Separate but not equal: Toward a nomological net for migrants and migrant entrepreneurship

  • Lisa Jones ChristensenEmail author
  • Arielle Badger Newman
  • Heidi Herrick
  • Paul Godfrey
Special Issue Migration
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Migrants, Migration Policies, and IB Research


This paper considers migrants on a continuum in terms of voluntariness of departure and intended timeframe in the new location. The corresponding 2 × 2 framework offers a theory-driven typology with which to consider four groups: exiles, sojourners, immigrants, and refugees. We apply the framework to the topic of migrant entrepreneurship, demonstrating the need for separate consideration of refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs. We propose ways in which types of capital differ between the two and discuss how differences affect entrepreneurial endeavors. The framework extends scholarship on migrant entrepreneurship, while providing a nomological net for improved theorizing for a range of migrant situations.


construct development and evaluation economic development evaluation of current theories comparative entrepreneurship immigration policy refugees 

A migrant is “any person who is moving or has moved across an international border or within a State away from his/her habitual place of residence, regardless of (1) the person’s legal status, (2) whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary, (3) what the causes for movement are, or (4) what the length of the stay.” (IOM, 2019a)


Migration, the movement of people across national borders for resettlement, creates business opportunities and challenges as relocated people seek or create employment. Worldwide, the population of migrants already totals more than 260 million, making “Diasporia” the fifth largest “country” in the world (Taube, Cummings, & Vaaler, 2013). Given that geopolitical, environmental, and economic drivers of migration are on the rise (Zong, Batalova, & Burrows, 2019), the impact of migration on business and policy grows increasingly salient for a range of scholars (Choudhury, Hernandez, Kulchina, & Wang, 2019; Deeds, Barnard, & Vaaler, 2018). One particular business and policy response to the topic of migration encourages entrepreneurship on the part of relocated individuals (Baran, 2018; Brown & Scribner, 2014; Desiderio, 2014). The driving logic suggests that entrepreneurship facilitates self-employment, new business creation, and economic growth (Acs, Estrin, Mickiewicz, & Szerb, 2018; Bjornskov, & Foss, 2016), and that it provides a vehicle to connect, assimilate, and achieve financial independence (Brown & Scribner, 2014; Fong et al., 2007; Gold, 1992; Kloosterman, Van Der Leun, & Rath, 1998, 1999). Accordingly, many countries endorse policies encouraging entrepreneurship among migrant groups (Brown & Scribner, 2014; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2005, 2007, 2008; UNHCR, 2018a, b). In keeping with this claim, a key United Nations (UN) agency recently declared that entrepreneurship offers an effective approach to overcoming challenges of economic and social inclusion for migrants worldwide (UNTAD, 2018).

However, much of the extant International Business (IB) and policy research associated with migration conflates different groups of migrants – effectively treating many different groups, such as refugees and immigrants, as theoretically and practically equivalent (Bizri, 2017; Cortes, 2004; Gold, 1992; Heilbrunn, Freiling, & Harima, 2019; Kloosterman, Van Der Leun, & Rath, 1998, 1999; Portes, 1995; UNHCR, 2018a, b; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008). Such conflation implies equivalence in institutional and individual responses, which may or may not be theoretically sound or practically effective. Scholars, many of them outside management, argue for the relevance of important differences by subgroup – differences related to motivation for departure, intent to stay in new locations, access to resources, legal status, or likelihood of exposure to trauma, among others (Berry & Sam, 1996; Edwards, 2015; George, 2010; Khoury & Prasad, 2016a, b). Within the IB and management fields, scholars argue that ignoring key differences leads to substandard financial and social outcomes for individuals and society – particularly in relation to entrepreneurship (Heilbrunn et al., 2019; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006; 2008).

Herein, we address the topic of theoretical and policy-related concerns associated with conflating groups of migrants. We draw from diverse fields to: (1) clarify key definitions-in-use, and (2) provide a theory-driven framework with which to (re)consider four particular groups of migrants. Specifically, we adapt theories from acculturation psychology and refugee theory to suggest categorizing individuals in terms of the voluntariness of contact and planned time horizon in the new location. Considering both voluntariness and time horizon at the time a migrant arrives in a new location distinguishes four groups: (1) exiles, (2) sojourners, (3) refugees, and (4) immigrants. The typology invites a closer exploration of definitions currently in use in myriad disciplines, while also lending itself to application in specific disciplines. We illustrate one way to use the typology by applying it to the topic of migrant entrepreneurship and bringing it to bear on extant discussions regarding entrepreneurial resources (Baker & Nelson, 2005; Bhave, 1994; Godfrey, 2014; Kloosterman, 2010; Moroz & Hindle, 2011; Lanivich, 2015). In so doing, we identify similarities and differences in human, physical, institutional, and social capital between the groups (and between refugees and immigrants), and we propose how such resource differences affect two types of entrepreneurial efforts. We then argue that refugees and immigrants, in particular, merit materially different organizational and policy responses in terms of entrepreneurship. The typology and the categorical definitions offer a theoretical framework for considering four types of migrant groups, and which specifies linkages among and between them and the resources they may or may not share. Thus, in its final iteration, the framework offers the beginnings of a nomological net for scholars interested in the intersection of migration and entrepreneurship (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955).

The paper proceeds as follows: first, we outline key drivers of migration and discuss the effects of migration on business and management topics. We then introduce the typology and use it to compare immigrants and refugees in terms of how resource differences might affect entrepreneurship. We close with a discussion of policy implications and opportunities for future research.

Background: Migration context and drivers

Worldwide, the number of migrants grew 200% in the last 50 years – rising from 79 million in 1960 to 260 million in 2017 (Castelli, 2018; Connor, 2016). Moreover, in 2016, more than 1 in every 122 people fled homes as refugees because of persecution, war, or violence (UNHCR, 2018a, b). The drivers of worldwide migration come from a range of sources, such as rising natural and man-made disasters. Other drivers relate to improved access to and means of travel (People and the Planet, 2019), widening socioeconomic differences between low- and high-income countries, diasporic links made stronger through social media, and trends toward urbanization (Castelli, 2018; Berry & Sam, 2016; Connor, 2016). The above list describes a mix of country-, local-, and individual-level pressures affecting the decision to migrate; most of which likely interact to drive the decision to relocate (Niedomysl, 2011). Such drivers, and the geopolitical, personal, and environmental pressures they describe, combine to make migration “a structural phenomenon likely to continue in the next decades” (Castelli, 2018: 6) and “one of the defining issues of our time” (Choudhury, Hernandez, Kulchina, & Wang, 2019: 1).

Such migration directly affects international and local business, as it concerns the mobility of labor, knowledge, and capital (Choudhury, Hernandez, Kulchina, & Wang, 2019). Migration creates management opportunities and challenges when an influx of transplanted people seek or create employment in new locations. Research suggests that migrants enable knowledge diffusion, innovation, and cross-border information and capital flows (Martinez, Cummings, & Vaaler, 2015, Bahar & Rapoport, 2018). Further, the arrival of migrants can change employment and wage patterns of native workers (Peri & Sparber, 2009), while migrants may also create clusters of knowledge and entrepreneurship (Kerr, 2008; Kerr & Kerr, 2019). Data suggest that migrants are twice as likely to become entrepreneurs as native-born individuals (Kauffman, 2018). Migration has mixed effects on organizational founding, expansion, innovation, and cross-border financial exchanges (Leblang, 2010; Lissoni, 2018; Naudé, Siegel, & Marchand, 2017). Such findings, however, frequently draw from aggregated populations of potentially different migrants (Sandberg, Immonen, & Kok, 2018, UNCTD, 2018; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008). Such a conflation may be a relevant practice for some research questions, while in other cases it may warrant revision. Certainly, some management scholars call for careful consideration of how different migrants may or may not relate to different business outcomes, particularly in the context of entrepreneurship (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006, 2007, 2008; Miller, Steier, & Le Breton-Miller, 2016).

