher education abroad. India is the source of the second largest number of international students enrolled in U.S. higher education and its nationals receive the majority of employer-sponsored H-1B temporary visas for high-skilled workers.

Of the 7.5 lakh students who left the country for higher studies in 2022, over 1.9 lakh went to the U.S. while 1.8 lakh landed in Canada, according to the government data. These students may then opt to stay back in the destination country to apply for permanent residency, in search of better economic opportunities or lifestyle.

Dealing with the question as to why Indians are giving up their citizenship, sociologists and anthropologists have opined that the people migrate from their country of birth for varied reasons, with a mix of economic, political, environmental and social factors shaping an individual’s decision. Some move to study, in search of work, better economic opportunities and friendly tax legislation, while others are looking to escape conflict, persecution, terrorism, or environmental challenges.

While some of these socio-economic factors apply to the Indian context, the BJP government maintains that many Indians opt for foreign citizenship to explore the global workplace and for reasons of personal convenience. An Indian is bound by law to relinquish their Indian citizenship before taking up citizenship of another country since there is no provision for dual citizenship, allowed by several other nations.

People giving up Indian citizenship can apply for Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) membership which facilitates visa-free travel to India, rights of residency and participation in business and educational activities. In 2020, a total of 1.9 lakh people registered as OCI cardholders, as per the Ministry of Home Affairs. The figure was as low as 300 in 2005.

Ease of mobility is another pertinent factor in the trend of Indians renouncing their citizenship. India ranks 80 on the latest Henley Passport Index, a ranking of the world’s passports according to the number of destinations which the holders can access without a prior visa. An Indian passport holder has visa-free entry and visa-on-arrival in around 60 countries.

In contrast, Singapore, with the world’s most powerful passport, allows its citizens to visit 193 out of 227 travel destinations around the world without visa. While a U.S. citizen has visa-free access to 185 countries, a Canadian citizen can travel to 186 countries. Australia and the United Kingdom allow visa-free access to 186 and 189 countries, respectively.

Around 7,000 wealthy Indians, high-net-worth individuals each with wealth of over Rs. 8.20 crore, gave up their citizenship in 2019, according to a 2020 report by the Global Wealth Migration Review. The report says that common reasons they move include safety of women and children, lifestyle and financial concerns, education of children, tax legislation, healthcare and standard of living.

There has been a surge in requests for residence-through-investment programmes, especially for the U.S., Portugal, Australia, Malta and Greece. When a person becomes a naturalised citizen of another country by investing in that country, the scheme is called citizenship by investment. Fugitive Indian businessman Mehul Choksi became a citizen of Antigua and Barbuda in 2018 through the nation’s Citizenship by Investment Unit.

The Henley Private Wealth Migration Report 2023 forecasts that around 6,500 more ultra-rich Indians will leave the country this year. The report lists prohibitive tax legislation along with complex rules related to outbound remittances as major issues which triggered the trend of investment migration from India.

Dubai and Singapore are the preferred destinations for such Indian families, while Australia dominates on the global front, ahead of the U.S. Australia tops the list possibly due to its point-based immigration system which favours wealthy people, business owners and people with professional qualifications, especially lawyers, doctors and engineers. A low crime rate, climate and the fact that it is an English-speaking country are identified as other, minor reasons.

The Indian government is optimistic about the emigrants. In its reply to the Lok Sabha, the MEA termed the diaspora an asset to the nation while affirming that a range of initiatives centering around ‘Make in India’ have been undertaken to harness their talents at home. The MEA stated that a successful, prosperous, and influential diaspora is an advantage for India, and the government’s approach is to tap diaspora networks and utilise its reputation for national gain.

Indian professionals are in a great demand in the foreign countries. They include doctors, nurses, IT professionals including cyber security and artificial intelligence, and electrical, mechanical, civil and aeronautical engineers as well as the workers such as welders, plumbers, electricians, carpenters and the like. Several countries especially from the European Union (EU) have recently expressed a great demand for seasonal agricultural workers. This indicates that the demand is for semi-skilled and unskilled workers as well.

The skilled migrant contributes to the host country in the form of advanced skills, lower age, higher income and therefore higher tax payments. He also saves money for the exchequer by not burdening it with unemployment benefits and other subsidies. All of this goes to prove that the government’s claim of an impressive growth of Indian economy is hollow and the educated youths are willing to migrate to other countries on the first opportunity being available to them.

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