By Rakshith Ponnathpur, Dvara Research
Migration is a human capital investment that millions of households across the world make, anticipating high returns. For low-income households, in particular, it is often the most lucrative and sometimes the only available option to not only sustain themselves during lean periods but also to aim for upward economic mobility. Migration to big cities or richer countries can earn significantly higher incomes for the same work (Clemens, Montenegro, & Pritchett, 2009) (McKenzie & Gibson, 2010), portions of which are then sent back home as remittances. Remittances are not only proven to be more resilient to shocks than other locally generated incomes, but also more effective in improving household development outcomes than foreign aid or social welfare schemes designed at the macro-level (Baird, McIntosh, & Özler, 2011). But there are also several barriers to migration. While the huge upfront costs and the increasing restrictions on migration and domicile quotas for employment act as entry barriers, the socio-political exclusion they face at the destination, precarious living and working conditions, lack of access to essential financial services, all add to their low quality of living.
Despite facing these hurdles, millions of households across the world as well as in India continue to migrate., According to Census 2011, India had close to 455 million migrants overall, with more recent figures from the Economic Survey putting India’s internal work-related migrants at around 140 million (Shukla & Manikandan, 2020). Since a majority of these households—especially those of seasonal, internal migrants—tend to be from the low-income segment, it is imperative from our point of view to explore their financial livelihoods in detail to inform policymakers better as well as financial service providers about where interventions are needed to make the lives of migrants and migrant households easier at the micro-level, and how to maximise migration opportunities and the resulting household welfare and development outcomes at the macro-level. Moreover, studying migrant households has become particularly important at a time when they have been arguably the most affected by COVID-19. The World Bank had already predicted a long and sustained negative impact of COVID-19 on migrant households in South Asia (World Bank Group, 2020). This would have only exacerbated in India with the outbreak of a deadlier second wave that has necessitated the imposition of further rounds of lockdowns in almost all parts of the country.
Therefore, at the 5th Dvara Research Conference on Household Finance, one of the themes that we are exploring in detail is that of migrant households and their financial lives. Research teams under this theme have dealt with the impact of the pandemic in their research either implicitly or explicitly. The conference promises to add significantly to the existing knowledge on how migrant households have been affected by COVID-19.
The team from Grameen Foundation India shall present its findings on how the financial portfolios of migrant households look like, their savings and investment behaviours and preferences, their response to unconditional cash transfers, the coping mechanisms undertaken in the face of shocks, the overall conditions of women and their bargaining power in these households, and how all of these have been affected especially in the context of COVID-19.
The team from LEAD at Krea University, on the other hand, has focused on understanding financial decision-making in migrant households, exploring how intra-household dynamic varies with different types of migration and migrant households, and how this, in turn, reflects in their household portfolios as well as financial behaviour and preferences vis-à-vis consumption, savings and investments.
The conference will also feature an expert talk by Dr. Chinmay Tumbe (Professor at IIM Ahmedabad) on migrants and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Click here to register for the 5th Dvara Research Conference on Household Finance and learn more about these themes.
 Migration can be of the entire household or just individuals within the household migrating. Migration can either be permanent or seasonal. Most migrate within the same district, fewer within the same state, even fewer within the same country, and some migrate overseas
 There are approximately 250 million international migrants and 763 million internal migrants across the world, as per the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (International Organization for Migration data)
 The World Bank its 33rd Migration and Development Brief had projected a 4% decline in remittance flows in 2020 and 11% decline in 2021, for South Asia
Baird, S., McIntosh, C., & Özler, B. (2011). Cash or Condition? Evidence from a Cash Transfer Experiment. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1709-1753.
Clemens, M. A., Montenegro, C. E., & Pritchett, L. (2009). The Place Premium: Wage Differences for Identical Workers Across the US Border. Cambridge: Harvard Kennedy School Faculty Research Working Paper Series
McKenzie, D., & Gibson, J. (2010). The development impact of a best practice seasonal worker policy. The World BankShukla, S., & Manikandan, A. (2020, April 04). Remittances to Bharat hit by return of the native. Retrieved from The Economic Times: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/economy/finance/remittances-to-bharat-hit-by-return-of-the-native/articleshow/74974059.cms
World Bank Group. (2020). Migration and Development Brief 33. The Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development.