Academic journal article Demographic Research

Ethnic Differences in Integration Levels and Return Migration Intentions: A Study of Estonian Migrants in Finland

Academic journal article Demographic Research

Ethnic Differences in Integration Levels and Return Migration Intentions: A Study of Estonian Migrants in Finland

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

Migration from eastern to western Europe has led to a considerable loss of population in some eastern European countries over the past two decades (Apsite 2013; Anniste et al. 2012; Kahanec 2012). As Ivlevs and King (2012) have noted, many eastern European countries that won independence at the beginning of the 1990s have since lost a share of their people. Furthermore, since the individuals who leave the new member states of the European Union (EU) are more likely to be highly educated than those who stay, the discussions on east-west migration in Europe tend to revolve around the issues of brain drain, brain gain, and brain waste (Kahanec et al. 2010; Olofsson and Malmberg 2011; Olofsson 2012). The grim reality of high emigration rates can, however, be relieved by return migration, ultimately leading to a brain gain for the sending countries rather than for the receiving countries3 (Mayr and Peri 2009). This paper brings the ethnic dimension-i.e., being a member of a majority population or a minority population of the sending country-into the discussion on return migration. At the broadest level, the decision to stay or return depends on the balance between an immigrant's degree of integration in the host country and the strength of his or her attachment and ties to the country of origin. While there are studies on the onward migration of immigrants from one EU member state to another (e.g., Aptekar 2009; Nekby 2006), there are almost no studies on the extent to which members of minority ethnic groups and members of the majority population of the sending countries differ in their desire to return to the sending country. This trend is, however, a new and very interesting layer in the European migration system that is emerging in the context of the free labour movement framework and the increased ethnic diversity in the EU. For onward migrants, their new homeland is a third country because the country of origin is not their historical homeland4. Members of sending country minority groups are more footloose (Ivlevs 2013): because they are less attached to the countries in which they live, they tend to be more responsive to welfare differences between European countries in the context of the free movement of labour within the EU. Members of minority groups may therefore be more likely to -trickle up" into more attractive destination countries in Europe than members of the majority populations of EU countries.

Ethnic differences in return migration intentions are also closely related to the relationship between integration and return migration, a topic of migration research that has recently been revived by de Haas and Fokkema (2011). The integration of an immigrant into the host country evolves alongside his or her decision about whether to stay or return. Furthermore, the literature has identified a number of dimensions of the integration process, including the distinction between structural and sociocultural integration (Heckmann 2005; Fokkema and de Haas 2011). Because of these different dimensions the relationship between integration and return migration is complex, and both negative (a higher level of integration is related to a lower degree of willingness to return) and positive (a higher level of integration is related to a higher degree of willingness to return) associations between the two processes can emerge (de Haas and Fokkema 2011). It is therefore reasonable to expect that the balance of these factors can differ between members of the sending country's majority and minority ethnic groups, and that these differences can have varying effects on the migrants' intentions to return to the home country.

This study examines the differences in the return migration intentions of members of the ethnic minority population and of the majority population of the origin country, taking into account the extent to which they are integrated into their new homeland/host country. The central research questions this paper seeks to answer are therefore as follows:

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