India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China

A- A A+

Executive Summary

India and China boast two of the largest and most extensive diasporas in the world, both having a long history of settlement and contribution abroad. MPC’s latest research report “India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China” discusses the history and main characteristics of the diaspora policies of the two countries.  Moreover, the report highlights new forms of citizenship such as “emotional citizenship” and “flexible citizenship” which are increasingly emerging as a result of transnational migration. The report concludes with policy recommendations for the Indian government in the field of diaspora relations.

India’s diaspora policy

In 2001, the High Level Committee on the Indian diaspora established by the Indian government estimated the global Indian diaspora at 20 million people (representing 1.9% of the total Indian population). In India, the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) has a number of special programmes for overseas Indians. Two successful examples are – the PIO or Person of Indian Origin Card (introduced in 2002) and the Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card introduced in 2006. The PIO card grants visa free travel to India for a period of 15 years and cardholders are exempt from registering with the police if their stay does not exceed 180 days. The card is designed for foreign passport holders of Indian origin up to the fourth generation settled throughout the world except for Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, China, Nepal, Pakistan or Sri Lanka. Although similar to the PIO card, the OCI card gives visa free, multiple entry and multi-purpose travel for life, as well as permanently exempts its owners from ever having to register with the police. Its eligibility criteria is slightly more restrictive, being aimed at foreign passport holders of Indian origin (except Pakistan and Bangladesh) up to the third rather than fourth generation. It has been a great success, as measured from the latest MOIA annual report which reports that a total of 1,029,131 individuals of Indian origin have successfully applied for OCI status as of Feb 14 2012.

In addition, the MOIA also initiated the ´Know India´ (launched in 2004) and ´Study India´ (introduced in 2012) schemes. These are aimed at youth aged 18-26 years, who are selected by Indian missions abroad to participate in three or four week long study sessions in order to get to know their Indian roots and become acquainted with contemporary Indian society.

China´s diaspora policy

Compared to India, China has developed a more extensive diaspora engagement policy and institutional apparatus. The Global Commission on International Migration in 2005 estimated the worldwide Chinese diaspora at between 30-40 million people (representing 2.9% of the total Chinese population). [1] The government has made a concerted attempt to embrace all ethnic Chinese, regardless of nationality or date of migration, as part of the Chinese family and hence inextricably tied to the Chinese nation. Its discourse, like that of India’s, stresses the importance of ethnic identity and pride in one’s heritage.

The aims of the Chinese and Indian governments are thus similar: both have sought to expand and de-territorialise the concept of “Chinese” or “Indian” in an attempt to promote their economic and social development.

However, the focus of their diaspora policies has differed. China’s “Roots Seeking” programmes for overseas youth promotes Chinese language and culture abroad but China has not introduced special visa-free administrative schemes for the overseas Chinese. On the contrary, China has over the last two decades aggressively courted the return of its highly-skilled diaspora through a variety of employment and scholarship programmes.

One example is China´s flagship programme for attracting overseas talent – known as “1000 Talents”. This programme offers high-level academic positions to senior Chinese scholars with PhDs (earned overseas at salaries) up to 20 times higher than what local faculty make. In large cities such as Shanghai and Beijing, annual salaries reach 1, 000, 000 RMB or 121, 000 Euros annually (in comparison with around 200, 000 RMB or 24 000 Euros for locals), enhanced by a one-time relocation payment of 1, 000, 000 RMB, generous research funding, a living allowance, social security benefits and access to prestigious university-affiliated primary/secondary schools for their children. Thus far, 2263 Chinese scientists and other academics have returned under this programme, although not without provoking local resentment at their much superior living and working conditions.

A second strand of the 1000 Talents programme seeks to draw innovators (for example patent holders) in specialist engineering and high technology sectors who will create companies or jobs in China. Their salaries are even higher, at 3, 000, 000 RMB per year (363 330 Euros). More than 2100 academics and high achieving innovators have returned to China thanks to the 1000 Talents programme, exceeding the original target of 2000 individuals.

Lessons for India?

China can claim success in attracting a significant number of “sea turtles” as returnees are known, back to Chinese universities and research parks, and has also been very successful in attracting ethnic Chinese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Although FDI figures from the Indian diaspora have been disappointing, India is the leading recipient of remittances worldwide, and its “Person of Indian Origin” and “Overseas Citizen of India” schemes have enjoyed great popularity among the Indian diaspora.

In order to strengthen diaspora investment and return, India can consider opening up public sector employment to Persons of Indian Origin, approve the Innovation Universities Bill which will allow the creation of private “PIO/NRI” universities in India, and accelerate the process of merging the PIO and OCI schemes into one universal and streamlined card for all persons of Indian origin. Finally, on the global stage, the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, which runs Indian Cultural Centres abroad, would do well to expand their number and global reach (particularly in North/South America and in continental Europe). Being visible culturally and linguistically on the global stage is vital for promoting India´s ´soft power´ and can potentially reach a much greater number of PIO youth than the current small numbers participating in its “Know India” programmes. Finally, India could do more to expand the efforts of the Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, creating a sub-national network of such centres. Currently some Indian states are relatively deficient in diaspora engagement whereas others, such as Kerala, have developed an extensive diasporic infrastructure of their own. Regional Overseas Indian Facilitation Centres could launch internship programmes in priority areas and business start-up schemes that encourage talented young PIO youth living abroad to bring knowledge and business creation to India.


While India and China initially neglected their respective diasporas, their policy of indifference changed when they embarked upon economic reform. Although neither country accepts dual nationality, both have now recognised the great economic and social value of their diasporas and the potential contribution to the “homeland” that they can make from abroad. China and India have created an increasingly extensive diasporic infrastructure (such as dedicated diaspora ministries), combined with policies designed to attract investment as well as emotionally bind the diaspora to the “motherland”. While China has aggressively courted its highly skilled scientific diaspora, offering highly competitive salaries and working conditions to returnees, India has pursued a policy of offering a range of benefits (such as visa-free travel) to its diaspora, and creating two main categories of overseas Indians.

Overall, the diaspora policies of India and China demonstrate that:

1)      Although the absolute numbers of their knowledge diasporas may be small in relation to the overall size of the diaspora, their contribution to the domestic economy can be highly disproportionate; and,

2)       In order to attenuate the effects of the brain drain, it is possible for origin countries to promote diaspora engagement employing a variety of modes of ´flexible´ citizenship that allows their global diasporas to contribute without being residents.

Please Note: This is a summary of the MPC Report titled India´s Engagement with its Diaspora in Comparative Perspective with China.

Kathryn Lum, Research Assistant to CARIM-India

The EUI, RSCAS and MPC are not responsible for the opinion expressed by the author(s). Furthermore, the views expressed in this publication cannot in any circumstances be regarded as the official position of the European Union.

[1] These figures include several generations of migrants and their descendants and are not the result of an official census.