One way to take such care involves taking a cross-disciplinary perspective and revisiting the nomological net surrounding migration (Cronbach & Meehl, 1955). Doing so can improve the specificity of research and policy and therefore the clarity and efficacy of ensuing recommendations. Below, we attempt such specificity by examining and adapting principles and distinctions from outside the management domain.

Key distinctions in migration: Reasons for departure and time horizon in new country

We first introduce and draw from principles from acculturation psychology, due to its explicit focus on the post-migration experience of individuals and groups (experiences of both those who migrate and those who live in the new location and thus surround the new migrant). Such psychologists seek to understand acculturation, or the “effects on all parties when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact” (Redfield et al., 1936: 149; Berry & Sam, 2016). Specifically, the work of psychologists Berry (2009) and colleagues (2016) considers migration, and migrating individuals, in terms of at least two dimensions: (1) the voluntariness of contact with the new location (from involuntary to voluntary), and (2) the planned time horizon in the new location (from temporary to permanent). Their work assumes that people vary along a low-to-high continuum on both dimensions, which results in a 2 × 2 framing that generates four categories of people (see Figure 1). The resulting framework includes those in a new place involuntarily with a temporary mindset; those in a new place involuntarily with a more permanent mindset; those who are in a new place voluntarily with a temporary mindset; and those who are in a new place voluntarily with a relatively permanent mindset. As Figure 1 indicates, we argue that applying extant definitions of migrant groups to these categories suggests that exiles, refugees, immigrants, and sojourners occupy separate quadrants.
Figure 1

Migrant groups: framework based upon departure motives and planned duration in new location

The value of, and justification for, such a typology in the field of psychology comes from the fact that it helps with diagnostic and analytical responses to migrants. Acculturation psychologists use a version of this framework to explore individual differences in post-migration affect, behavior, and cognition for migrants in each category. The separate categories enable more customized and efficacious interventions. Adapting the framework and applying it to different management questions provides a starting point for: (1) refining common category labels; (2) discussing similarities and differences among migrants in each category; and (3) analyzing subgroup characteristics more carefully. We attempt each below.

Part I: Exploring category definitions and building a framework

Explicating the framework in Figure 1 requires first assessing how long a person intends to stay in the new country, and the voluntary or involuntary nature of the decision to relocate. For our purposes, the information required to categorize an individual comes from his or her initial statements of reason(s) for departure and intent to stay; it stems from the types of statements people provide upon arrival in the new country. Such claims may emerge from individual conversations with migrating peers and welcoming bodies, or be part of formal statements provided to a border official or other organizational agent. This focus on initial claims has roots in practical reality – most policies (or organizational sorting) related to migrants takes effect based upon migrants’ own declarations upon arrival (Brown & Scribner, 2014; IRC, 2019; UNHCR, 2018a, b). Immediately after, differences in these original statements trigger different policy and organizational responses.1 Certainly, while reasons and plans of any migrant remain idiosyncratic, most reasons and plans relate to time horizon and volition, respectively.2

In exploring all four quadrants, for pragmatic reasons, we start with a temporal perspective (short- to long-term) in terms of intent to stay in the new location. Thus, we focus first on the two categories involving individuals who intend to stay for a shorter time. Two categories of migrants fall under this “temporary” category: those who are in a new place involuntarily and those who made the decision to move at will. For them, we use the terms “exiles” and “sojourners,” respectively.

Migrants with temporary time horizons upon arrival: Exiles and sojourners

Defining exiles

In considering people with a temporary time horizon who leave the country of origin involuntarily, acculturation psychologists label asylum seekers as representative of this category. Asylum seekers are forced to relocate (this relocation is thus highly involuntary), and asylum seekers formally request sanctuary in another country.3 In Figure 1, we deviate from this phrasing and widen the category by using the term “exiles” for this category. Exiles also leave a home country involuntarily and live “in a state of forced absence from one’s country or home” (Merriam-Webster, 2019), but the term “exile” does not restrict membership to those who formally apply for sanctuary or asylum. Exiles, who include asylum seekers, thus represent people living with the most extreme case of time uncertainty (Horst & Grabska, 2015) or in “indefinite stasis” (Griffiths, 2014), as exiles do not know whether they ever will be able to return home or attain asylum. They also embody the extreme case of involuntary relocation, as they were forced out while (by definition) still wanting to stay. Thus, exiles are unlikely or unable to adopt a longer-term mindset in the new location during the waiting period (Brun, 2015; Brun & Fábos, 2015; Griffiths, 2014). In fact, a short-term mindset remains a defining feature of exile/asylum-seeker status (Brun, 2015, 2016; Rieff, 2013). Rieff (2013) studied several groups of exiles, including Jews, Armenians, White Russians, and Cubans, and notes that common among them was the ongoing and persistent idea that they would be going home in a few months. Even after being in the new location for years, the mindset remained that the time in the new country was a “temporary” visit. Short-termism for members of this quadrant also occurs in terms of policy. For example, exiles and asylum seekers who arrive in the United States can apply for a work permit after one year, but they cannot obtain other social services offered to other migrants (Nunez, 2018). Other developed nations have similar policies (Collins, 2003). Importantly, this group of exiles is not small, as, at the end of 2017, there were approximately 3.1 million people worldwide waiting for a decision on asylum claims alone (UNCHR, 2019). By extension, the number of exiles is larger, as it includes these people and others not seeking formal sanctuary.

Defining sojourners

Further consideration of the next category of migrants with temporary time horizons means discussing migrants who relocate with relative volition and agency (particularly in comparison to that of exiles). The typology in Figure 1 describes members of this category as “sojourners.” Scholars Safdar & Berno (2016: 173) define sojourners as “people who travel internationally to achieve a particular goal with the expectation that they will return to their country of origin when they achieve that purpose.” Examples of sojourners include: temporary workers, volunteers, missionaries, tourists, diplomats, expatriate employees, visiting scholars, and nomads, among others (Safdar & Berno, 2016; Deeds, Barnard, & Vaaler, 2018). We acknowledge that this label still includes significant heterogeneity in terms of the people and situations of different “sojourners.” For example, consider the obvious differences between a prototypical migrant farm workers and an executive on temporary international assignment – two types of migrants categorized in the framework as sojourners. However, the value of the category label derives from the commonality it captures: sojourners plan for temporary visits and have some ability and freedom to return regardless of cost or convenience or ease.

Relative numbers and statistics for the size of this category are not tracked by any single agency, but data can be pieced together. For example, data suggest that 970 million temporary international volunteers existed worldwide in 2017 (UN Volunteers, 2018), and that there are 50 million expatriate employees on temporary international assignment (Finaccord, 2018).

Migrants with (comparatively) permanent time horizons: Refugees and immigrants

In moving across the typology, another two types of migrants fall under the more permanent classification in terms of time horizon in the new country: those who are in a new place involuntarily and those who made the decision to move at will. In considering the involuntary relocations first, we discuss refugees.

