Maximum immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh entered India more than 30 years ago

Maximum immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh entered India more than 30 years ago

Bengal and Assam have been on the boil since the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill was passed in both houses of Parliament. With the President’s assent on Friday, it has now become an Act.

The Act provides for citizenship to persecuted religious minorities (Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains and Parsis), even if illegal immigrants, from the three neighbouring countries of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

This leads us to one pertinent question – how many people born in these countries actually migrated to India?

India Today Data Intelligence Unit (DIU) analysed Census 2011 data and found that India has hardly 0.4 per cent foreign-born population. This means that four in every thousand people here were born outside the country.

Census 2011 data measures the number of immigrants in two ways – those born outside India and those whose last residence was outside the country. DIU analysed the latter and found that maximum immigrants from Pakistan and Bangladesh arrived here before 1991.


According to Census 2011, around 5.5 million people in India had reported their last residence outside the country which is roughly 0.44 per cent of its total population. Of these, 2.3 million (42 per cent) came from Bangladesh and 0.7 million (12.7 per cent) from Pakistan. The number of immigrants from Afghanistan was low at 6,596.

These numbers show that roughly 55 per cent of the immigrant population, who recorded their last residence outside India, belonged to Pakistan and Bangladesh alone.

The Census data gives details about the time period these immigrants have been staying in India, thus helping us decipher as to when they arrived here. The major immigrant flows have been recorded during and after Partition and the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war.

The pre-1991 flow

To get an estimate of the time period in which these immigrants came to India, we looked at the number of years they had been living in India at the time of enumeration.

We divided the number of years immigrants had been living in India into five categories – less than a year, one to four years, five to nine years, 10 to 19 years, and 20 and more years.

Keeping 2011 as the yardstick, we divided the time period into: 2011, 2007 to 2010, 2002 to 2006, 1992 and 2001, and 1991 and before.

Our analysis shows that 76 per cent of the Bangladeshi immigrants were staying in India even before 1991. The percentage of Pakistani immigrants who were staying in India before 1991 was around 79. This is because of the mass exodus that followed Partition and the 1971 war.

Many who were young during those days and still alive were also counted as immigrants, given the fact that their last residence was outside India. Hence, the number of people who entered India after 1991 averages less than 21 per cent of the total immigrant population from Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In 2011, roughly 22,000 Bangladeshis had come to India which is around 1 per cent of the total Bangladeshi immigrant population in India. Similarly, 6,405 Pakistanis had entered India in 2011, which is again less than 1 per cent of the total Pakistani immigrant population.

Settlements in India

The Census also gives details about the number of immigrants each state hosts. Of the total 2.3 million Bangladeshi immigrants, 95 per cent were living in states that share a border with Bangladesh. West Bengal hosts 82 per cent Bangladeshi immigrants, followed by Tripura (9 per cent) and Assam (3 per cent).

Among Pakistani immigrants, 28 per cent were found staying in Punjab, 17 per cent in Delhi, 15 per cent in Haryana and 9 per cent in Rajasthan. Significant Pakistani-origin population was also found in the western states of Maharashtra (8 per cent) and Gujarat (4 per cent).

Only 2 per cent Pakistani immigrants were found in Jammu and Kashmir.

Our analysis also showed that in almost all the mentioned time ranges, West Bengal was the most preferred state for Bangladeshi immigrants.

Limitations of Census data

The biggest limitation of Census data is delay. Since Census figures are published after every 10 years, we do not have the number of people entering India after 2011.

In July 2019, Minister of State for Home Affairs Nityanand Rai had responded to a question in Lok Sabha saying there was no accurate data on illegal immigrants.

Rai had said, “Border guarding forces conduct regular patrolling, lay nakas and establish observation posts and carry out anti-tunnelling exercises to stop illegal infiltration. However, some illegal migrants are able to sneak into India in clandestine and surreptitious manner, mainly due to difficult mountainous and riverine terrain in parts of the long international borders. There is no accurate central data regarding exact number of such illegal immigrants.”

The refugee problem

Latest data on inflow of foreign population (refugees) is provided in the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees mid-year report (2018). Even in these statistics, the number of Pakistanis in refugee or refugee-like conditions in India was between 1 and 4. The number of refugees from Bangladesh was not mentioned.

This is because maximum Bangladeshis came to India due to economic reasons because of which they were not qualified to seek refugee status in the country. In a broader sense, a refugee is a person who leaves the country because of persecution on the basis of religion, ethnicity, politics or other grounds.

Rticle Compiled By: Satya Satvika, (Intern, HRDI)