India’s Strategic Role in Leading a Global Guest Worker Program

 “Boosting Remittances and Bridging Labour Gaps”

In 1937, an American reviewer criticized Radhakamal Mukerjee’s book “Migrant Asia ” for advocating increased migration to wealthy countries, deeming it impractical compared to free trade. Despite the persistent anti-immigration rhetoric from figures like Donald Trump, who often profess restricting immigration, the workforce demands of affluent nations will ultimately outweigh such fears. India is uniquely positioned to lead a well-structured guest worker program that addresses the concerns of voters in these countries. This initiative could significantly boost India’s annual inward remittances from $120 billion to $300 billion, offering higher wages to millions of skilled Indians temporarily and enhancing their résumés permanently.

The Current Political Climate on Migration

The current political climate regarding migration is harsh. Donald Trump’s campaign slogans, such as “Make America Great Again,” often carry undertones of exclusion, suggesting immigrants are detrimental to the country. Germany’s AfD party calls for the repatriation of asylum seekers and foreign-born citizens, while Britain’s Conservative party has proposed sending asylum seekers to Rwanda. Despite these stances, demographic trends indicate a growing need for workers: Japan’s adult diaper sales now exceed those of baby diapers, UK hospitals face staff shortages, and OECD countries are projected to need 14 million more care workers by 2040. Additionally, many American stores and hotels struggle to provide customer service due to staffing issues.

The Global Demand for Essential Workers

According to Oxford Professor Lant Pritchett, the political discourse in wealthy countries disproportionately focuses on three migration issues: the “global war for talent” targeting technology professionals, the “movers of distress” involving refugees, and the challenges of “illegal immigration.” These issues complicate finding legal solutions to the increased demand for essential, manual, low-skilled but not unskilled workers in rich countries. Neither automation nor offshoring can replace jobs like lab technicians, nursing assistants, home health aides, truck drivers, food preparation workers, and janitors.

The Role of Labour Mobility Partnerships (LAMP)

LAMP (Labour Mobility Partnerships), a promising organization, argues that it is unrealistic to expect industries like trucking, healthcare, and hospitality in wealthy countries to manage international labor movements independently. India should leverage its diplomatic strength to demonstrate the benefits of a guest worker program for host countries, sending nations, and the workers themselves. A professional, private-sector labor mobility industry could address the concerns of voters in affluent countries, such as the impact on domestic workers, social tensions, orderly movement, timely returns without visa overstays, social security benefits, skill certification, worker exploitation, and security checks. While there are significant risks of abuse, a carefully regulated and monitored industry could be both ethical and profitable, potentially growing into a $30 billion market.

India’s Services Exports and Global Brand

In 2021, India’s service exports surpassed Saudi Arabia’s oil exports, challenging the notion that a developing country couldn’t significantly impact global service exports or achieve parity with manufacturing exports. Recently, India’s diaspora remittances hit $120 billion, reflecting a notable milestone. India’s global brand stands out from China’s due to the nature of its service exports, which are more visible because they cannot be inventoried like goods. Concerns that India’s accelerating overseas migration might replicate the “brain drain” of the 1970s are unfounded; what was once a loss has transformed into brain circulation, benefiting software exports, multinational global capability centers, global CEOs, unicorn board memberships, and venture capital. India’s credibility in spearheading a global guest worker program is strong, with its proficiency in English and the complexity of its software services standing out as advantages.

The Economic Impact of Global Migration

Professor Pritchett posits that increasing global migration for skilled workers from developing countries is a powerful tool for global prosperity. However, global policy has inadequately addressed labor mobility, with no significant initiatives in the UN Sustainable Goals dedicated to this issue. Pritchett estimates that enhanced labor mobility could generate over $2 trillion in additional income, far exceeding the impact of anti-poverty programs funded by development assistance and philanthropy.

Challenges and the Need for Legal Migration

Illegal migration has tainted the politics of global labor mobility. Nevertheless, political change often arises from necessity rather than preference. Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, despite her anti-migration campaign, recently increased temporary worker visas because a quarter of Italy’s population is over 65. While some cynically suggest the “political war on migration” is designed to fail, it is clear that some form of action on legal migration is unavoidable. Trump may withdraw the U.S. from the 1951 refugee convention, yet weak borders undermine support for legal immigration.


Legal migration cannot completely eradicate global poverty, as each country must develop high-wage jobs locally. However, it underscores that poverty results from people living in poor places. India is addressing poverty by moving its citizens to more productive regions, industries, and skills. The time for structured global labor mobility is approaching, and India, with much to gain, should take the lead in this endeavor.

By focusing on these aspects and leveraging India’s strengths in service exports, diplomatic relations, and skilled labor, India can spearhead a transformative global guest worker program. This initiative not only addresses the growing demand for essential workers in wealthy nations but also significantly boosts India’s economy through increased remittances.


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