A transnational social contract: Social protection policies toward Non-Resident Keralites

The migration process raises a set of migration-related risks and vulnerabilities, yet recognizing these as collective problems is paramount to formulating public policy responses. As one of the first subnational states globally, the South Indian state Kerala has institutionalized various social protection policies toward emigrants and returned migrants under the department of Non-Resident Keralites’ Affairs (NORKA) and its implementation agency NORKA ROOTS. Taking the case of Kerala, this article investigates why subnational states recognize their international emigrants and return migrants as deserving of social protection provisions. Subnational states matter as they are sites of diaspora identification, and it is where migration’s consequences, such as emigrants’ philanthropic development projects and the reintegration of returned migrants, unfold. At the same time, they have less legislative and infrastructural power than federal states in engaging with emigrants and destination countries. By drawing on original data, the article argues that (returned) emigrants’ access to social protection schemes is built on understandings of deservingness based on a combination of protection rationales and economic rationales, rooted in Kerala’s specific developmental and identity discourse. The study demonstrates that despite subnational states having limited institutional capabilities compared with federal states, they are essential stakeholders in articulating transnational social protection policies.