In the 2010 census, China counted its foreign nationals:

Of the foreign nationals, 120,750 were from the Republic of Korea, 71,493 were from the United States, 66,159 were from Japan, 39,776 were from Myanmar, 36,205 were from Vietnam, 19,990 were from Canada, 15,087 were from France, 15,051 were from India, 14,446 were from Germany, and 13,286 were from Australia.

Myanmar, Vietnam, Korea and Japan make sense: they're all relatively close. The United States has a large population with a relatively high average income to travel to other countries, so that might explain their levels. However, these numbers suggests that immigration from India to China is relatively low. India has many times the population of Korea or Myanmar, say, and it shares a land border with China. Further, there's a large GDP per capita difference between the two, which tends to encourage immigration. Yet the number of Indian nationals was less than half that of Myanmar.

Why is immigration from India to China seemingly so low?

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    Because they're migrating to the US where they're better paid? Also, don't Myanmar and Vietnam have large Chinese communities? May 7, 2019 at 17:28
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    @Denis de Bernardy: And unless they're well paid, why would they go to China? Expecially when you consider the number of people emigrating from China to the US & other western countries. (There are more H1-B visa holders from China in the US than Indians in China.)
    – jamesqf
    May 7, 2019 at 17:36
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    @Obie2.0: It's "literally adjacent" on a few hundred kilometers along a deserted border area in the Himalayas. That's nothing remotely like the porous borders to China's South East. May 7, 2019 at 17:41
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    @Obie2.0: I meant both of those. Neither are high population density areas that invite crossing, such as the US-Mexico border at El Paso / Ciudad Juárez. Going from India to China basically means going from India to the Chinese coast, rather than Tibet or Xinjiang. So you're only marginally closer when departing from India that you might be from elsewhere. May 7, 2019 at 18:12
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    Another possible factor is language. English is pretty much the de facto common language of India: Indians wishing to emigrate can go to the US or other English-speaking countrie without facing much of a language barrier. Going to China means you either struggle to learn a difficult language, or are limited to a few academic or business enclaves.
    – jamesqf
    May 8, 2019 at 5:07

2 Answers 2


No one in India speaks Chinese
This article contains a list of languages with the most total speakers in India. The most spoken languages in India are Hindi, English (125 million Indian speakers), Bengali, Marathi, Telugu, Tamil, Gujarati, Urdu, Kannada, Odia, Malayalam, Punjabi, and Sanskrit. Chinese does not show-up in this list, which probably implies that there are fewer than 25,000 Indian people who speak Chinese.

This article contains a list of countries Indian people emigrate to. The top host countries are the United States (primary language English), United Arab Emirates (lingua franca is English), Malaysia (Tamil is the third most common language), Saudi Arabia, Myanmar (English is the second language), Pakistan (English is a co-official language), United Kingdom (primary language English), Sri Lanka (Tamil and English are second and third languages), South Africa (English is fourth language), Canada (primary language is English), Kuwait (English is a widely-taught business language), Mauritius (English is the primary language), Qatar (English is most popular foreign language), and Oman (English is widely spoken business language, Urdu and Indian languages are also among the most popular foreign languages).

Reasons Indians immigrate to other countries without common language
Malaysian Indians

Most [Malaysian Indians] are descendants of those who migrated from India during the British colonisation of Malaya. There is a possibility that the first wave of migration from South Asia towards Southeast Asia happened during Asoka's invasion towards Kalinga and Samudragupta's expedition towards the South.

Indians in Saudi Arabia

Indians in Saudi Arabia are the largest community of expatriates in Saudi Arabia. India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to manage and organize the recruitment of domestic workers in January 2014.

Indian South Africans

Many Indians in South Africa are descendents of migrants from colonial India (South Asia) during late 19th-century through early 20th-century.
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    "No one in India speaks Chinese" Other than Chinese immigrants (and their children) almost no-one in Canada or Australia does, either. I don't think this is the reason. May 8, 2019 at 21:07
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    @RupertMorrish You have reversed the logic. The point is that no one from the emigrating-from country (India) speaks the primary language of the immigrating-to country (China), therefore preparing them to succeed once they immigrate, and making them likely and well-prepared candidates for migration. So, how many Chinese people speak the language of Canada (English)? There are 10 million English speakers in China, which means 10 million Chinese people who could easily migrate to Canada. It all works out pretty well when you keep the logic consistent instead of backwards.
    – John
    May 9, 2019 at 19:28
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    The quote in the OP is that 20k people from Canada live in China. May 9, 2019 at 20:27
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    @RupertMorrish Well, taking it from that direction, there are 1,227,680 Chinese speakers in Canada. 1,227,680 Chinese speakers in Canada have given us 20k Canadians immigrants to China (1 immigrant per 600 speakers in emigrating country). There are somewhere between 0-25k Chinese-speakers in India. So how many Indian immigrants to China would that predict? 0-40 Indian immigrants to China, if the proportions stayed the same.
    – John
    May 9, 2019 at 20:54
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    India has had quite a lot of wars and escalations with china, I wonder if that plays a factor? Recently there was a military scare over china's interest in the isthums near bhutan. Chinese women don't take well to darker skinned males either. Aug 10, 2019 at 13:07

You may be missing the forest for the trees. Or in this case, for the mountains.

Human geography is influenced hugely by physical geography and economics. Mountains do a good job of inhibiting the flow of people, and thus cultures on either side of a mountain range are often distinct. Of course if you're someone who lives on the mountain, and thus navigates along it, not the same dynamic. But in this case specifically we are talking about the Himalayas; the greatest mountain range in the world.

There are very few places where you can cross directly from India into China, and these are exclusively for Indian pilgrims to visit holy sites across the border (like Mount Kailash). China opened a road thereabouts in June 2015.

If you want to drive from Delhi to Beijing, you'd have to travel through Nepal or Pakistan. Nepal's Araniko Highway meets China's National Highway 318. Pakistan's Karakoram Highway (N-35) meets China's National Highway 314. This will be somewhat bothersome, and there'd certainly be plenty of paperwork and delays along the way. After crossing into China you'd have arrived on the Tibetan Plateau, a vast and unforgiving high altitude wilderness.

So there's easier ways to get to China, like a boat or a plane. But why would someone go?

If you can afford a good education and a plane ticket, you're going to want to go to a country where you can maximise your earnings. Consequently rich Indians aren't likely to go to China, where wages are lower than the developed world.

Poor Indians are either going to travel to neighbouring countries to sell their labour, or richer countries will pay to transport them for their cheap labour; most notably Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. Considering that travel to China requires passage through Nepal or Pakistan with paperwork a necessity, for poor Indians the cost of the adventure would be too much.

It should be little surprise that the Indian diaspora is spread most thickly around India's neighbours, and the most affluent English-speaking nations. The Gulf states are an obvious exception.

Beyond this, it's worth noting that China has its own enormous population. Consequently, even if Chinese wages were significantly high, China would unlikely have labour shortages, like those faced by developed nations and the Gulf states.

To summarise: Given geography it is too expensive for poor Indians to travel to China. There's also no need for China to import cheap labour from India, China has plenty of its own. For rich Indians who can afford to travel long distances, there are other places to move for skilled employment which will allow them to earn more money than China.

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