Defining “refugee”

The term refugee has analytical usefulness not as a label for a special, generalizable “kind” or “type” of person or situation, but only as a broad legal or descriptive rubric that includes within it a world of socio-economic statuses, personal histories, and psychological or spiritual situations (Malkki, 1995: 496 quoted in Black, 2001)

A majority of scholars and practitioners, when considering refugees, revert to the policy-focused definition established in the 1951 Geneva Convention of the UN. This definition sets the international definition of a refugee as a person who:

…owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, this person is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. (UNHCR, 2018a)

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) amended the original definition in 2011 by adding the following, widening the refugee definition to include threats to life or freedom:

refugees are those persons who are outside their country of nationality or habitual residence and unable to return there owing to serious and indiscriminate threats to life, physical integrity or freedom resulting from generalized violence or events seriously disturbing public order. (UNHCR, 2011: 19)

Building on the ideas in the first quote from Malkki (1995) and Black (2001), both policy-focused definitions remain too narrow for many (see Black, 2001; De Genova, 2002, 2013; & Zetter, 2007, for summaries of this debate). In fact, much post-Convention scholarship on refugees adopts a broader interpretation of the term. For example, some interpretations purposefully include other involuntary forced migrants such as: humanitarian refugees (where war or lack of food or water create crisis) (Hailbronner, 1988); stateless persons (where policy changes render people homeless) (Black, 2001); economic refugees (those forced to migrate because of poverty, underdevelopment, or social exclusion) (Richmond, 1993); and environmental refugees (where people flee because crops fail or water levels rise to render livelihoods extinct) (Myers & Kent, 1995). Clearly, the most formal or frequently cited definition of “refugee” (as a person with formal legal status from a UNHCR-granting organization) also offers the narrowest description of people experiencing permanent involuntary forced displacement. Accordingly, we argue for definitions that capture more nuance and brings more clarity to the topic of refugee than do those drawn from the Geneva Convention of 1951.

A further justification to widen the definition of “refugee” stems from elements of refugee theory (Kunz, 1973, 1981), which considers a wide range of refugee motivations irrespective of legal status. Kunz (1973) suggests that the flight and settlement patterns of refugees require considering two additional factors: anticipatory and acute refugee movement. As the names imply, the theory posits that refugees who, according the Table 1, have involuntary reasons for departure may still vary in terms of the amount of choice and time that precede flight or relocation.
Table 1

Key differences between refugees and immigrants

Areas of difference



Reasons for leaving home country

Flee country due to persecution or devastation; leave for humanitarian reasons. Forced departure (Edwards, 2015; Woetzel et al., 2016).

Leave home in search of (more) economic security. Usually leave of own volition. Can plan and prepare (Bernard, 1976; Gold, 1988).

Ability to return to home country

Unable or unwilling to return due to risk, threat, and status as refugee (UNHCR, 2018a, b).

Can return when they desire/can afford (IOM, 2019b).

Time horizon in host country

Longer time horizon due to lack of mobility (IRC, 2019, UNHCR, 2018a, b).

Shorter time horizon; many come to earn money to make large purchase at home; come with short-term to medium-term orientation (Cortes, 2004; IOM, 2019b).

Language acquisition trends

Refugees tend to experience faster rates of language improvement in comparison to immigrants (Cortes, 2004).

Immigrants tend to experience slower rates of language acquisition in comparison to refugees; payoff for schooling is smaller (Chiswick & Miller, 2008).

Educational attainment trends

Refugees have higher probability of being enrolled in school than immigrants (probability within first five years, 16%) (Cortes, 2004).

Immigrants have lower probability of enrolling in school (9% in first five years) (Keswick & Miller, 2008; Cortes, 2004).

Earning trends

Residence-based earning trends of refugees are positive. However, refugees recognize the advantages of developing skills for better employment opportunities and higher wages. See Chapter 24: Work and career development: APA Handbook of Multicultural Psychology Leong et al. (2014), also Berman (2012) and Damm (2014).

Earning trends are mixed: immigrant workers who live in enclaves have lower incomes than their counterparts in non-enclaves, while self-employed immigrants in enclaves and non-enclaves have similar incomes. See Jacobaea (2005, 2006), Jacobaea et al. (2012), Khawaja (2003), Patachhini and Zenou (2012), and Sanders and Nee (1987).

Psychological status/mental health status:

Psychological issues more likely given that, by definition, refugees experience some form of trauma in country of origin and in flight from home. Such trauma can hamper self-reliance and self-employment (Bernard, 1976; Hauff & Vaglum, 1993).

While psychological issues may exist, less likely for types of immigrants who can return to home country and/or maintain social contacts with home country friends and family (Leong et al., 2014).

Social networks in host country:

Likely less extensive due to fleeing on individual basis and being placed without focusing on preferences, in communities by government mandate, often with dissimilar others (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008; IRC, 2019).

Likely to be more extensive when immigrants can search out and locate, by choice, near similar others (Waldinger et al., 1990).

Access to funds, capital or labor in home country:

Refugees face persecution or death upon return, cutting off access to funds and resources in home country. Refugees cannot access capital left in country of origin. May have to leave certificates of education and capital (Sandberg et al., 2018; Hartmann & Schilling, 2019).

Borders usually remain open; assets likely to be accessible from afar (as most immigrants can return to collect assets or send for assets) (Bernard, 1976).

Acute refugee movements arise from political changes, army movements, or other dramatic “push” factors in the home country, and they correspond to common perceptions of forced migration embodied in the 1951 definition. By contrast, anticipatory refugees leave their home country before being literally forced (which some would say makes them immigrants; see next section), and, and prior to this theorizing, some scholars would consider them as outside the definition of refugee. Kunz argues that they remain refugees. Certainly, individuals in these circumstances may seem like voluntary immigrants, the distinction lying in the fact that anticipatory refugees perceive danger and feel forced to make a choice to leave, and they face danger and limited availability of relocation options. These situational factors dramatically demarcate the available choices of anticipatory migrants, such that full agentic expression of where and when to go do not drive movements. Thus, for proponents of refugee theory, both types remain in the “refugee” category because the reality and choice set of both resembles that of people who flee involuntarily (Kunz, 1973).

These arguments from refugee theory serve to enrich and strengthen the definition of refugee that we put forward below. They also provide support for a typology such as the one in Figure 1, in large part because they elaborate on and account for motives and variance in the refugee category. Another important feature of refugee theory is that it remains unconcerned about legal status or formal designation in a host country. This inclusiveness functions as an invitation and a caution for management scholars and policy-makers. It invites both to avoid narrow legalistic and policy-centric definitions that can leave out many types of refugees.

We accept this invitation and posit that individuals who flee their country of origin from involuntary pressures and with low choices and little preparation – but who fall outside of the policy definition offered by the UNHCR – still qualify as ‘refugees’ by wider considerations. Thus, they may need at least the same policies and treatment as any formally designated UNHCR-designated refugee (UNHCR, 2018a, b; Zetter, 2007). Given our wider definition, we suggest that the number of people in this category far exceeds 30 million worldwide. We conclude this from the fact that in 2018 there were at least 20.9 million refugees under UNHCR mandate as well as 5.5 million Palestinian refugees (UNHCR Figures at a Glance, 2019). Thus, the number of people potentially associated with this quadrant remains higher, as the above numbers relate only to those holding more formal refugee status.

Defining “Immigrant”

Again starting with current definitions-in-use, an immigrant is “an individual who moves into a country for the purpose of settlement” (UN IOM, 2015). An immigrant typically comes to live permanently in a foreign country, with most immigrants working to become lawful permanent residents and eventually citizens (IRC, 2019). A key feature of immigration stems from the voluntary nature of the move, as immigrants tend to move by choice, commonly in response to “pull” factors such as economic opportunity, job offers in the new location, or family and friends who already live in the new location (Bernard, 1976; Berry & Sam, 2016; IOM, 2015; UN, 2018). Immigrants (legal or illegal) typically leave home countries in pursuit of better opportunities, meaning they move towards something in hopes of bettering their circumstances (Edwards, 2015; IOM, 2015; UN, 2018).

