Middling Migration: Contradictory Mobility Experiences of Indian Youth in London

Mario Rutten and Sanderien Verstappen

Middling Migration: Contradictory Mobility Experiences of Indian Youth in London

Authors: Mario Rutten and Sanderien Verstappen


In this paper we examine the contradictory migration experiences of Indian youngsters who recently moved to Britain on a student or temporary work visa. All of them lived in London at the time of the interview, and are from middle class families in Gujarat. Like many of their peers in developing countries, they dreamed of going to the West to earn money, to study and to get experience in a foreign country to improve their prospects at home. Once in London, however, they ended up in low-status, semi-skilled jobs to cover their expenses, and lived in small guesthouses crammed with newly arrived migrants. 

Why did these youngsters leave India and go to London, and what do they get by moving abroad? Based on long-term research in London and Gujarat, our findings show that the decision to migrate is shaped by a combination of individual and social motivations of both the young migrants and their families in India. Several youngsters moved to London not only to earn money and gain new experiences, but also to escape family pressures and obligations by living away from their parents. Their parents encourage them, and even support them, though they are aware of the difficulties their children face in London. They regard the migration as a temporary, but requisite precautionary strategy to maintain their status as middle class families in present-day India, thereby safeguarding the next generation's future prospects. 

Keywords: Migration, Social Mobility, Youth, Middle Class, Britain, India