Guide to Data


Government data on internal migration in India is mainly drawn from two main sources – the decennial population Census and the quinquennial migration surveys carried out by the National Sample Survey (NSS) Office. In both the surveys, a resident is defined as one who has been staying in a location for six months or more (except newly born infants).

Census of India

Migration in the Census of India is of two types – Migration by Birth place and Migration by place of last residence. When a person is enumerated in Census at a place, i.e., village or town, different from her/his place of birth, she/he would be considered a migrant by place of birth. A person would be considered a migrant by place of last residence, if she/he had last resided at a place other than her/his place of enumeration. Historically, information on migration has been collected since 1872. It was confined to seeking information only on place of birth till 1961. The scope of collecting information on migration was enlarged by including the rural or urban status of the place of birth and duration of residence at the place of residence in 1961. Since the 1971 Census, data is being collected on the basis of place of last residence in addition to the question on birth place. Question on ‘Reason for migration’ was introduced in 1981. The pattern adopted in 1991 and 2001 Census remained same as in 1981 except that in 2001 Census the rural urban status of place of birth was not collected. Also the category ‘Natural Calamities’ as one of the reasons for migration was excluded and a new reason ‘Moved at birth’ added.

The Census also captures the reasons for migration. The following reasons for migration from place of last residence are captured: Work/ Employment, Business, Education, Marriage, Moved after birth, Moved with household and any other. In addition, the Census collects data on the age and sex of the migrant, its duration, place of origin, and the industry and occupation of the migrant; the results are available up to the district level. The Census 2011 has introduced the provision to specify the present name of the Village/Town of the Birth Place as well as the Place of Last Residence.

To view data highlights of migration tables in the Census 2001, click here (PDF; 169 KB accessed on December 16, 2013)

To view provisional data on migrants by place of last residence, age, sex, reason for migration and duration of residence in Census 2011, click here (XLS; 490 KB accessed on January 12, 2017)

The NSS Surveys

The NSS uses the UPR definition of the migrant. The NSS collects data on the age and sex of the migrant, reason for migration, its duration, place of origin, and the industry and occupation of the migrant. The NSS also collects additional data on items such as the consumption expenditure of the migrant’s household, educational attainment, activity, industry and occupation of the household at the place of origin, as well as remittances. Since NSS data are available at household and individual levels, it can also be cross-classified and analysed in detail. NSS results for migration are available till 2007–2008.

To access the meta data of the NSS 64th round (2007-08), click here

Migration can result in the permanent relocation of an individual or household, which we may term permanent migration. But if individuals migrate leaving their families and land and property in the area of origin, they may do so with the intention of reverting back to the area of origin. This is more likely to happen if the individuals have precarious jobs in the destination areas or if the cost of permanent relocation is high relative to its benefits. In such a case, although individuals may find a toehold in the destination areas, we may term such migration as semi-permanent or long-term circular. If individuals, or groups of individuals, migrate for temporary periods, either moving from place to place or to a fixed destination, such migrants are seasonal or circular migrants. Usually, these three types of migrants have different modal characteristics. One of the main lacunae of both the Census and NSS surveys is their failure to adequately capture seasonal and/or short-term circular migration, and their coverage is best for permanent migrants and reasonably adequate for semi- permanent migrants. However, while the Census confines itself to only one definition of a migrant, the NSS has tried to collect information on migration flows from different perspectives.

The 64th Round of the NSS collects data on (i) migrants using the UPR (usual place of residence) approach; (ii) migrant households; (iii) out-migrating individuals; (iv) seasonal or short-duration migrants, that is, those who have migrated out for a period of more than one month but not exceeding six months, for employment; and (v) return migrants. However, except in the case of UPR migrants, strictly comparable estimates are not available from the earlier rounds. Despite improvement in coverage of seasonal/circular migrants, NSS estimates are still inadequate for such migrants for two major reasons. First, in many cases, the seasonal/circular migration cycle is longer than six months. Second, quite often, entire households and not individuals participate in seasonal migration.

Source: Internal Migration in India;
An Overview of its Features, Trends and Policy Challenges by Prof. Ravi Srivastava;

National Workshop on Internal Migration and Human Development in India,
6 – 7 December 2011, Workshop Compendium, Vol. 2;
Workshop Papers by UNESCO and UNICEF, pg 3-4, 2012.

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