The voluntary nature of the move means that immigrants can freely contact family and friends in the country of origin and, presumably, they can return at any time for any duration. This option to return home (even if expensive to do so) stands in marked contrast to the aforementioned situation of refugees, who cannot do so without threat to their security and that of family members or friends (Bernard, 1976; UN, 2018). As illustrated in Tables 1 and 2, refugees may endanger themselves and others with even attempted contact with home-country connections (IRC, 2019). Other key features of both the immigrant and refugee categories stand out in part because of the ways they complement and contrast each other. Tables 1 and 2 outline some of these similarities and differences, particularly in terms of educational attainment, health, and social service utilization.
Table 2

Resource comparisons between refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs

Type and definition of resource

Resource in relation to refugee entrepreneur

Resource in relation to immigrant entrepreneur

Institutional Resources

Refers to knowledge of and comfort with institutional actors

(macro-social structures that provide meaning and which structure “political, economic, and social interactions” (North, 1990)

Many refugees are fleeing states with corrupt or incomplete institutions in developing nations or war-torn nations. They may not have any experience with functioning formal state institutions. (IRC, 2019; Esses, Hamilton & Gaucher, 2017; see, e.g., Hudson & Martenson, 2001)

Refugees cannot self-select where they live; cannot locate in places most similar to previous life; cannot start nationalization process; and cannot vote to take part in changing institutions (IRC, 2019; Kolb, 2019)

With no diaspora or previous contacts, friends, or relatives, refugees must create new ties to organizational actors (Heilbrunn, Freiling, & Harima, 2019; Lyon, Sepulveda & Syrett, 2007).

More competition for resources with other refugees and with immigrants (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008).

Similar to refugees; however, are likely have more choice in where they live and may be able to self-select to locations where institutions are more similar to home country (or where there is a large presence of similar others) (Bauer, Epstein, & Gang, 2005; Bemak & Chung, 2014)

Immigrants may also have information from relatives and friends to help adjust to new home country (Waldinger et al., 1990; Bemak & Chung, 2014)

Immigrants have some moderate institutional designations, e.g., “green cards” which enable certain activities and abilities to engage civically (IOM, 2019b).

Immigrants often move to locations offering a similar ethnic community (diaspora) which provides social connection and more rapid trust (Sequeira & Rasheed, 2006; Vershinina, Barrett & Meyer, 2011; Bemak & Chung, 2014).


Strong and weak Ties (Burt)

Bonding and bridging (Burt)

Relationships with family, friends and associates

Must form new relationships with less chance of encountering socially similar others (diaspora) (Gold, 1992).

Overall less extensive social networks (Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008).

Immigrants often move to locations offering a similar ethnic community (diaspora) which provides social connection and more rapid trust (Hugo, 1981; Sequeira & Rasheed, 2006; Kontos, 2003).


Knowledge, skills, abilities

May have education and experience not recognized in new country (Sandberg et al., 2018; Harima, Haimour & Freiling, 2019; Cortes, 2004).

May have education and experience not recognized in new country (Sandberg et al., 2018).


Tangible, financial resource to produce products or services, often money

Due to need to flee or escape, usually cannot bring physical assets or cash; time delay drains savings and physical resources (Sandberg, et al., 2018; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008)

Usually cannot prepare in advance (Gold, 1988).

Can typically return to country of origin to collect funds and resources; may have businesses and family in COO they can tap for support in new country (Kontos 2003); have more opportunity to draw on historical assets (Baklanov et al., 2014; Riddle & Brinkerhoff, 2011).

Data about the absolute size of the “immigrant” category stem from an International Migration Report (IOM, 2019b) which suggests that, in the United States alone, 45 million immigrants and approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants reside. It also suggests that the number of international migrants worldwide had reached 260 million (IOM, 2019b).

Part II: Applying the framework to migrant entrepreneurship

Thus far, we have built an organizing framework that distinguishes exiles, sojourners, refugees, and immigrants. The framework expands the discussion of refugees beyond narrow legalistic and policy-centric definitions. It also invites migration scholars from many disciplines to clarify definitions and make finer-grained investigations into the various categories of migrants. We address this call and apply the framework to the topic of migrant entrepreneurship.

We define entrepreneurship as “self-employment in commercial business” (Light & Dana, 2013: 603) and assume that the entrepreneurial act stems from individuals recognizing, developing, and managing resources (Bhave, 1994; Godfrey, 2014; Moroz & Hindle, 2011; Lanivich, 2015). This focus on resource management fits with the United Nations definition of entrepreneurship as “the capacity and willingness to: undertake conception, organization and management of a productive new venture, accepting all attendant risks and seeking profit as a reward” (UNCTAD, Policy Guide: iv). This definition is used frequently in discussing policies and frameworks for refugees and immigrants (UNCTAD, 2018).

Interestingly, within the field of entrepreneurship, scholars have begun to argue that some research and policy inappropriately conflates refugees and immigrants (Heilbrunn et al., 2019; UNHCR, 2018a, b; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008). Using the framework described in Part I, enables a theory-driven approach to this question. In applying the framework, the entrepreneurship focus forces attention to stay on two of the four migrant groups. It forces attention on those migrants with a permanent temporal focus in new locations, in part because ventures need time to develop (or not), as well as time to grow and mature (or fail). This temporal emphasis has a long history in the process view of entrepreneurship (Moroz & Hindle, 2011; Wadhwani & Jones, 2014), and moves attention to the only groups categorized in the framework with a relatively permanent mindset in the new location: immigrants and refugees.

In linking the above entrepreneurship definition with definitions in the framework, a formal definition of a refugee entrepreneur emerges as: “a person who has involuntarily fled his or her home country, who plans for permanence in the new country of residence, and who engages in self-employment in a profit-seeking venture in the country of destination.” Similarly, a definition of immigrant entrepreneur emerges as: “a person who has voluntarily fled his or her home country, who plans for permanent residency in the new country, and who engages in self-employment in a profit-seeking venture in the country of destination.” With the key distinction being the voluntariness or involuntariness of their departure.

The idea that refugee or immigrant entrepreneurship depends on individuals recognizing, developing, and managing resources (Baker & Nelson, 2005; Bhave, 1994; Godfrey, 2014; Moroz & Hindle, 2011; Lanivich, 2015) requires exploring what resources exist and whether and how entrepreneurs, or would-be entrepreneurs, access and arrange them (Baker & Nelson, 2005; Sarasvathy, 2001). Here, we illustrate how using the framework presented earlier can guide such an exploration.

Entrepreneurial resources

In order to explore how refugees and immigrants may differ in terms of access to and configuration of resources, we draw from Godfrey (2014) to suggest key resources to consider. Godfrey (2014) argues that different types of capital resources surround (or potentially surround) entrepreneurs, and that the types of capital include institutional, social, human, and physical resources. Accordingly, we discuss each type in turn before offering propositions about how resource access and deployment might differ between immigrants and refugees.

