This study focuses on the rural migrant distress in the context of poverty, informality, and difficulties in adopting livelihoods, which is emphasized during droughts. The research was conducted in rural villages in a drought-prone region of Kalaburagi district, Karnataka, where recurrent weather variability leads to distress migration of poor rural households. The study finds that farming practices in the region primarily rely on rain-fed agriculture. Fluctuating rainfall and low irrigation intensity result in lower crop output and farmer income. As a survival strategy, marginal farmers, small farmers, and landless agriculture labourers from poverty-stricken sections of the population move to developed regions in search of employment. However, distress migration does not significantly improve the migrants’ present income or quality of life. The study’s core outcome sheds light on the challenges faced by poor rural households, emphasizing the need for policies that promote sustainable livelihoods in rural areas. It contributes to the growing body of literature on rural development and provides insights for policymakers and practitioners seeking to address rural migrant distress and promote sustainable livelihoods in drought-prone regions of India.