The Occupational Mobility of Return Migrants: Lessons from North America

  • David P. Lindstrom


Temporary-labor migration is viewed in many European countries as a way to meet the demand for low-skilled workers without incurring the social costs of immigrant incorporation. An underlying assumption of this strategy is that workers will return to their home countries at the end of their labor contracts. Research on the economic fortunes of return migrants has largely focused on the use of migrant savings for business formation, but little is known about the occupational trajectories of return migrants who do not make capital investments. This chapter seeks to fill this gap in the migration literature by examining the impact of return migration and cumulative migration experience on the occupational mobility of Mexico-United States migrants who return to Mexico. The North American case shares many parallels with contemporary migration patterns in Europe and can highlight factors that influence the transferability of financial and human capital acquired from migration to source country labor markets—a key element of the current rationale for temporary-migration programs. Occupational and migration histories collected in 88 Mexican communities by the Mexican Migration Project are used to estimate hazard regression models of occupational transitions and logistic regression models of life-time occupational mobility. Results suggest that return migrants encounter difficulties in returning to occupations similar to the ones they held in Mexico prior to migration to the United States, and that migrants in general do not realize long-term occupational gains in Mexico from U.S. work experience.


Labor Market Business Ownership Return Migrant Upward Mobility Migration Experience 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alba, F. (2010). Mexico: a crucial crossroads. Country Profiles February 2010. Migration Information Source, Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  2. Amin, M., & Mattoo, A. (2005). Does temporary migration have to be permanent? Policy Research Working Paper Series WPS3582, World Bank.Google Scholar
  3. Arango, J., & Martin, P. (2005). Best practices to manage migration: Morocco-Spain. International Migration Review, 39(1), 258–269.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Azam, F. (1991). Labour migration from Pakistan: Trends, impacts, and implications. Regional Development Dialogue, 12(3), 53–71.Google Scholar
  5. Barrell, R., Fitzgerald, J., & Riley, R. (2010). EU enlargement and migration: Assessing the macroeconomic impacts. Journal of Common Market Studies, 48(2), 373–395.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Barrett, A., & O’Connell, P. J. (2001). Is there a wage premium for returning Irish migrants? The Economic and Social Review, 32(1), 1–21.Google Scholar
  7. Bengtsson, T., & Scott, K. (2011). Population aging and the future of the welfare state: The example of Sweden. Population and Development Review, 37 (Supplement), 158–170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Berg, E. J. (1961). Backward-sloping labor supply functions in dual economies—The Africa case. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 75(3), 468–492.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Bijak, J., Kupiszewska, D., & Kupiszewski, M. (2008). Replacement migration revisited: Simulations of the effects of selected population and labor market strategies for the aging Europe, 2002–2052. Population Research and Policy Review, 27, 321–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Blau, D. M., & Robins, P. K. (1990). Job search outcomes for the employed and unemployed. Journal of Political Economy, 98(3), 637–655.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Calavita, K. (1992). Inside the state: The Bracero program, immigration, and the I.N.S. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  12. Carletto, C., & Kilic, T. (2009). Moving up the ladder? The impact of migration experience on occupational mobility in Albania. Policy Research Working Paper 4908, The World Bank, Development Research Group.Google Scholar
  13. Castles, S. (2006). Guestworkers in Europe: A resurrection? International Migration Review, 40(4), 741–766.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Coleman, D. (2006). Immigration and ethnic change in low-fertility countries: A third demographic transition. Population and Development Review, 32(3), 401–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coleman, D., & Rowthorn, R. (2004). The economic effects of immigration into the United Kingdom. Population and Development Review, 30(4), 579–624.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Coleman, D., & Rowthorn, R. (2011). Who’s afraid of population decline? A critical examination of its consequences. Population and Development Review, 37 (Supplement), 217–248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Commission of the European Communities (2005). Migration and development: Some concrete orientations. COM(2005): 390.Google Scholar
  18. Constant, A. F., & Zimmermann, K. F. (2011). Circular and repeat migration: Counts of exits and years away from the host country. Population Research and Policy Review, 30(4), 495–515.Google Scholar
  19. Co, C. Y., Gang, I. N., & Yun, M. (2000). Returns to returning. Journal of Population Economics, 13, 57–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. de Coulon, A., & Piracha, M. (2005). Self-selection and the performance of return migrants: The source country perspective. Journal of Population Economics, 18, 779–807.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Department of Homeland Security (2009). Yearbook of immigration statistics; 2009.
