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CEA Subramanian says current discourse over immigration has left his children ‘scared’ in the US

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Suggests that the country is no longer welcoming of migrants, calls for active policy-making on migration within India.

New Delhi: Outgoing chief economic adviser (CEA) Arvind Subramanian has said the discourse over immigration in the US had changed the country’s approach to migration to such an extent, that his children were now fearful of living in the country.

“My children in the US are now scared. They think that being brown in America is like you’re going to join the victims,” Subramanian said at the launch of the book, “India Moving, A History of Migration” in New Delhi Tuesday.

There has been a furore in the US over the Trump administration’s decision to separate children from the parents of illegal immigrants.

Subramanian also said that while migration to the US shaped the lives of many like him, the migration scenario was changing everywhere, especially in the US, where migrants were being targeted. “For every successful immigration story, there are hundreds of sad migration stories,” he said.

Last month, Subramanian announced his resignation and said he would be returning to the US on account of pressing family commitments.

The CEA was in conversation with Rupa Chanda, an IIM-Bangalore professor, and shared the stage with Rajya Sabha MP Rajeev Gowda, and Chinmay Tumbe, an IIM-Ahmedabad professor and the author of the book.

MP Rajeev Gowda, however, differed with Subramanian on their shared experiences in the US. “America for all of us was a warm welcoming place. Most difficult was the visa interview in the 80s. But America takes the best talent in the world, without worrying about the where they are from and absorbs them so well. Most other countries do not do that,” Gowda said.

‘Rich history of migration’

Tumbe, the author of the book, said his work discussed three predominant themes. The first, he said, was the rich history of migration within India. “The state of Bihar is the most famous region for migration in the present day. One can trace migration in districts of Bihar to the 15th century,” he said.

Another aspect that the book deals with is circulation migration, under which migrants return home after working abroad. Tumbe used the Ramayana as a metaphor to describe the context; the epic has a number of characters returning home after being exiled.

In the modern age, Tumbe said, there is circulation migration on similar lines, where some individuals leave home in search of privileges. “People go to the Gulf countries for job opportunities but only a few of them settle there. Most work in these countries as semi-permanent labourers and then return home in approximately 10 months”.

The core message of his book, Tumbe said, was on social groups that get the opportunity to be a part of the circulatory migration. “Unfortunately in India the lowest ranking castes do not have this opportunity. Therefore, it is a big factor in the stunted development of job networks,” Tumbe said.

Migration and policy making

Gowda and Subramanian also stressed on the need for more work to be done with regard to policymaking on migration.

Gowda cited the Aadhaar card as being part of the government’s efforts at policy-making on migration. “The political class often pays attention to resentment, changes in demographic composition, and politics in vernacular. Immigrants often play little political role,” Gowda said, adding that policymakers only formulate policies around those who are organised and urbanised.

Subramanian said we need to take stock of even those who migrate within the boundaries of the country. “We do not proactively look at policymaking in migration,” he said.

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