MUMBAI: The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has emerged as the leading destination for Indians migrating to the Gulf in search of work, as per immigration clearance data for the first six months of 2017. The UAE has toppled, by a wide margin, Saudi Arabia which used to traditionally lead the pack. Of the total emigration clearance of nearly 1.84 lakh, as many as 74,778 Indians (or 40.6%) obtained immigration clearances for the UAE during January-June this calendar year, while only 32,995 (or 18% ) migrated to Saudi Arabia. Oman came a close third with 30,413 migrants, which is 16.5% of the total Gulf migration. In 2016, Kuwait was the third most popular destination. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is an alliance of six countries: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman. The other surprise in store is that Bihar edged Uttar Pradesh to occupy the top slot as the leading source state during the first half of 2017. Bihar contributed 35,807 (or 19.5%) of the total migrants to the Gulf. UP sent 33,043 migrants (or 18%). Contrast this with 2015, when of the total 7.58 lakh Indian migrants to the Gulf, 31% hailed from UP and only 14% from Bihar. Drop in migration from UP to Saudi - The main reason for this shift in ranking is a drastic fall in migration from UP to Saudi Arabia during the first half of 2017. Of the total migrant figure of 3.06 lakh to Saudi Arabia in 2015, 1.28 lakh migrants (or 42%) hailed from UP. The pan-India figure of migrants to Saudi Arabia dipped to 1.65 lakh in 2016 of which 36% were from UP. Between January to June, only 1,179 workers from UP obtained immigration clearance for Saudi Arabia. This works out to a mere 3.57% of the total migration to this country. On the whole, immigration clearance statistics reflect a steady decline in migration to the Gulf, as per the statistics of the ministry of external affairs (MoEA). The pan-India immigration clearance during 2016, of 5.07 lakh, was a decline of 33% as compared to the previous calendar year. While comparative six monthly figures of 2016 are not available, with only 1.84 immigration clearances during the first half of 2017, it shows that the falling trend will continue. Contrary to popular notions, Kerala doesn't occupy the top slot of source states for Gulf bound migration. S Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Centre for Development Studies (CDS), who spearheads the annual Kerala Migration Survey, says: "Historically, Kerala was the leading source state for migrants going to the Gulf countries. One out of every five migrants who left India in 2008 was a Keralite. After the global crisis that followed, this is down to one out of twenty in 2016." Kerala occupied eight slot in 2015, with 42,731 migrants (or 5.6%) of the pan- India total. Its eighth position continued in 2016 with 24,962 Keralities migrating to Gulf and its ratio to all-India migration was 4.9%. Kerala's ranking was up to seventh in the first half of 2017, with 8,995 emigration clearances or nearly 5% of the pan-India emigration clearances. Rajan explains: "The wage differential for unskilled labourers between Kerala and Gulf has narrowed, plus savings for Gulf workers are hit by the high cost of living. Keralites are slowly vacating from Gulf and are replaced by people from UP, Bihar, and neighbouring countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka. Unlike the rest of India, Kerala is experiencing an ageing population-—this too impacts migration." A study done by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in 2016 illustrates that India has fixed the referral wage for carpenters and masons at Saudi Riyal 1,700 per month, which is 40% and 10% higher than that set by Nepal and Philippines "The higher referral wages may periodically reduce employers' preference for Indian workers. But if this tendency continues for long, it may adversely impact migration outflows from India, which in turn will restrict livelihood options and dampen remittance inflow," the report said.