  22. Djajić, S., & Michael, M. S. (2009). Temporary migration policies and welfare of the host and source countries: A game-theoretic approach. CESifo Working Paper No. 2811.Google Scholar
  23. Dustmann, C., & Kirchkamp, O. (2002). The optimal migration duration and activity choice after re-migration. Journal of Development Economics, 67, 351–372.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Engbersen, G., & Broeders, D. (2009). The state versus the alien: Immigration control and strategies of irregular immigrants. West European Politics, 32(5), 867–885.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fassmann, H., & Munz, R. (1992). Patterns and trends of international migration in Western Europe. Population and Development Review, 18(3), 457–480.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Finotelli, C., & Sciortino, G. (2009). The importance of being southern: The making of policies of immigration control in Italy. European Journal of Migration and Law, 11, 119–138.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Flinn, C. J., & Heckman, J. J. (1982). New methods for analyzing individual event histories. In S. Leinhardt (Ed.), Sociological methodology (pp. 99–140). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  28. Grieco, E. M., & Trevelyan, E. N. (2010). Place of birth of the foreign-born population: 2009. American Community Survey Briefs, Oct 2010.Google Scholar
  29. Heckman, J. J., & Singer, B. (1984). A method for minimizing the impact of distributional assumptions in econometric models for duration data. Econometrica, 52, 271–320.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hill, J. K. (1987). Immigrant decisions concerning duration of stay and migratory frequency. Journal of Development Economics, 25, 221–234.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Hoekman, B., & Özden, C. (2010). The euro-mediterranean partnership: Trade in services as an alternative to migration? Journal of Common Market Studies, 48(4), 835–857.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hollifield, J. F. (1994). Immigration and republicanism in France: The hidden consensus. In W. Cornelius, P. L. Martin, & J. F. Hollifield (Eds.), Controlling immigration: A global perspective (pp. 143–175). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Hooghe, M., Trappers, A., Meuleman, B., & Reeskens, T. (2008). Migration to European countries: A structural explanation of patterns, 1980–2004. International Migration Review, 42(2), 476–504.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hugo, G. (1982). Circular migration in Indonesia. Population and Development Review, 8(1), 59–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ilahi, N. (1999). Return migration and occupational change. Review of Development Economics, 3(2), 170–186.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. IOM (International Organization for Migration). (2010). Managing return migration. Geneva: International Organization for Migration.Google Scholar
  37. Jandl, M. (2007). Irregular migration, human smuggling, and the eastern enlargement of the European Union. International Migration Review, 41(2), 291–315.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Jacoby, N. (2003). America’s de facto guest workers: Lessons from Germany’s Gastarbeiter for U.S. immigration reform. Fordham International Law Journal, 27(4), 1569–1662.Google Scholar
  39. Kasper, H. (1967). The asking price of labor and the duration of unemployment. Review of Economics and Statistics, 49, 165–172.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Konseiga, A. (2006). Household migration decisions as survival strategy: The case of Burkina Faso. Journal of African Economies, 1–36.Google Scholar
  41. Kosic, A., & Triandafyllidou, A. (2004). Albanian and Polish migration to Italy: The micro-processes of policy, implementation and immigrant survival strategies. International Migration Review, 38(4), 1413–1446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. León-Ledesma, M., & Piracha, M. (2004). International migration and the role of remittances in Eastern Europe. International Migration, 42(4), 65–83.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Lindstrom, D. P. (1996). Economic opportunity in Mexico and return migration from the United States. Demography, 33(3), 357–374.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Lindstrom, D. P., & Lauster, N. (1999). Local economic opportunity and the competing risks of internal and U.S. migration in Zacatecas, Mexico. International Migration Review, 35(4), 1232–1256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Lippman, S. A., & McCall, J. J. (1976). The economics of job search: A survey. Part I. Economic Inquiry, 14, 155–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marques, H. (2010). Migration creation and diversion in the European Union: Is Central and Eastern Europe a ‘natural’ member of the single market for labour? Journal of Common Market Studies, 48(2), 265–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Martin, P. (2006). Managing labor migration: temporary worker programmes for the 21st century. International symposium on international migration and development, population division, department of economic and social affairs, United Nations Secretariat, Turin, 28–30 June 2006.Google Scholar
