Election officials sit next to election materials
Political parties must keep off overseas nationalists from influencing domestic political space Image Credit: Reuters

People are migrating from one country to another more than ever. They are leaving their home in search of better economic and social opportunities abroad. While migrant hosting countries are availing a younger and cheaper workforce, the migrant-sending countries are receiving sizeable economic remittances in return.

The total amount of remittances from migrants to their families in low and middle-income countries has become more than foreign direct investment and official development assistance.

Remittances from migrants reduce poverty, help their families in health care and education. The remittance money also helps to support community projects, that support people outside the migrants’ families. International migration in many ways contributes to positive development but, it is also true that this phenomenon is not always a win-win proposition for the migrant-sending countries.

More by Prof Ashok Swain

The large migration of trained labour force of a country usually leads to its ‘brain waste’ and ‘brain drain’. In most of the cases, highly-skilled migrants are only allowed or availing low-skilled work in the host countries.

Moreover, the ‘brain drain’ also adversely affects the overall social and economic development of the migrant-sending countries. However, in this era of global interconnectedness, one of the growing concerns has been the increasing involvement of these migrants in their home country’s domestic politics.

Often enough migrant activism gets media attention for their support of secessionist movements demanded by their religious-ethnic group in the home country. On the other hand, several ‘state diaspora’ groups are increasingly being successful in organising themselves to actively participate, influence, support, and even control their ‘home-state’ politics.

Influencing politics in home countries

Today what we have at hand is different ‘state diaspora’ groups in many host countries that are trying to influence politics and policy-making in their home countries. Some of these ‘state diaspora’ groups have been traditionally active in their ‘own’ home-state politics.

But, their number has started to increase significantly in recent years. Many diaspora groups have been not only sending large amounts of money back home but have started to take an active part in the electoral politics of their countries of origin.

Unlike stateless diasporas, these state diaspora groups are mostly economic migrants and no fear of persecution has forced them to leave their countries or stopped them from going back. These groups are living in foreign countries and have become economically and professionally successful. After getting the financial muscle, they are striving for social and political recognition in their home countries.

Their involvements have grown beyond doing some philanthropic activities in and around their places of origin. They have started taking a strong interest in electoral politics, have been supporting and financing the political parties of their choice in elections, and even travelling home to vote and campaign for their candidates, in some cases even contesting elections.

Superior social status

These migrant communities based in rich countries usually enjoy a superior social status in their home countries. Due to their access to wealth and information advantage, they are often able to influence the identity and interests of their kin and also their voting behaviour. Through personal connections, travel, and the use of information technology, these overseas communities are actively engaged in their homeland’s political processes.

These state diasporas develop a transactional relationship with homeland political elites and help them at their election time. It has long been held that nationalist sentiments are strongest among overseas migrant groups. In host countries, they are seen as moderate, open-minded, and infused with civic values, but they often support and promote a brand of fervent and belligerent nationalism in their home countries.

These groups invariably support majoritarian populist leaders at home, agreeing with the unrealistic dreams propagated by these dream merchants. They often prefer confrontational politics to be adopted by their home countries, promoting a hard approach in any negotiation, and also advocating oppression of less powerful groups.

No doubt that these overseas nationalist entrepreneurs get more attention and importance from their homeland political elites at the time of conflict in the country compared to a period of peace and stability. At the same time, they do not pay the costs of domestic disorder directly.

They are located in wealthier countries and have resources to spare, meanwhile, their invasive political activities do not put themselves in harm’s way. Thus, it is important for a migrant-sending country, for its betterment, to keep these freeriding and self-serving overseas nationalists away from influencing the domestic political space.

Ashok Swain is a Professor of Peace and Conflict Research, at Uppsala University, Sweden.