Resource differences for refugees and immigrants: Institutional capital

At the broadest level, institutions such as churches, universities, courts, and industry organizations structure political, economic, and social interactions between humans (North, 1990). Formal institutions, such as government agencies, create explicit rules, laws, policies, and regulations about how to conduct business. They also govern how to obtain goods and services, and how to comport in society. Informal institutions, such as societal values, beliefs, cultures, and customary practices, transfer implicit information about the norms, customs, and taboos that govern human interactions in communities (North, 1990; Scott, 2014). Both formal and informal institutions form the context for business creation and operation: they describe the macro-environment and state of the market (Kloosterman & Rath, 2001). The “capital” associated with formal and informal institutions relates to how well people can identify which institutions matter; which ones have power; and how to navigate entry and acceptance from powerful institutions (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018; Godfrey, 2014).

Of course, the institutional arrangements and cultural context of every country and region vary significantly (Mair & Marti, 2009; Khanna & Palepu, 2005), and thus the way institutional capital works within and between each also varies (Godfrey, 2014). Migration moves in all directions within these institutional environments (i.e., North–North, North–South, and South–South, and South–North), which means that both immigrants and refugees can face differences in institutional capital depending on what type of move they make. Below, we explore how differences between refugees and immigrants might cause relationships with institutional capital to also be different by category.

Institutional capital and immigrants

Research suggests that most immigrants re-settle in ethnic communities in their new country (Bemak & Chung, 2014), which means that immigrants are more likely to be able to find people from their own home country with which to associate and learn from. In addition, data suggest that immigrants who relocate near similar others have opportunities to join other immigrants in creating ventures (Kaufmann, 2018), and that they can more easily identify other immigrants as role models (Arora, 2019). Data from the United States support this and suggest some positive externalities that may arise from this association. Research indicates that immigrants account for 47% of all U.S. scientists with doctoral degrees, 25% of college students seeking degrees in engineering and science, and 25% of physicians (Bemak & Chung, 2014). Importantly, research links some of this innovation to the associations between similar immigrant groups (Kauffman, 2018). These data suggest that many immigrants have access to similar others who show them how to navigate the institutional environment around education, worship, joining social organizations, etc., among other things. This type of support is less likely to be present for refugees, as explained below.

Institutional capital and refugees

In contrast, we know that formal refugees (those who conform to the UNHCR definition) do not have much choice in where they relocate; they are sent to locations by assignment and not because of preference, or concentration of similar others (IRC, 2019). This means that some refugees are placed in, or relocated to, places where they do not know and cannot find similar others or similar institutional arrangements. While we have established that refugees move in myriad directions, data suggest that recent waves of refugees include a majority who flee states with corrupt or incomplete formal institutions in developing or war-torn nations (Esses, Hamilton, & Gaucher, 2017). As such, these subsets of refugees may not have previous experience with functioning formal state institutions and other vagaries of an unfamiliar institutional environment. Regardless of the level of development in the country of origin, the fact that some refugees cannot self-select where they live implies that many cannot easily locate in places similar to a previous life. The difficulties that these refugees face due to their lack of institutional knowledge (or simply due to an institutional mismatch) create a unique challenge for some refugee entrepreneurs (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018). In considering the mobility and networks of refugees and immigrants together (particularly those moving to an opposite institutional environment (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018)), we argue that, in the aggregate, refugees will have more difficulty finding, living near, and learning from similar others to help them navigate the new environment.4 Accordingly, we propose:

Proposition 1a:

As compared to new immigrant entrepreneurs, new refugee entrepreneurs have more difficulty navigating the institutional environment in a new country.

Recall that the majority of immigrants choose and plan for relocation and may come from relatively similar backgrounds to the places to which they choose to relocate. This potential for similarity means that more immigrants than refugees may share familiarity with class structure, social norms, and, in particular, key institutions, from libraries and golf courses to courts and universities (Esses, Hamilton, & Gaucher, 2017). Data suggest that refugees have more difficulty than immigrants in converting institutional capital into career capital when home-country institutional norms differed significantly (in any direction) from host-country norms. Here, a key element of the argument we build rests on a full exploration of the similarities and differences between home and host country, for both refugees and immigrants. Accordingly, we suggest consideration of both arrival timing and home- and host-country institutional arrangements when making comparisons between refugees and immigrants:

Proposition 1b:

Assuming similar arrival timing, new immigrants likely acquire institutional capital more quickly than will new refugees after arriving in a new location; this relationship will be stronger when the difference between home- and host-country institutional contexts is greater.

Resource differences for refugees and immigrants: Social capital

Social capital refers to an individual’s web of interpersonal relationships that influence behavior – including entrepreneurial behavior – and thereby social capital affects business growth (Adler & Kwon, 2002). Social capital derives from the web of associations that connect individuals with each other (Burt, 2005; Granovetter, 1973, 1985). A personal combination of ties constitutes an entrepreneur’s social network, and the capabilities and resources within the network constitute their social capital. While prior research indicates networks as essential to the formation and exploitation of new entrepreneurial ventures, in most conversations about entrepreneurship, the existence of these network ties is taken as given (i.e., there is an assumption that every individual has access to his or her network, and that every individual knows many people who can help them). Thus, the majority of existing research on the role of networks emphasizes (1) how entrepreneurs leverage existing and accessible relationships with family and friends to access resources to form a venture, the strength of strong ties (Coleman, 1990; Larson & Starr, 1993; Walker, Kogut, & Shan, 1997), or (2) it emphasizes how spanning structural holes in accessible networks allows entrepreneurs to access new knowledge and non-redundant resources to exploit a new venture (Burt, 1992, 1997; Portes & Sensenbrenner, 1993; Woolcock, 1998). The existence, or lack thereof, of network ties available to entrepreneurs drives differences in how they draw on social networks to enroll the resources they need to successfully form and exploit an opportunity (Burns, Barney, Angus, & Herrick, 2016).

Social capital and immigrant entrepreneurs

Prior research suggests that, once in a new location, immigrant entrepreneurs typically rely on the social capital of ethnic networks or family relationships to secure critical resources necessary to form and exploit a new venture (Bonacich & Modell, 1980; Kalnins & Chung, 2006; Light & Paden, 1973; Palloni et al., 2001; Portes, Guarnizo, & Haller, 2002; Portes & Sensenbrenner, 1993). In particular, newly arrived immigrants with few resources of their own receive assistance from other more established individuals in their ethnic network (Kalnins & Chung, 2006). This assistance is typically contingent upon geographic location and ethnic, regional, or religious group membership (Hurh & Kim, 1984; Kalnins & Chung, 2006; Kim, Warner, & Kwon, 2001; Park & Buechner, 1997).

For example, Portes and Sensenbrenner (1993) show how loans or rotating credit are readily made available to Cuban and Dominican entrepreneurs by members of their ethnic community. In many cases, these funds may be distributed without any expectation of repayment because of a sense of shared values and trust (Kalnins & Chung, 2006; Portes & Sensenbrenner, 1993). Likewise, loans are consistently paid back in full without any collateral or signed formal agreement (Kalnins & Chung, 2006). Portes and Sensenbrenner (1993) suggest that this repayment is primarily due to group members’ fear of reputation loss and reprisal from the community (Kalnins & Chung, 2006). Similarly, Lee et al. (2013) notes that membership of various ethnic organizations provides members an opportunity to gather together with other co-ethnic immigrants and exchange information, share resources, and coordinate joint actions. These interactions generate unique forms of social capital in immigrant communities (Lee et al., 2013; Portes & Sensenbrenner, 1993), which in turn provide a greater number of opportunities for entrepreneurship guidance, support, and funding within the community (Portes & Jensen, 1987; Portes & Stepick, 1985). The situation for refugees is likely different from the immigrant experience.

