Context: Reverse migration can be witnessed in India, as millions of migrant workers go back to their homes as the economy has come to standstill as a result of efforts to contain the spread of the COVID-19. 

Migration  and reverse migration:

  • Migration from rural to urban areas is a key in any country’s development. In India’s case, the surplus labour in agriculture migrates for jobs in the more productive sectors of the economy. 
  • However, most migrant jobs in urban areas are informal and are unable to provide social security. 
  • A shock such as covid-19 can put migrant workers in a vulnerable situation, in which reverse migration might seem to be the most logical coping mechanism available to them. 
  • The fear of losing their sources of livelihood and shelter in urban areas during a lockdown forced migrant labourers to journey home.

Back to base.

Are there jobs for them in the rural economy?

  • Rural economy incapable to provide jobs: Rural India’s overburdened and agriculture-dependent economy with an underemployed working population is incapable of taking care of millions of workers going home. 
    • Also, the lack of a diversified economic structure makes it tough to  create alternative sources of employment. 

Impact on economy:

  • As India reopens the economy post the lockdown, labour shortage in urban centres has implications and can delay economic recovery, which can affect social stability.
  • The construction industry, which is the nation’s largest job creator, is already facing severe labour shortage. 
  • The productivity of the workforce involved in agriculture is lower than the urban workforce. 
  • Millions of workers going back to the rural economy could bring national productivity levels down and prolong economic recovery post covid-19.
  • States that experience high rates of out-migration to urban areas are also the ones that have high rates of unemployment. 
    • It might be exceedingly difficult for them to absorb returning migrants
  • On the other hand, the rich states of western and south India who host migrant workers are in a hurry to send them home to avoid unrest.


  • It is likely that the reverse migration is temporary and will return to normal after the threat of covid-19 has subsided. 
  • However, the rural economy cannot match wage expectations of inter-state migrants. 
  • As India continues to develop, job opportunities will be created across sectors, gradually leading to more migration from rural to urban areas.
  • A ray of hope in MGNREGS and MSME: Programmes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme and the decision to boost micro, small, and medium enterprises can help bring the rural economy back on track.