Wednesday, March 9, 2011

International Migration Theories

The article provides with a theoretical framework for understanding migration phenomenon. It appraises both the micro- and macro- levels theories.
Since the article is more of a descriptive character than all others coming in the nearest future, I shall do my best to focus on primary assumptions of the most popular theories of international migration and present them as synthetic as possible :-)

There is no single theory widely accepted by social scientists when it comes to migration phenomenon as research of migration is intrinsically interdisciplinary. It involves sociology, political science, law, economics, demography, geography, psychology and cultural studies (Brettel C. and Hollified J. F., 2000)

Ernest Ravenstein is regarded as the earliest migration theorist. Ravenstein used census data from England and Wales and examined them. The conclusions were presented in chapter Laws of Migration in Coming to America. He assumed that migration is closely connected with "push-pull" factors. Both push factors such as low wages, high unemployment rates, lack of health care and pull factors such as: high wages, low unemployment incline people towards leaving their countries of residence. In other words, the primary cause for migration is better external economic opportunities (Daugherty H. G and Kammeyer K. W.1995, Bodvarsson Ö,Van den Berg H. 2009).
Many theorists as Allen Jones in American Immigration, Alan Kraut in The Huddled Masses and Thomas Archdeacon in Becoming American followed Ravenstein’s conviction of new era in immigration history and started dealing with the question of how people came to the United States and how it influenced the population and society in the United States (Brettell C.B and Hollifield J. F., 2000).

The most important of current theories explaining why international migration begins are: the neoclassical economics theory, the new economics of migration theory, segmented labor market theory, historical-structural theory and the world system theory. Social Capital Theory is a theoretical model explaining perpetuation of International Movement.

Neoclassical Economics: Macro-Theory is probably the best-known approach presenting sources of international migration. It arose from the theoretical model explaining internal labor migration in the face of economic development (Corry 1996, Harris and Todaro 1970). According to the theory assumptions:
1) The main cause of labor migration are differences in wages between a sending-country and a receiving country. In other words, wage differentials elimination will end international migration of workers and migrants will not migrate if such differentials do not exist.
2) International labor migration is influenced by labor market mechanisms. It means that other kinds of markets (insurance market, capital market) do not have an important effect on the international flows of workers
3) The international labor migration can be controlled by the government through regulating labor markets in both sending and receiving countries ( D. S Massey, 2005)

Neoclassical Economics: Micro-Theory arose in response to a macroeconomic model.Following assumptions are characteristic of the above-mentioned theoretical model:
1) Rational individuals migrate because having calculated costs and benefits they come to the conclusion that they receive the positive net return from movement. In other words migrants estimate the cost and the benefit of moving and migrate to that country where expected net returns are greater than in the country of origin (Borjas, 1990).
2) Migrants estimate net returns in each future period by taking the observed earnings and multiplying them by probability of obtaining a job in the destination country to obtain ’expected destination earnings’
3) The policies that affect expected earnings in sending and receiving countries can influence the size of migration flows (D.S Massey 2005)

The New Economics of Migration is a theoretical model that has arisen in response to the neoclassical theory (Stark and Boom, 1985). According to that model:
1) Families, households and other culturally defined units of production and consumption are those who count in analysis for migration research (not individuals)
2) A wage differential is not a necessary condition for making a decision about migration to other country
3) International migration does not necessarily stop when differences in wages disappear. Conviction of migration rightness will exist if other markets in the country of origin such as: insurance market, capital market, consumer credit market ect. are absent or imperfect
4) Governments are able to change the size of migration flows through regulating labor markets and, in case they do not exist or are imperfect, all markets mention above.

Dual (or Segmented) Labor Market Theory shows the importance of institutional factors as well as race and gender in occurring labor market segmentation (Castle and Miller 2009). According to Michael Piore’s conclusions presented in the Birds of Passage: Migrant Labour and Industrial Societies the main cause of international migration is a structural demand within advanced economies for both highly skilled and lower skilled workers. Ipso facto migration is not caused by push factors in sending countries but by pull factors in receiving countries (Piore, 1979). According to the theorists:
1) International labor migration is largely demanded-based and takes its beginning from recruitment by employers in developed societies or by governments acting on their behalf
2) Because the demand for workers from other countries is structurally built into needs of the economy and is expressed through recruitment practice rather than wage offers, differences in international wages are neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for arising and existing migration of labor workers.
3) Governments are able to influence international migration but only through major changes in economic organization (Castles and Miller, 2009)

Alternative models of explanation international migration phenomenon are called Historical-Structural Theory and World System Theory respectively.
History-Structural theorists claim that international migration is caused by unequal distribution of political and economic power in the world economy (Castles and Miller).
The Worlds System Theory argues that penetration of capitalist economic relations into non-capitalist or pre-capitalist societies creates a mobile population that can easily make a decision to migrate (D.S. Massey, 2009).

