Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Effects of Integration and Transnational Ties on International Return Migration Intentions

Academic journal article Demographic Research

The Effects of Integration and Transnational Ties on International Return Migration Intentions

Article excerpt


While return migration is receiving increasing attention, there is still insufficient insight into the factors which determine migrants' intentions and decisions to return. It is often assumed that integration in receiving countries and the concomitant weakening of transnational ties decreases the likelihood of returning. However, according to alternative theoretical interpretations, return migration can also be the outflow of successful integration in receiving countries. Drawing on a dataset of four African immigrant groups in Spain and Italy, this article reviews these conflicting hypotheses by assessing the effects of integration and transnational ties on return migration intentions. The results of the analysis suggest that sociocultural integration has a negative effect on return migration intentions, while economic integration and transnational ties have more ambiguous and sometimes positive effects. The results provide mixed support for the different hypotheses but question theoretical perspectives that unequivocally conceptualize return migration and transnationalism as causes and/or consequences of "integration failure."

1. Introduction

Return migration has recently received renewed attention in research and policy (Cassarino 2004; Hammond 1999; Olesen 2002). This resurgence seems largely to be related to new hopes that politicians and other policy makers have pinned onto temporary migration as an instrument to meet labour market demands while avoiding the permanent settlement of migrants (Barber, Black, and Tenaglia 2005; Castles 2006; Ruhs 2006). In addition, temporary migration has increasingly been conceptualized as beneficial for the development of origin countries, whereby return migrants are often ascribed a key, innovative role in investment and economic development (Agunias 2006; de Haas 2005; Ghosh 2006).

Neither temporary migration nor the assumed link between return migration and origin country development are new phenomena or policy ideas. In the 1960s and 1970s, for instance, "guest workers" were recruited from relatively poor Mediterranean countries such as Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia to work in the industries of the booming economies of North-Western Europe (Castles and Kosack 1973). Governments of both sending and receiving countries initially considered this migration as temporary, and the workers were widely expected to play a positive role in economic development of origin countries through investing their savings after return. After the 1973 Oil Crisis and the subsequent economic downturn, governments of countries such as France, Germany, and the Netherlands attempted to encourage return migration, sometimes by linking return migration to investment and development schemes in origin countries (De Mas 1978; Entzinger 1985; Penninx 1982). However, although significant return did occur, many "guest workers" ended up settling in destination countries, as was testified by large-scale family reunification migration in the 1970s and 1980s.

Most theories on migrant integration or assimilation suggest that the longer migrants stay, the more they become integrated in receiving societies, the more difficult it becomes to return in practice, and the more they are inclined to settle. This has strong parallels with neoclassical migration theory, as formulated by Harris and Todaro, which represents migration as an attempt by individuals to maximize their utility by moving to places where they can be more productive (Harris and Todaro 1970; Massey et al. 1998; Todaro and Maruszko 1987). Such theories tend to interpret migration as an investment in human capital, predicting that migrants move to places where they can expect the highest economic returns on their human resources; according to these theories migration is expected to occur when there is a good chance migrants will recoup their human capital investment once migration and adaptation costs and risks are taken into account (Bauer and Zimmermann 1998; Sjaastad 1962). …

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