The migration process raises a set of migration-related risks and vulnerabilities that governments first need to recognize as collective problems before formulating public policy responses. The South Indian state of Kerala is among the first subnational states globally to institutionalise various social protection policies towards emigrants and returned migrants, specifically through the department of Non-Resident Keralites' Affairs (NORKA) and its implementation agency, NORKA ROOTS. This article focuses on Kerala to investigate why migrant-origin states assume collective social responsibility for emigrants and include them in social protection policies. By drawing on original data, the analysis shows that (returned) emigrants' access to social protection schemes is built on the state government's understandings of deservingness. Kerala bases deservingness on a combination of instrumentalist and ideational rationales that are rooted in the state's specific developmental and identity discourse. These findings contribute to debates on the social policy-migration nexus, and particularly transnational social protection, in two ways. First, Kerala's approach highlights migration's role in welfare-state expansion and shows that positive discourses on migration can facilitate policy change, especially compared to negative discourses and welfare retrenchment in European destination countries in recent years. Second, the Kerala example underlines the importance of studying subnational governments to understand how transnational labour migration and social policies are made and how these subnational governments shape emigrants' access to social protection.
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Social protection, emigration, migration policy, welfare state expansion, subnational government, India, Kerala