India unveiled the logo for its G20 Presidency on 8 November 2022 with the vision of “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam - One Earth, One Family and One Future.” India will be taking over the G20 Presidency in December 2022 for the first time since the setting up of the grouping in 2008 and will take the baton from a developing country i.e Indonesia and pass it on to another at the end of 2023 i.e Brazil. Together these three countries will also form the Troika that steers the work of G20 ensuring a continuity between the previous, and the incumbent presidencies. What will be special is the fact that for the first time it will be a group of developing countries who will set the agenda for G20 deliberations. It is an opportunity for India to work together with these countries to give voice to the aspirations of the people in developing countries and bring their issues to the centerstage especially since many of them do not have representation within the G20. One such issue is Migration and Mobility where India can share its experience in dealing with migration matters, showcase its best practices, lead on areas that seemingly present a challenge and learn from the experiences of other countries.
G20 and Migration
Migration as an issue area within the G20 is a relatively peripheral matter even though it has found mention in the G20 Declarations. In the aftermath of the 2015 refugee crisis, when the world’s attention was focused on Europe, it found mention in Antalya Communique which described the situation in Europe as a crisis and emphasized burden sharing, addressing the root causes of displacement and scaling up assistance to international organizations to build capabilities to deal with such crisis.[i]
The UK voted for Brexit in 2016 and among the many issues that shaped Brexit was migration and the concerns around non-British citizens capturing UK’s labour market. In the Hangzhou Summit in 2016, the focus in the G20 Leaders’ Communique shifted to labour migration and the potential benefits to economies and societies because of well managed migration. The Hangzhou Communique also reiterated G20’s commitment to humanitarian efforts and to examine migration issues in 2017.[ii]
The Hamburg Summit in 2017 happened amidst political tension arising from US pulling back from multilateral commitments such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the then US President Donald Trump being critical of Germany’s relatively open refugee policy, trade issues and Brexit negotiations. At Hamburg Summit in 2017, the G20 leaders focused on effective labour market integration policies that can contribute to inclusive growth and social cohesion. The G20 leaders also emphasized on their positive expectations from the outcome of the UN process towards Global Compacts on Refugees and for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, both envisaged to be adopted in 2018. Further, OECD was tasked to update the G20 annually on trends and policy challenges on migration along with ILO, IOM and UNHCR.[iii]
When the Presidency of G20 moved to Argentina in 2018, it was the first time that the G20 Summit was being held in Latin America in the context of an equitable and sustainable development. Focus on the future of work was one of the central pillars of Argentinian Presidency. Decent work, vocational training, skills development including reskilling workers also found mention in the Leaders’ Declaration.[iv] In 2019, at Osaka Summit, the G20 leaders affirmed the need to address the root causes of displacement and to cooperate in responding to humanitarian needs. They also pledged to continue the discussion on this issue in the subsequent year.
In 2020, Covid 19 pandemic exposed various gaps in migration governance and the lack of data and access. Pandemic also impacted the lives of migrants, refugees, and displaced persons. G20 leaders at Riyadh in 2020 reiterated their commitment to address the root cause of displacement and to continue the dialogues.[v] Continuing this trajectory, the Rome Summit in 2021 recognized the challenges posed by the pandemic and highlighted the importance of policies targeting the inclusion of migrant workers and refugees. G20 leaders also confirmed the importance of a comprehensive approach for safe, orderly, and regular migration.[vi]
This focus on recovery in the Rome Summit has been carried forward in the recently concluded G20 Summit in Bali, Indonesia. It is worth noting that migrants especially migrant workers and the need to include them in recovery efforts has explicitly found mention in the Bali Declaration. The developing country perspective is mirrored in the focus on the need for strengthening cooperation between countries of origin, transit, and destination with a commitment to continue the dialogue of migration and forced displacement in future Presidencies. There is also added emphasis on international cooperation in the realm of migration while being mindful of national policies, legislation, and circumstances.
A perusal of these documents indicates that an end to trafficking in human beings, addressing the issue of refugees and need for safe and orderly migration has been a recurring theme in G20 declarations. Issues that are regularly faced by developing countries such as focus on safe and legal avenues for mobility, streamlined documentation process, skill development and accreditation, fair and ethical recruitment need greater attention at the highest level. Indonesia has added emphasis on migrant workers during its Presidency and given that three developing countries would constitute the Troika during India’s Presidency of the G20, it is an opportunity for the G20 countries to work together on issues of mutual interest as far as migration and mobility issues are concerned. This can contribute to the overall “inclusive, ambitious and action oriented” agenda that India along with other developing countries can build as outlined by the Prime Minister in his closing remarks at the Bali Summit.[vii]
India and the Need for a Migration and Mobility Track
Over the years G20 has expanded the horizons of key issues it addresses since the first Leaders’ Summit in 2008. Subsequently, each country which holds the Presidency brings its own vision of priority areas that need to be addressed at the global level. Under the Sherpa Track[viii] a range of issues are addressed which vary from Education, Employment, Health, Development to Women Empowerment. Working Groups are constituted that contribute to the discussion and provide recommendation for the G20 agenda and priorities. With the financial heft at the disposal of the G20, it is an ideal forum to institute a working group on migration and mobility.
