Data Stories

Indian Diaspora: Emerging as a Force to Reckon With

Indian Diaspora

The Indian diaspora is the largest in the world, with more than 31 million population. Indian diaspora refers to the people of Indian origin as well as Indian citizens living abroad for work or business. It includes both Person of Indian Origin (PIO) and Non-Resident Indian (NRI), present in almost every country of the world.

The Indian diaspora, in recent times, has been emerging rapidly. With its incessant progress, it has started leaving its imprints across the globe. It would be really interesting to recall here that how Indian-American lobby in the USA played a significant role in ending various sanctions on India imposed by the USA as the aftermath of India’s Pokhran nuclear test in 1998.

In this article, we cover the various aspects related to Indian Diaspora, under the following headings:

  1. India’s Outreach to the Diaspora – From Vajpayee to Modi
  2. Indian Diaspora – International Comparison
  3. Rising Status of Indian Diaspora – Global Imprints
  4. The Contribution of Indian Diaspora to India – Becoming Part of India’s Growth Story
India’s Outreach to the Diaspora– From Vajpayee to Modi

The Indian governments until the year 1999 did not pay much attention towards connecting with these ‘Global Indians’, till the NDA government brought in a significant policy change.

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the first one to recognise the need to connect with Indian diaspora. He started a celebratory annual event ‘Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas’ in 2003, which is now shifted to January 09 every year to mark the return of Mahatma Gandhi to India from South Africa on this day in 1915. He also laid the foundation of future frameworks for Overseas Citizenship of India (OCI) card and Person of Indian Origin (PIO) card. These cards made it quite easy for these people with Indian roots to come back to their motherland facilitated with relaxed Visa norms.

Taking Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s Policy on Indian diaspora ahead, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has truly redefined the way diaspora has been engaged in India up till now. He has not only made it a point to connect with Indians outside India as an integral part of his foreign visits, but also brought in transformational changes like merging of OCI and PIO cards to end the discrimination between Indian living abroad.

Indian Diaspora – International Comparison

In the year 2017, India had the largest diaspora followed by Mexico, Russia, and China, as shown in the graph below:

Graph: Countries with largest diaspora population (in millions)

Source: United Nations Trends in International Migrant Stock

Rising Status of Indian Diaspora – Global Imprints
  • Many of the Head of the states and Heads of the government have been of Indian origin in the past and the present. To name few, this has happened in countries like Mauritius, Trinidad & Tobago, Singapore, Ireland, Portugal etc. Several People of Indian Origin held or are currently holding many prestigious elected positions in the legislative bodies or high ranked ministerial positions. In addition, many of them are among the country’s richest personalities are of the Indian origin.
  • Worlds’ leading technology firms such as Google, Microsoft, Adobe are being led by Indians. In the recent times, Indian diaspora has been making ripples globally. The below headline from a Chinese newspaper tells the story. Herein lays the importance of Indian diaspora which can be leveraged for writing India’s growth story.

  • Apart from this, the importance of Indian diaspora also lies in its rising political status across the world. For example, in the world’s oldest democracy, USA, there is a significant change reported in the political contests by Persons of Indian Origin. As per a report, a record 60 Indian-American candidates are running for federal, state and local offices across the USA, including 20 first-time congressional candidates.
The contribution of Indian Diaspora to India – Becoming Part of India’s Growth Story
  1. NRI Remittances
  2. NRI Deposits
  3. NRI Investments
  4. Tourism

‘NRI Remittances’ and ‘NRI Deposits’ are two important sources of foreign exchange in India. NRI remittances refer to the foreign currency funds sent by the NRIs to their families. NRI deposits are foreign currency deposits made in an Indian bank by a Non-resident Indian.

India for a long time has topped the list of countries receiving the remittances from their diaspora. Remittances to India have further increased in recent times.

Table: Countries receiving remittances (2000–2015) (in USD billions)

Source: World Migration Report, 2018

Not only the foreign remittances, but NRI deposits have also seen a pronounced surge in recent times, especially in the last 4 years. NRI deposits kept on swelling reaching $ 126 billion in 2018, more than double of what it was in 2012, as shown in the graph below.

Source: RBI                                                      Approx. figures

Above graph clearly depicts that in 2014 itself there was a growth of almost 46 percent in the foreign deposits between 2013 and 2014. Some Economists may argue that this surge is on the basis of weakening rupee or interest rate differentials, however, such a huge increase has been attributed to change in the government in India as reported by many scholars. The latter one sounds more possible as the Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been persistently working for an unprecedented outreach to the Indian diaspora in the last 4 years.

NRI Investments as Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) has been increasing in recent times. A total of approximately Rs 3800 crores have already been invested by the NRIs as FDI in the last 3 years, starting from 2014-2015 financial year till now.

Source: PIB                                                                        Approx. figures

Above graph depicts the NRI investments as FDI in India has been around Rs. 1000 crores in every financial year, reaching as high as Rs 1675 crores in 2015-16. This indicates the increasing confidence of diaspora in India more than ever before. Ease of doing business reforms brought in by the present government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s outreach to diaspora – are the two significant reasons behind these increasing NRI investments.

Further, the Indian diaspora is already immensely contributing to tourism in India, with an increasing number of visits every year.

Source: Tourism Statistics of Ministry of Tourism                                Approx. figures

Note: No data was maintained by the government on the arrival of NRIs in India before 2014.

As shown in the graph above, there has been an increase in the frequency of visits by the Non-resident Indian to India. One reason for this is to visit their families back in their motherland, and another important reason for this has been the recent surge in the business investments by NRIs in India.


As per the working paper authored by the renowned strategic thinker, C. Raja Mohan for National University of Singapore, “engagement with overseas communities has become a major element of India’s dynamic foreign policy under PM Narendra Modi.

So, with ‘India First’ in mind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has redefined the way Indian Diaspora is being seen in the policy circles of India. It has become an important matter of public affairs and not just limiting to the foreign policy anymore. Therefore, the Indian diaspora are the permanent ambassadors of India in the world, forming an integral part of the Indian story.