The last theory to present is called the Social Capital Theory. It is a theoretical model explaining international migration through presenting a concept of migrant networks. According to this approach:
1) International migration expands until network connections are wide enough that all people who wish to migrate to that country can do so without difficulties
2) The correlations between wage differentials or employment rates and migration flows hardly exist
3) Controlling migration in the light of that approach is very difficult as migrants network are created outside the country and occurs irrespective of policies pursued (Casles and Miller, 2009).

In my articles I don’t adopt one theoretical model. I try to analyze international migration taking under consideration all above-mentioned perspectives as in my opinion, despite different assumptions and hypotheses, international migration theories are not contradictory.

1) Bilsborrow R. E., Oberai A. S., Standing G.,1984, World Employment Programme, Migration surveys in low income countries: guidelines for survey and questionnaire design.
2) Bodvarsson Ö.,Van den Berg H., 2009,The Economics of Immigration: Theory and Policy.
3) Brettel C. B, Hollified J. F, 2000, Migration Theory: Talking Across Discpiplines.
4) Borjas G.J. 1990, Friends and Starnrers: The Impact of Immigration on the Economy
5) Corry D., 1996, Economics and European Union migration Policy.
6) Daugherty H. G., Kammeyer K. W.,1995, An introduction to population.
7) Harris J. R. , Todaro M. P, 1970, Migration, Unemployment and Developement: a two-sector analysis.
8) Piore M., 1979, Birds of Passage: Migrant Labour and Industrial Societies, Cambridge University Press.
9) Stalker P, 1994, The Work of Strangers: A Survey of International Labour Migration, International Labour Office, Geneva.
10) Stark O. , Bloom D. E. The new economics of labour migration, American Economics Review, 75:173-8.


  1. Hello! Thanks for this useful article. At the moment I'm writing a chapter for my PhD thesis on migraiton theories and have to say it's a bit confusing as it's difficult to get to the original sources.

    Anyway, you may be interested in this social media forum -

    Happy researching!

    1. hi i m also working on migration theories - review . cn u share sm good refernces with me. to

  2. hallo, thank you for posting this article. it is so helpful. I am currently writing about immigrant contribution on labour shortage in Germany becaus of demogrpahich change. I also had interned at OHCHR in Bangkok in 2012 :)

  3. Hello! Thanks alot for this info! I am writing something on impact of migration on rural life in Mzimba district, Malawi. I need more of similar info for my Litrature reviews!

    May God bless you, stay blessed.



  4. scho;ars of migration can we really say this theories are also applicable to student mobility, the migration of students in institutions of higher learning or they generally become bias and end up viewing migration as only labour.

  5. very useful information thanks lady...

  6. This blog is very useful for the researchers in the area of migration

  7. its an immense contribution in the domain of migration i will say. Actually am a research MSc student in the university of buea and my research hovers around this domain with case study being Kumba, cameroon. I will appreciate if any one can furnish me with data on remittances flow in Cameroon and Kumba particularly from 1982 till date.

  8. hello, thanks for the post its very helpful. Please am writing my PhD on the impact of oil production on the urbanisation of Nigeria, my main research question is on:how does oil affect the urban growth of Nigeria via rural-urban migration? I am finding it difficult to get a suitable theoretical framework for this work, could you please help me with this task or better still send me the link to on how to get the best theoretical framework for my work.

  9. Great article, thank you. Doing a paper on remittances and migration impact on economic development.

  10. This is such a helpful article for my research and lectures. Thanks a lot :)

  11. Thank you. It is useful to my research. I am doing my masters thesis on effect of migration on elderly people.

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Thanks for this usefull artical.

  14. Thanks for this usefull artical.

  15. thank you very much for summarizing all these important migration theories in a single platform

  16. i have a question...discuss the world system theory in the context of migration in zimbabwe...pliz help

    1. I think that the Migration Systems Theory by Mabogunje in the context of Africa is better suited for your analysis. You can download the paper on Migration Systems Theory on google scholar- Blakewell, et al (2013) give a fairly comprehensive review.

  17. Very helpful for researchers. I am currently doing a research on gender and migration. Any related article that anyone can share is very much appreciated.

  18. Very useful information. this article helps me a lot. theories are good platform to understand migration

  19. Thank you for your contribution, helped me a lot.