It is well known that India is going through a phase of demographic dividend whereby bulk of its population is in the working age group. India entered the demographic dividend window around 2006 and this window of opportunity will gradually narrow till 2041 and thereafter will close in 2061.[ix] A corresponding reality is also the ageing population in many developed countries and the requirement for migrant workers across skill levels as the world of work undergoes transformation. Developing countries are especially plagued by the mismatch between skills and jobs available overseas. A standardized skill development framework, issue of skill recognition and skill testing in the origin country, fair and ethical recruitment practices, mobility of young professionals, lowering the cost of remittance transfers, reintegration of returnee migrants are issues that need deliberations within the G20. The importance of the G20 lies in the fact that world’s major economies are already part of this grouping, and this includes both origin and destination countries.
The constitution of a working group on migration and mobility under the Sherpa track can be a forum for India to share many good practices from the country as well as learn from the experience of other countries. There also exists a robust institutional architecture for the welfare and benefit of Indian emigrant workers even as we negotiate social security coverage with many destination countries. The Pre-Departure Orientation programme aims to equip emigrant workers about the dos and don’ts in destination countries and familiarizes them with their rules and regulations, culture, eating habits, dress code etc. The emigrate platform (single window platform that links all the stakeholders in the emigration process) and helplines run by Pravasi Bhartiya Sahayata Kendra also offer assistance to migrants. The government has also instituted a low-cost insurance scheme such as the Pravasi Bhartiya Bima Yojana that provides insurance cover upto Rs 10 lakhs at a nominal rate. Portals that are linked to job market such as SWADES (Skilled Workers Arrival Database for Employment Support), eSHRAM, ASEEM (Aatamanirbhar Skilled Employee Employer Mapping) are an effort towards digitization of information and connecting employers with potential employees in a transparent manner. SWADES was launched in 2020 to map the skill of returnee Indian workers who came back as a result of Covid 19 pandemic. eSHRAM was launched by the Ministry of Labour & Employment in 2021 to create a National Database of Unorganized Workers (NDUW). ASEEM portal is akin to a directory of skilled workforce that matches supply with demand for workers. These portals aim to bridge the gap between the demand and supply of skilled workers.
The Government of India has also adopted a whole of government and whole of society approach by involving non-government stakeholders such as industry chambers, private entities, international organizations, and academia in the formulation of migration initiatives. Migration and Mobility Agreements and Labour Manpower Agreements have been signed with 12 prominent destination countries and more such institutional arrangements are in the pipeline. India has also signed a Joint Declaration on Common Agenda on Migration and Mobility with the European Union. India is also working to upgrade the existing labour manpower agreements with partner countries such as UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. to migration and mobility partnership agreements.
India is one of the most important countries as far as international migration is concerned. It is pegged to overtake China as the most populous country in 2023. A large part of this population would be the youth. India is a global leader in human capital and is the highest recipient of global remittances from the past many years. India received USD 87 billion in remittances in 2021 even when economies across the world were afflicted by the impact of the Covid 19 pandemic.[x] India has a large migrant population that works overseas and approximately 9 million of them are in Gulf Cooperation Countries alone.
Further, it also needs to be kept in mind that all the overarching goals that are sought to be achieved today within the G20 ranging from sustainable development, addressing climate change, empowering women, ensuring digital transformation, decent work- all intersect with issues of migration and mobility. In order to move forward towards attainment of these goals, it is imperative that migration is also given importance at the highest level. The G20 needs to expand its horizon and institute a working group on migration and mobility. The fact that India maintains close ties with developed countries but also understands and articulates the view of developing countries will allow India to be an enabler of discussions. Thus, India’s Presidency is an opportunity for developing countries to work together and bring their issues and concerns regarding migration and mobility to the centerstage.
*Dr. Surabhi Singh, Senior Research Fellow, Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: Views expressed are personal.
[i] Antalya Communique (2015), Accessed on 9 November 2022, URL: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/23729/g20-antalya-leaders-summit-communique.pdf
[ii] G20 Leaders’ Communique, Hangzhou Summit (2016), Accessed on 7 November 2022, URL: https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/23621/leaders_communiquehangzhousummit-final.pdf
[iii] G20 Leaders´ Declaration: Shaping an interconnected world (2017), Accessed on 7 November 2022, URL: https://www.g20germany.de/Content/EN/_Anlagen/G20/G20-leaders declaration___blob=publicationFile&v=11.pdf
[iv] Buenos Aires leaders’ declaration (2018), Accessed on 4 November 2022, URL:https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/37247/buenos_aires_leaders_declaration.pdf
[v] Riyadh Declaration (2020), Accessed on 10 November 2022, URL: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_761761.pdf
[vi] Rome Declaration (2021), Accessed on 10 November 2022, URL: https://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---dgreports/---dcomm/documents/meetingdocument/wcms_826035.pdf
[vii] English Translation of Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi’s remarks at the Closing Session of G-20 Summit in Bali, Accessed on 16 November 2022, URL: https://mea.gov.in/Speeches-Statements.htm?dtl/35890/English+Translation+of+Prime+Minister+Shri+Narendra+Modis+remarks+at+the+Closing+Session+of+G20+Summit+in+Bali
[viii] Sherpa Track and Finance Tracks are the two tracks under which negotiations happen in the G20.
[ix] “North India’s latent ‘demographic dividend”, December 6, 2021, URL: https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/opinion/north-indias-latent-demographic-dividend/article26561021.ece
[x] “India received $87 billion in remittances in 2021: World Bank”, Business Standard, November 18, 2021, URL: