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Nothing Lasts Forever

Study sheds light on rising complexities in current migration trends
Source: geogif

Increased diversity in international migration flows includes an increase in repeat migration. However, even though the re-emigration of migrants is highly policy relevant, studies of re‐emigration have often failed to appropriately distinguish between emigration types, often assuming re-emigration means a return to the country of origin.

A paper by Andrea Monti sheds light on rising complexities in current migration trends by analysing differences in emigration patterns and propensities among foreign‐born people, focusing on return and onward migration separately. Return migration included moving back to the country of birth, while onward migration involved moving to another country that was not the country of birth or prior residence. The paper uses high quality, full population register data on a relatively large and heterogeneous migrant population in Sweden.  

Included in the study are non-adopted, foreign‐born migrants with two foreign‐born parents immigrating for the first time to Sweden between 1990 and 1995. Results show that almost 27% of the migrants had emigrated from Sweden within 10 to 15 years. Confirming previous assumptions, the paper finds that a majority of re‐emigration is in fact returning to the country of birth. However, onward migration is more common for some groups, such as among forced migrants and migrants from the horn of Africa and other sub‐Saharan countries. Onward migration destinations are diverse: Other Nordic countries and the United Kingdom are among the most common destinations, enabled by access to free mobility (open borders).

Findings from event history analyses show that being a male migrant, a labour migrant or a migrant accessing free mobility increases the chances of both return and onward migration. Accessing higher levels of free mobility through Swedish citizenship is found to be especially important for forced migrants and third-country nationals, whose emigration levels are otherwise relatively low. Highly educated migrants have stronger return probabilities and even higher onward probabilities, confirming previous studies. Additionally, economic host country attachment, whether in terms of employment or social benefits, substantially decreases the probabilities of return and onward migration. Family attachment such as having a Swedish‐born child lowers those probabilities, especially for women.

The main differences between return and onward migration determinants lie in the timing of these events and the age of the migrants. The probabilities of return are highest one to three years after initial immigration and then steadily decrease. Onward migration follows another time logic, with elevated probabilities after the first year of immigration and then remaining at a steady level long after immigration. In terms of age, migrants arriving in their 20’s show the highest return probabilities, followed by migrants arriving between the ages of 30-44-years and as teenagers. Those with the lowest return probabilities are individuals that came to Sweden as children, but the probabilities of onward migration are highest for those arriving as children and then steadily decrease with age.

Future research could advance by reflecting on the similarities and differences presented here of these two similar, yet distinct, migration flows. From a policy perspective, this paper supports the existing literature that states the future presence, especially of well‐educated migrants, should not be taken for granted. Additionally, it shows how the security of citizenship actually promotes mobility among more vulnerable migrants.

Author(s) of the original publication: 
Andrea Monti