Academic journal article Population

Return Migration to Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Intention and Realization

Academic journal article Population

Return Migration to Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo: Intention and Realization

Article excerpt

Although studies of return migration have been growing in number, particularly in the last decade (Carling et al., 2011), certain aspects of this question have been largely overlooked. In particular, migrants' initial intentions to return and the realization of these intentions have not been investigated in depth in the theoretical and empirical literature on international migration.

As Haas and Fokkema (2011) point out, classical economic theories of international migration present the disadvantage of linking migrants' return to their initial reason for migration. Thus, for neoclassical theory, which views migrants as rational actors who migrate on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis in order to maximize their income (Todaro, 1969), migration is intended to be permanent from the outset. Return is thus understood as the consequence of failure abroad, reflecting migrants' inability to benefit from migration as fully as they had expected (Cassarino, 2004; Constant and Massey, 2002). The New Economics of Labour Migration, in contrast, presents migration as one of the strategies used by households to diversify their sources of income in the context of market failures (in access to credit or insurance, for example) (Stark and Bloom, 1985). Under this theory, migrants intend to return to their country of origin after attaining a very specific objective, namely that of acquiring the resources they need to overcome market imperfections so that they can improve their living conditions and those of their families. In this view, the migrants who return to their country of origin are those who have acquired enough financial and human capital to carry out their projects at home (Cassarino, 2004). Neither of these theories takes into account the fact that migrants' initial motivations and strategies may change over the course of their time abroad (de Haas and Fokkema, 2011). While certain migrants return as they had initially planned to do, others ultimately choose to stay abroad. This may be because their ties to their community of origin have weakened (Guilmoto and Sandron, 2000; Massey et al., 1987), because they have acquired a certain autonomy (El Hariri, 2003), because they are tied down by events in their career or personal life (Hazen and Alberts, 2006), or because the situation has changed in their origin or destination country (Carling, 2004; Cornelius, 2001; Massey and Espinosa, 1997; Massey et al., 2002). In other cases, migrants maintain their plan to return over time, but continually postpone it, to the extent that it becomes a sort of myth (El Hariri, 2003; Sayad, 1998).

Given the lack of data on the subject, few quantitative studies have specifically examined the question of migrants' initial return intentions and their realization. Research is generally based on cross-sectional surveys which pose the question of respondents' intention to return at the time of the survey rather than at the time of their arrival, regardless of the time already spent in the destination country. Moreover, analysis of actual return requires data on the life histories of both return migrants and migrants who have remained in the destination country. Until recently, the only source of such data was the Mexican Migration Project (MMP), which collected data in both origin and destination countries, making it possible to study the determinants of Mexican migrants' return after living in the United States (Massey and Espinosa, 1997; Reyes, 2004).

Drawing on data from the MAFE-Senegal and MAFE-Congo life event history surveys carried out in African countries of origin and in European destination countries, which collected information both on migrants' initial intention to return and on actual returns, this article has two objectives: first, to analyse the migration plans of Senegalese and Congolese migrants to Europe at the time of their arrival, and second, to analyse the actual realization of their initial intention to return.

The hypothesis tested here is that both migrants' initial migration plan and their return depend on what they consider best for themselves and their families, but that aspirations to return are constrained by the situation in both origin and destination countries. …

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