What the draft Emigration Bill of 2019

Recognition of migration as a core element of the global development agenda:

  • The United Nations’ “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” has also, for the first time, recognized migration as a core element of the global development agenda, and has set several targets that relate to it.
  • These cover student mobility, human trafficking and exploitation, labour migration and employment, migration governance, remittances and migration data.


India’s current law for emigration:

  • India is among a handful of countries that has explicit legislation for promoting emigration.
    • Historically, countries which have enacted emigration laws—like the Soviet Union after WW-II and North Korea today—have used such legislation to prohibit international movement of their nationals.
    • On the other hand, the laws of most countries today address only immigration.
  • The current legislative framework for all matters related to emigration of Indian nationals is prescribed by the Emigration Act 1983.
  • It was enacted in a specific context of large scale emigration of Indian workers to the Gulf region.

Need for a new legislation in line with contemporary realities of migration:

  • Since the 1983 law, the nature, pattern, directions and volume of migration have undergone a paradigm shift.
  • The large scale migration of our skilled professionals to developed countries, students pursuing higher studies abroad and increasing presence of our nationals in the Gulf for employment, are some of the salient developments.
  • The 1983 law has its intrinsic limitations while addressing the contemporary migration trends.
  • At the global level, there is much debate on migration management, with focus on safe, orderly and regular migration.
  • Thus, there is need to have a strengthened legislative framework that is fully aligned with the contemporary realities and harmonized with relevant international conventions.


Draft Emigration Bill 2019:

  • The draft Emigration Bill 2019, recently released by the ministry of external affairs (MEA) proposes a new legislative framework for matters related to emigration of Indian nationals.
  • When enacted, it will replace the the Emigration Act of 1983.
  • The new legislation would also conform with the contemporary global agenda, as noted in the 2030 agenda.

3-tier institutional framework for vertical policy coherence:

  • The draft bill proposes a three-tier institutional framework, with the MEA as the nodal ministry:
    1. At the top: A central Emigration Management Authority (EMA) has been proposed for policy guidance and supervision.
    2. In the middle: A Bureau of Emigration Policy and Planning, and a Bureau of Emigration Administration shall handle day-to-day operational matters and oversee the welfare of emigrants.
    3. At the bottomNodal authorities in states and UTs shall coordinate aspects of management related to both emigrants and returnees.
  • This could allow vertical policy coherence on emigration matters—particularly in promoting and managing safe, orderly and regular emigration.


Two significant aspects of the Bill:

  1. Recognizes the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact of migration:
  • Since 1983, there has been a structural shift in the quantum, nature, pattern and direction of emigration from India.
  • As per the latest World Migration Report (published by the International Organization for Migration), India features as the largest country of origin for international migrants, with about 30 million migrants just in 2017.
  • India is also the largest recipient of remittances (about $80 billion or Rs. 5.6 trillion in 2018), and figures in five of the top 20 migration corridors from Asian countries.
  • Since the 1983 Act was enacted in different circumstances, the new Bill seeks to recognize and address the wide geo-economic, geo-political and geo-strategic impact that emigration has today.
  1. Affirms positive change in government’s attitude towards international migrants:
  • Government’s attitude towards international migrants has changed over time.
  • At the height of the brain drain in the 1970s and 1980s, NRIs were labelled as “non-required Indians”.
  • However, today their importance is recognized and Prime Minister even addressed them as “India’s brand ambassadors” and “symbols of our capacities and capabilities”.
  • The proposed bill, with its thrust on strengthening the institutional framework for emigration management, affirms that shift in outlook.



  1. Less attention to white-collared migrants:
  • Focus still highly on managing blue-collar emigration:
    • The new draft bill still appears to focus on managing blue-collar emigration (manual labourers), like the 1983 Act.
    • For example, it has long list of duties and functions of recruitment agencies and sub-agents, including the need for skill upgradation and pre-departure orientation programmes. These are designed to serve only such emigrants.
    • The need for this is clear, since blue-collared workers are more vulnerable to exploitation and migration shocks.
  • Must also better reflect white-collared emigrants’ issues:
    • However, the bill must also offer management structures and policies that better reflect the current nature and pattern of emigration.
    • It should address specifically the aspirations of and challenges for white-collared emigrants.
  1. Policy coherence across sectors missing:
  • Policy on migration needs integration with trade and investment agreements:
    • As per the draft bill, the Emigration Management Authority (EMA) shall have representation from only two other ministries: home affairs and human resource development.
    • It notably excludes representation of the ministry of commerce and industry, though it is the nodal ministry involved in negotiations on movement of natural persons at the WTO (Mode 4 negotiations under the General Agreement on Trade in Services).
    • At a time of heightened protectionism in the labour markets of destination economies, policy formulation on migration will increasingly need integration with trade and investment agreements.
  • But draft bill misses this:
    • This shall necessitate a cross-sectoral approach in emigration management.
    • However, in its proposed form, such horizontal policy coherence is unlikely to be achieved.



  • The draft Emigration Bill 2019 does improve upon the extant legislative framework by adopting a whole-of-cycle migration approach.
  • But, the current international paradigm relating to labour market protectionism demands a wider approach.
  • We need to graduate from merely enacting emigration management legislation to practising more broad-based diaspora engagement policies that could protect them at all times.



GS Paper II: International Relations


Related question:

The draft Emigration Bill 2019 is a significant improvement upon the current legislative framework but falls short on addressing labour market protectionism rampant in the current times. Critically discuss.

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