Social capital and refugee entrepreneurs

New refugee entrepreneurs, similar to immigrant entrepreneurs, can be severely resource-constrained at startup. However, in addition to the potential language barriers and cultural differences for refugees (which may not exist for immigrants who can choose new locations based on language mastery and other skills), refugees often have few, if any, family, friends, or social networks in the new location on which to rely for assistance, and they likely have less physical capital with which to help procure a new network (Sequeira & Rasheed, 2006; Sandberg et al., 2018). By contrast, immigrant entrepreneurs’ tendency to pre-plan to find, and affiliate with others of their same ethnicity creates a greater possibility of finding a community of buyers, sellers, laborers, employers and financiers, as well as a tightly knit network of information exchange (Portes & Zhou, 1992; Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018). Refugee entrepreneurs are less likely to have access to these same markets (e.g., licenses, permits), skills and training (e.g., apprenticeships, co-ethnic employees), or financing (e.g., co-ethnic investors, loans from kin) (Bizri, 2017; Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018). In light of these comparisons, we propose:

Proposition 2:

As compared to new immigrant entrepreneurs, new refugee entrepreneurs will have more difficulty initially accruing and drawing upon social capital in the new country.

Resource differences for refugees and immigrants: Human capital

Human capital refers to the resources embedded in people. The term usually refers to an individual’s language skills, education, and training, as well as to differences in ability, attitudes, and outlook (Becker, 1964). People tend to have general, specific, and even hidden human capital, or people have basic and specialized skills, as well as relatively hidden internal skills such as knowledge. General human capital includes skills and knowledge used to perform activities like literacy and numeracy. In most societies, the ability to read, write, and do calculations enables people to perform a variety of value-creating functions, but such skills do not differentiate people when the majority of others have the same skills (Godfrey, 2014). Specific human capital refers to specialized and localized knowledge or skills, from playing the piano to performing eye surgery (Godfrey, 2014), and specialized skills enable people to create value when the skills are rare and valuable and demand exceeds supply (Barney, 1991). Hidden human capital refers to attitudes and beliefs versus cognitive and mechanical skills, i.e., such things as the knowledge about how to address people from different backgrounds, or an awareness of how attitudes and norms vary by social class (Godfrey, 2014; Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018).

Human capital and immigrants

Levels of, and access to, human capital can vary significantly for any group because both may depend on the country of origin and the opportunities therein, as well as on the timing of emigration. At first, it may appear that immigrants do not face the same challenge of transferability of human capital as do refugees, primarily because immigrants can choose where to emigrate. They may choose a destination where their formal training may benefit them. However, this is not always the case, and many immigrants may still face problems of transferability, problems that any international transplant faces given different language skills and different training and educational backgrounds (Bakker, Dagevos, & Engbersen, 2017; Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018). For example, many licenses and much training are devalued or do not transfer between countries, regardless of migrant status.

Human capital and refugees

For refugees, levels and access to human capital may depend on when refugees fled their country of origin (and human capital correlates to financial capital) (Duane, 2017). Data on historical trends in migration suggest that refugees who flee earlier due to the onset of turmoil, violence, and so forth, typically have higher levels of human capital than those who flee later. The logic for this being that wealthier and more educated members of society have more resources to learn of pending trouble and to respond to unexpected push factors by departing; they likely also have human capital qualifications that more closely match those required in the new locations (Duane, 2017). For example, in Cuba, the “Golden Exile” period from 1965 to 1973 describes the first wave of refugees from Cuba to the United States. It was predominantly comprised of Cubans from middle and upper class society with high levels of human capital, such as doctors, lawyers, and engineers from large cities who had the money and connections to flee early (Duane, 2017). The next wave of exodus, the “Freedom Flights,” were comprised of skilled, semi-skilled, and small business owners. After that, most Cuban refugees were from rural areas and had low skill levels, and low amounts of general human capital (Duane, 2017). These data on exits from Cuba provide just one example that demonstrates how timing of when refugees flee countries of origin relates to levels of, and subsequent access to, human capital as well as physical capital.

Another variant in human capital levels among refugees relates to where they spent time before relocation, leaving either directly from a former home or from a rural isolated refugee camp or urban refugee setting, and the longevity of their stay in the camps. The situation may differ for urban refugees who are more integrated into the city of destination as they await status in an urban environment where they are more likely to be able to access education and other services. Refugees in isolated rural camps outside urban areas often lack the opportunities to develop and/or increase levels of human capital. Further, human capital can degrade with long delays in use, practice, or upgrades (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018).

Essentially, opportunities within the country of origin and the applicability of licenses and other human capital stocks can affect refugees and immigrants in similar ways. That said, issues related to the timing of departure from the country of origin and whether (and for how long) or not a refugee stayed in a refugee camp both affect refugees differently. Accordingly, we suggest the following:

Proposition 3a:

Assuming that language skills are equal, new immigrant entrepreneurs and earlier waves of refugee entrepreneurs will have similar levels of difficulty (or ease) navigating the human capital environment in a new country.

Proposition 3b:

Assuming that language skills are equal, later refugees and those who lived for long periods in refugee camps will have more difficulty navigating the human capital environment in a new country than will new immigrants.

Resource differences for refugees and immigrants: Physical capital

Physical capital, in purely economic terms, refers to any physical factor of production (or input into the process of production) and consists of such items as machinery, buildings, and computers. It often also refers to money – the actual cash that entrepreneurs can use to invest in or purchase factors of production or to pay workers to produce (Godfrey, 2014).

Physical capital and immigrants

By definition, immigrant entrepreneurs can travel with physical capital, they can return to a home country to obtain physical capital, and they can target where they emigrate to in order to find the best value in terms of physical capital investments (Bakker, Dagevos, & Engbersen, 2017; IOM, 2019b). Immigrants can also select the timing of their international move, which allows for saving, planning, and strategizing target locations and target partners who can help with the research, purchase, and operation of any physical capital investments (Bakker, Dagevos, & Engbersen, 2017; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2008).

Physical capital and refugees

Formal refugees to the U.S. who achieve the UNHCR-specific designation have a 90-day social safety net once they arrive in the U.S., but they usually do not arrive with any physical capital beyond the clothes on their backs (UNHCR, 2018a, b). Given that all refugees, by all definitions, cannot return to their country of origin to collect savings, cannot pitch friends or family for funds, and cannot purchase factors of production of known quality from known vendors, refugees start any entrepreneurial venture from a near tabula rasa in terms of physical capital and ability to acquire such capital (Bakker, Dagevos, & Engbersen, 2017; Fong et al, 2007). Accordingly, we suggest:

Proposition 4:

As compared to new immigrants, new refugees will have greater difficulty navigating the physical capital requirements in a new country.

Up to this point, we have outlined how generalized categories of immigrants and refugees differ in terms of four major forms of capital or critical resources needed for entrepreneurial activity. The bulk of that data are captured in Table 2. Before closing the topic of refugees, immigrants, and entrepreneurial resource deployment, we discuss the topic of trauma. Trauma is a topic and experience which we believe affects entrepreneurial intention (Miller, Steier, & Le Breton-Miller, 2016) and likely moderates all of the relationships discussed to this point.

Trauma: A moderator

Migrants, trauma, and entrepreneurship

The earlier definitions of immigrant and refugee omitted any discussion of research which suggests that refugees are more likely than any other group to have endured some level of trauma, fear, and/or persecution, as well as an extended period of waiting and living in institutional and national identity “limbo” (Bemak & Chung, 2014; Hollifield et al., 2002). The challenges particularly relate to the psychological stress and trauma unique to refugee status, which primarily correlate with pre-migration experiences (Bemak & Chung, 2008; George, 2010). For example, refugees have more often been victims of, or witness to, persecution and torture, killings, incarceration, starvation, sexual abuse, and physical violence (Bemak & Chung, 2008; Hollifield et al., 2002; Mollica, Wyshak, & Lavelle, 1987). Ontologically consequential barriers to thriving and to entrepreneurial activity are linked to stress, trauma, and health problems resulting from torture, separation from family members, and additional circumstances related to having to flee (George, 2010; Khoury & Prasad, 2016a, b). Escape to camps rarely establishes physical and psychological safety, as life in camps is often precarious, overcrowded, and unsanitary, with poor medical care and known instances of physical and sexual abuse (George, 2010).

