The Invisibles - Compilation of travel data from the first phase of Covid-19


Seasonal and circular migrants are those who either move from place to place or to specific destinations for temporary periods. In India, seasonal migration is the primary mode of labour in sectors like construction, agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 reiterated the need for data on seasonal migrants who remain vulnerable at the lowest socio-economic strata.

This report, published in the year 2022, presents a study of migration streams of seasonal migrant workers at both state and national levels. It uses data collected during the early phases of the Covid-19 lockdown in India, drawing insights from three principal sources: data released by Indian Railways on the number of Shramik special trains run by them; worker registrations to return to source states; and records of workers returning to their source states through police check posts and quarantine centres.

This 56-page document is divided into five chapters: Introduction - Describing the Scope of the Study (Chapter 1); Defining Seasonal Migration and its Magnitude: Literature Review (Chapter 2); Methodology (Chapter 3); Findings and Observations (Chapter 4) and Chapter 5: Concluding Remarks.


  1. This report states that approximately 13.5 million workers returned to their home states during the first phase of Covid-19. About 14.6 million workers left their destination states.

  2. The report notes that prevailing migration data sources, primarily Census and data from National Sample Survey Organisation, do not fully encompass seasonal migration due to their focus on permanent and semi-permanent migration.

  3. The report states that a total of 4,621 Shramik trains operated between May 1, 2020 and August 31, 2020. About 63.19 lakh passengers availed this service during this period.

  4. According to data by the Ministry of Labour and Employment, more than 1.06 crore migrant workers, including those who travelled on foot during the nation-wide lockdown, returned to their home states during the early phase of Covid-19.

  5. The majority of the seasonal migrant workers that returned to their source states during the Covid-19 lockdown were from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Odisha, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh.

  6. The report reveals high migration rate among Scheduled Castes in Odisha. Migrants were predominantly young, single males with median monthly wages ranging from 10,000-12,000. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, many households had members who would migrate outside the state which noticed slight decline after the pandemic.

  7. The report emphasises the need to address gap in data on short-distance, short-term migration, particularly in flourishing economic clusters like National Capital Region and Gujarat. It also highlights the need to map the Western-Central tribal belt, a crucial source of short-term casual workers for states like Maharashtra and Gujarat.

    Focus and Factoids by Madhumita Rajgopal.

    PARI Library's health archive project is part of an initiative supported by the Azim Premji University to develop a free-access repository of health-related reports relevant to rural India.


Centre for Labour Research and Action, Rajasthan, and RLS South Asia


Centre for Labour Research and Action, Rajasthan