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Labour Mobility is Increasingly a Cornerstone of Indian Diplomacy

Updated: Sep 20, 2022

While the spotlight is usually on tech and investments, the mobility of labour, especially skilled labour, is increasingly the cornerstone of India, which is likely to be the world's largest country by population (estimated 1.5 billion-strong) by 2030.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna at a meeting in New Delhi in September 2022. Labour mobility is a key area of cooperation between the two countries.

A critical element of development, especially for India, given its enormous demographic dividend, is labour mobility. For India’s economic diplomacy, labour mobility is a primary concern. The Covid-19 pandemic-induced digital acceleration has changed the very nature of employment, and labour force requirements worldwide. India's conventional economic diplomacy strategy is embracing this new and rapidly changing scenario. To successfully advocate for international labour mobility and educate its workforce for evolving labour force requirements, India is increasingly aware of growing debates and discussions about the future of work - and willing to spend diplomatic capital to ensure the growth of labour mobility.

India is keen on striking global agreements on labour mobility

The importance of labour mobility is growing, and India is bringing discussions on labour mobility to the forefront in its engagement with other countries. One of the most important issues that were discussed recently during the visit of France’s Minister of Europe and Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, to India was labour mobility. Both countries affirmed their commitment to putting the India-France Migration and Mobility Partnership Agreement, which went into effect in October 2021, into practice for the benefit of the youth in both nations. The exchange programme for young professionals ages 18 to 35 will officially commence as per an agreement between the two parties. Young professionals who are eager to advance the economic, scientific, and technological, as well as cultural links between France and India will be given easier access to those nations' labour markets.

Similarly, India and Denmark also signed a memorandum on labour mobility, strengthening their economic links. In the Danish economy, there was an increasing demand for skilled, qualified and trained people. The agreement encouraged labour market expansion, job creation, and employer benefits for the welfare and protection of Indian employees working in Denmark.

According to India's Labour ministry, the country has signed social security treaties and agreements with 19 countries. India's labour and employment minister Bhupender Yadav said at the International Labour Conference in 2022 that, “To facilitate safe and orderly migration and for totalisation benefit, India supports signing of labour mobility agreements and social security agreements.”

Why Labour Mobility Is So Critical

For fostering innovation and growth, and transferring and upgrading skills, labour migration can be a valuable tool. People moving across borders has the potential to be a very effective engine for development, GDP (gross domestic product) would double, developing country incomes would increase and global labour mobility would serve as the engine of the twenty-first century's growth.

Labour migration can help boost economic growth of a country but migration is also related to unethical labour practices. Too many migrants suffer enormous social and economic expenses during the migration process, as well as inequality and discrimination at work and in the destination country. Migration policies are implemented with a variety of goals in mind and have not consistently taken labour market evidence into account. In the post-pandemic period, governments must work together to promote responsive and effective policies related to job creation, social protection, skilling, and formalization in order to ensure a more resilient, inclusive, and sustainable recovery.

India is at the center of this discussion because it is one of the top countries in the world for migration, with the number of its foreign migrants more than doubling over the past 25 years. India is a significant country of origin and transit for employees travelling across international borders, as well as a highly-liked destination.

According to International Labor Organization statistics, there are over 30 million Indians living abroad, with over nine million of them primarily living in the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

Shortcomings and Solutions

Numerous factors such as the availability of employment inside the home country, and at the destination, affect people's decisions to emigrate for work. Such decisions are also influenced by factors such as wages obtained, skill levels, living and working conditions, the cost of relocation, and cultural considerations. Wages and the whole experience of migration are significantly influenced by skills. Workers with low levels of education are more exposed to unfair wage practices and poor living and working environments. To focus on specialising workers and offering training and certification, the Indian government has launched plans and programmes like the Skill India initiative. In order to improve migration management, measures have also been implemented to train and sensitize state and federal government workers. The Centre for Migration was established by India's Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) to act as a research think-tank on all issues pertaining to global mobility and migration. Additionally, it undertakes research studies that involve tracking and analysing the patterns and dynamics of the global labour market. Additionally, the MEA has been funding initiatives to improve and develop skills in order to increase access to jobs abroad.

With more skilled migrants coming from abroad, labour mobility is increasing and changing in composition. India must adjust its economic diplomacy framework in light of the shifting global landscape in order to support its future advocacy for global labour mobility. Lack of trust, anxiety and fear about how immigration will affect domestic economies and security, and health issues are some of the major obstacles to collaborations on labour mobility. India will therefore have to discuss a number of topics during negotiations, including accountability for overstays, illegal immigration, and the enforcement of laws governing temporary guest workers, and make an offer to take on some of the legal obligation for oversight and compliance.In order to create more flexible policy options for itself in discussions, India must also exercise innovative thinking.

Since labour mobility is a key tool for advancing India's development goals, it is also taking centre stage in its economic diplomacy strategy. To maximize the advantages of cross-border labor mobility, a cooperative framework, awareness of changing global trends, and a shared ambition for success are important. In order to promote just, secure, orderly, and well-governed labor migration networks and address recurring migration problems, solutions and dialogue, international collaboration are essential.


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