In considering this issue, scholars identify categories of refugee trauma related to physical deprivation (i.e., food and shelter); physical injury and torture; incarceration and re-education camps; and witnessing torture and killings (Hollifield et al., 2002; Mollica, Wyshak, & Lavelle, 1987). Many refugees experience more than one category of trauma. Such factors exacerbate already fragile psychological states of well-being and further complicate problems stemming from loss of social networks, community, and families through death or separation (Bemak & Chung, 2008; Bemak et al., 2003). Subsequently, compared to the general population and immigrants, refugees over-utilize mental health services and have higher rates and incidences of psychopathology (Keyes, 2000).

Scholars proffer no such clear definitional association with trauma for immigrants, although we recognize that vulnerability and potential for abuse still exist with this group (Schouler-Ocak, 2015). Both groups have high levels of vulnerability, but refugees have a well-documented higher expectation of trauma exposure (Keyes, 2000; Hollifield et al., 2002; Mollica, Wyshak, & Lavelle, 1987). Thus, we propose that such exposure merits consideration in terms of its effect on the resources discussed above. Evidence on the straightforward and mostly negative relationship between trauma, such as post traumatic stress disorder, and general entrepreneurship also supports our claims (Williams, Gruber, Sutcliffe & Shepherd, 2017). This research suggests that some entrepreneurs require special accommodations to enable post-traumatic growth (e.g., consider the woman entrepreneur who cannot be alone with a male customer). Thus, we propose:

Proposition 5a:

The experience of trauma negatively moderates the relationships between new immigrant status and new refugee status and the four forms of capital as described in Propositions 1–4.

Proposition 5b:

In aggregate, the negative effects of trauma will be greater for new refugees than for new immigrants.


The above propositions stem from applying the typology presented in the early portion of this document to the topic of migrant entrepreneurship. The second portion suggests theory-driven and practically justified reasons to consider refugees and immigrants separately in relation to entrepreneurial resources. The central policy question this work invites asks: what interventions take priority if policy-makers separate immigrants and refugees (and other migrants) when attempting to foster entrepreneurship? We discuss several below.

Implications and opportunities in policy

Working from the assumption that businesses, including small entrepreneurial firms, “represent key actors influencing the policy process and shaping the institutions that regulate corporate behavior in the global economy” (Lundan, 2018: 9), we identify several implications for policy-makers. The propositions here illustrate the potential for federal, state, and local governments to develop new and more customized responses to migration (writ large), and to refugee entrepreneurs, in particular. We dedicate the bulk of prose below to opportunities at the state and local levels, as both are most proximal to individual (potential) entrepreneurs. Furthermore, we follow precedent and assume that refugees and immigrants face issues with: inter-government communication, government communication with entrepreneurs, and entrepreneurship education and training (Collins, 2003).

Governmental communication with immigrants and refugees

Policy work on the topic of administrative requirements and qualifications, or “red tape,” at the interface between entrepreneurs and all levels of government suggests that helping entrepreneurs requires improvements in how government agencies communicate with each other regarding the number and extent of pre-qualifications for grants, programs, and other resources (Collins, 2003:145). In applying this finding to refugees in particular, we assert that better communication between government entities can help the subset of refugee entrepreneurs who lack institutional knowledge and who would not easily navigate the complexities of different government institutions. For example, in most developed nations, where many refugees resettle, institutional complexities might be unfamiliar for refugees fleeing from failed states or camps. For example, consider how firms do not ask for bribes, or how due process affects the order in which policies operate, factors which may be more foreign to refugees who could not choose to relocate to similar locations (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018). Key related recommendations therefore include taking a whole of government or one face of government approach and sharing resources to improve inter-government cooperation before approaching migrant businesses or entrepreneurs (Collins, 2003).

Acting on some of the above recommendations could benefit immigrants and refugees almost equally. However, other recommendations regarding communication apply to refugees and immigrants differently, per our propositions. For example, extant recommendations about government communication for immigrants suggests reaching out to formal and informal immigrant networks (Collins, 2003). Given the earlier data on the organizational and social capital differences between refugees and immigrants, this recommendation applies most appropriately to the resource bases of immigrants. In contrast, refugees tend to exist outside such networks, and reaching them requires more targeted (and even differently translated) materials and approaches (including approaches outside using the Internet, which might be less familiar to some) (Collins, 2003).

Work with refugees will likely be a smaller numbers undertaking that requires harnessing a greater diversity of human capital on the government side. Thus, it might require government workers with different language skills. For example, Collins (2003) shares how governments in Australia hired employees who spoke Vietnamese in order to better handle the questions and needs of a large refugee population.

Adding in the consideration of trauma suggests greater adjustments. For example, some of the intake forms required for admission to programs (or in order to receive benefits) likely ask personal questions that threaten or trigger refugees (or immigrants who suffered traumatic exposure). Refugees may recall authority figures asking similar questions at home that resulted in missing family members, persecution, or other instances of violence (Bemak & Chung, 2014; Sue et al., 1991). Thus, extra care in checking the order of questions or the need for them may help with the success of reaching some refugees (and some migrants).

Education and training

After refugees or immigrants manage the first phase of coping with government agencies, they may seek education and training. Yet, inadequate or inappropriate education and training is a barrier to entrepreneurship, particularly for some migrant women (Kermond et al., 1991). A study in Australia highlights the need for training to respond to the specific needs of immigrant minorities, as most training was too general or assumed a knowledge-base that attendees did not have (Coopers & Lybrand, 1994). Knowledge of taken-for-granted norms of behavior is beneficial for all entrepreneurs; however, due to refugees’ higher potential for relatively lower levels of institutional and other forms of capital, training may need to start by teaching how to navigate the new institutional framework.

Our propositions also suggest separate training for refugees versus immigrants for some topics. For example, special training is likely to be needed for refugees on how to build a new social network in the new country. Refugees would benefit more from mentorship programs or other interventions that help them meet people outside the immediate familial group, and which help them connect to new communities. While mentorship programs may benefit any entrepreneur, they will likely benefit refugees more due to the potential for them to have lower levels of social capital (Eggenhofer-Rehart et al., 2018).

Customized training must cope with attendees with different educational backgrounds (Collins et al., 2010; Collins, 2003), address noted constraints in ability to travel (via mass transit), hours of training (there is a large opportunity cost in leaving low-wage, hourly jobs for training), and issues with childcare (Bemak & Chung, 2014; Collins et al., 2010; Collins, 2003; Coopers & Lybrand, 1994). Further, our proposition on trauma suggests that refugees, versus immigrants, may need more time in training, or to be matched with educators of the same gender, or they may need mental health services coupled with business training. Policy-makers likely need to conduct more local research about trauma-related constraints and concerns, as well as other data related to the forms of capital above, to better tailor, target, market, and evaluate extant training. Further, policy-makers may discover the need to develop new materials with higher levels of customization, including material tailored to whether the attendee is an immigrant or refugee.

Other policy implications

Our policy recommendations above address questions such as how can policy changes help refugees create stronger and larger social networks, and how much do current policies assume stakeholders have institutional capital and how can policy changes help add institutional capital to refugees? Remaining questions relate to issues that migrants face later in the entrepreneurial process, and they include, but are not limited to: what funding challenges are unique to refugees or immigrants, if any? Is language acquisition the first priority in policies addressing human capital issues? And how should human capital-related policies overlap with policies related to health and well-being?

While we do not address all of these, we suggest that policy-makers can identify better answers if they distinguish refugees from immigrants (and other migrants) and when they take a resource-based lens.

Implications and opportunities for entrepreneurship scholars

Refugee entrepreneurship already exists as a small, but growing, topic within the entrepreneurship field, with limited coverage in mainstream entrepreneurship journals (Heilbrunn et al., 2019; see Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006; Sandberg et al., 2018 for exceptions). As stated earlier, studies tend to conflate the topic of refugee entrepreneurship with other migrant entrepreneurship, which obscures the generalizability of findings and the true nature and character of refugee entrepreneurship. The few studies that differentiate between refugees and immigrants (or other migrants) indicate significant differences in types of human capital investments and wage patterns, suggesting that the distinction between the two matters (Cortes, 2004; Wauters & Lambrecht, 2006, 2008). This work provides a theory-driven justification for analyzing the two types of entrepreneurs differently. In so doing, future scholarship can investigate whether entrepreneurship is more or less emancipatory for one or the other group; it can also look at the topic of resiliency and well-being by type. We also argue that the distinctions we make here have the potential to invite scholars to investigate the topic of trauma, and post-traumatic growth, as it differentially relates to both groups.


Limitations to this work relate to the dangers of using any labels to categorize the rich diversity of motives, personalities, and circumstances unique and idiosyncratic to every individual on the planet. As stated earlier, a significant vein of scholarship takes exception to labels and, in particular, the label “refugee.” Black (2001) and Zetter (2007) separately note continued terminological debates in and between fields regarding who is, and is not, a refugee (or other member of a group in our framework). De Genova (2002, 2013) also points out the politicized and problematized nature of language and practice as it relates to the belongingness and treatment of all types of migrants. Black (2001: 66) suggests that an ideal way to move past these debates is to situate studies of migrant groups “in the theories of cognate areas and major disciplines.” He suggests that scholars do this, rather than pursuing “refugee studies,” or “immigrant studies,” or any other migrant label separately. We participate in this type of solution by embedding the discussion of refugees and immigrants in the cognate areas of entrepreneurship and entrepreneurship policy. While we at least embrace the presence of continuums in the drivers of difference, and while we offer expanded and expansive category definitions, we still utilize labels.

Another limitation of our research relates to the fact that our propositions look at migrants at the point of initial arrival. This choice stems from practical realities, but we recognize that, with time, certain propositions may not hold due to strengths and weaknesses, training, education, and proactivity of the individual entrepreneur or due to dramatic changes in the institutional environment. To partially offset this potential problem, our policy implications reside at the state and local levels, as these levels of government define the institutional responses that migrants face upon arrival. Also, further longitudinal studies can examine the role of time and whether refugees and immigrants become more or less similar after decades in the new location, as well as what policy implications correspond to the changes (or lack thereof).

Finally, this work largely omits a discussion of the presence or effects of differences in the institutional arrangements between any country of origin and the new host country. Certainly, the typology can easily be integrated into a discussion of institutional differences, and at present the typology and the work in the first half of this manuscript remain intentionally separate from important discussions of institutional differences. That said, the choice to remain separate may be perceived by some as a shortcoming of this work.


We suggest that issues of migrant agency (voluntary flight vs. involuntary flight) and migrant-identified timeframes (short-term vs. long-term) offer a theoretical basis to separate and categorize four groups of migrating people. This paper thus offers scholars interested in migration issues an organizing framework and the beginnings of a nomological net around key migration categories and labels. As such, it clarifies key terms, outlines definitional or observable manifestations of key migration constructs, and proposes interrelationships between migrant types and resource types. The categories, coupled with related propositions about similarities and differences in the resource bases of each migrant group, invite policy-makers to take a theoretical and a practical lens when they choose whether or not to tailor programs by groups. Our focus on trauma as an important moderator. and the fact that we suggest consideration of resource bundles, not just labels, offers valuable contributions to management scholars, policy-makers, and to migrants themselves.

Our contribution extends beyond the clarifying and classifying migrants with a framework: we also illustrate how to use and apply the framework as we applied it to the topic of refugee entrepreneurship. Using the typology justifies disaggregating refugee and immigrant entrepreneurs in certain cases and situations. Our arguments suggest that understanding resource constraints of refugee versus immigrant entrepreneurs enables policy-makers to create customized programs to help people from both populations to overcome resource differences and to bridge the gap between past lives and life in a new country. Putting an end to the current conflation of these two groups can increase the specificity of future analysis and therefore the effectiveness of subsequent governmental and business responses to refugees and immigrants in particular.

We hope that scholars find this framework and its extension to entrepreneurship a useful guidepost for how organizations and individuals can improve responses to the waves of all migrants impacting communities worldwide. It is our intention that this work drives greater attention to the role of trauma and the nature of resource bundles as managers and policy-makers craft responses tailored to, and adapted for, migrants attempting to rebuild lives after relocation.


  1. 1

    It is important to note that all labeling and sorting of migrants at this stage is legally and politically charged, in particular that associated with formal documentation, residency, visas, and legality/illegality (Casas-Cortes et al., 2013; De Genova, 2002; 2013; see also Crawley & Skleparis 2018 on category ‘fetishism’). Further, we note that changes in the institutional context also drive self- and other perceptions of belonging, difference, and legality. Here, we focus on describing and refining key labels-in-use within this current system, while recognizing that such enhancements fall far short of changing the structure and the political nature of the wider system.

  2. 2

    Of course, migrants may ultimately reside in country of destination for a longer, or shorter, time than originally intended. Feelings of voluntary and involuntary agentic freedom can also change over the course of relocation; such dynamism applies to any group in the framework. However, for parsimony and ease of explanation, the framework takes as its starting point the original intent as stated by the individual upon arrival in the new location. Again, this is where most people make (or have made for them) declarations about intent and agency; this is also the point where migrants first encounter the effects of local and national migration policies. The first labels people request or have thrust upon them set the tone for the type of personal and institutional-/policy-related experience that migrants face in a new location. Our typology purposefully remains grounded at this early point in relocation; doing so enables a deeper exploration of management and policy-making implications at this earlier stage of the migration journey.

  3. 3

    According to UN documents, asylum seekers are exiles “seeking formal protection granted by a nation to someone who has left their native country as a result of credible fear for life, but whose claims have not been decided upon” (UNHCR, 2018a, b: 7).

  4. 4

    Certainly, there are some refugee populations or situations where this institutional mismatch is less extreme than we depict here (e.g., consider refugees from the former USSR relocating to Germany and Israel). As we seek to build a general theoretical model with all our propositions, we necessarily first speak in broad terms. Only after we have clearly established the nature and boundaries of the typology (in some cases using stylized representations), can we move to exploring boundary conditions and moderators.




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Copyright information

© Academy of International Business 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lisa Jones Christensen
    • 1
    Email author
  • Arielle Badger Newman
    • 2
  • Heidi Herrick
    • 3
  • Paul Godfrey
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Management, Marriott School of BusinessBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA
  2. 2.Department of Management, College of Business and Economic DevelopmentUniversity of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA
  3. 3.Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy, David Eccles School of BusinessUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  4. 4.Department of Management, Marriott School of BusinessBrigham Young UniversityProvoUSA

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