  48. Massey, D. S., Alarcón, R., Durand, J., & González, H. (1987). Return to Aztlan: The social process of international migration from Western Mexico. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  49. Massey, D. S., Durand, J., & Malone, N. J. (2002). Beyond smoke and mirrors: Mexican immigration in an era of economic integration. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  50. Massey, D. S., & Liang, Z. (1989). The long-term consequences of a temporary worker program: The U.S. Bracero experience. Population Research and Policy Review, 8, 199–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Massey, D. S., & Parrado, E. A. (1998). International migration and business formation in Mexico. Social Science Quarterly, 79(1), 1–20.Google Scholar
  52. Mattila, J. P. (1974). Job quitting and frictional unemployment. The American Economic Review, 64(1), 235–239.Google Scholar
  53. McCormick, B., & Wahba, J. (2004). Return international migration and geographical inequality: The case of Egypt. United Nations University, World Institute for Development Economics Research, Research Paper No. 2004/7.Google Scholar
  54. Montgomery, J. (1991). Social networks and labor-market outcomes: Toward an economic analysis. American Economic Review, 81(5), 1408–1418.Google Scholar
  55. Mortensen, D. T. (1986). Job search and labor market analysis. In O. Ashenfelter & R. Layard (Eds.), Handbook of Labor Economics (Vol. II, pp. 849–919). New York: Elsevier Science Publisher.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Oucho, J. O. (1998). Recent internal migration processes in Sub-Saharan Africa: Determinants, consequences, and data adequacy issues. In R. E. Bilsborrow (Ed.), Migration, urbanization, and development: New directions and issues (pp. 89–120). New York: United Nations Population Fund and Kluwer Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Papademetriou, D. G., Meissner, D., Rosenblum, M. R., & Sumption, M. (2009). Aligning temporary immigration visas with US labor market needs: The case for a new system of provisional visas. Washington: Migration Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  58. Parkes, R. (2009). EU mobility partnerships: A model of policy coordination? European Journal of Migration and Law, 11, 327–345.Google Scholar
  59. Parsons, D. O. (1973). Quit rates over time: A search and information approach. The American Economic Review, 63(3), 390–401.Google Scholar
  60. Passel, J. S. and Cohn, D. (2009). Mexican immigrants: How many come? How many leave? Washington, DC: Pew Hispanic Center (22 July 2009).Google Scholar
  61. Passel, J. S. and Cohn, D. (2010). U.S. unauthorized immigrant flows are down sharply since mid-decade. Washington: Pew Hispanic Center (1 Sept 2010).Google Scholar
  62. Passel, J. S. & Cohn, D. (2011). Unauthorized immigrant population: National and state trends, 2010. Washington: Pew Hispanic Center (1 Feb 2011).Google Scholar
  63. Peixoto, J. (2009). New migrations in Portugal: Labour markets, smuggling and gender segmentation. International Migration, 47(3), 185–210.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Piore, M. J. (1979). Birds of passage: Migrant labor and industrial societies. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Pissarides, C. A. (1992). Loss of skill during unemployment and the persistence of employment shocks. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 107(4), 1371–1391.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Plaza, D. (2008). Transnational return migration to the English-speaking Caribbean. Revue Européenne des Migrations Internationales, 24(1), 115–137.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Reichert, J. S. (1981). The migrant syndrome: Seasonal U.S. wage labor and rural development in central Mexico. Human Organization, 40(1), 56–66.Google Scholar
  68. Reyes, B. I. (2001). Immigrant trip duration: The case of immigrants from Western Mexico. International Migration Review, 35(4), 1185–1204.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Ruhs, M., & Anderson, B. (2010). Semi-compliance and illegality in migrant labour markets: An analysis of migrants, employers and the state in the UK. Population Space and Place, 16, 195–211.Google Scholar
  70. Ruhs, M., & Martin, P. (2008). Numbers vs. rights: Trade-offs and guest worker programs. International Migration Review, 42(1), 249–265.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Rye, J. F., & Andrzejewska, J. (2010). The structural disempowerment of Eastern European migrant farm workers in Norwegian agriculture. Journal of Rural Studies, 26, 41–51.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Schwab, S. J. (1999). Employment discrimination. In B. Bouckaert & G. De Geest (Eds.), Encyclopedia of law and economics (pp. 1–22). Aldershot: Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  73. Stark, O. (1991). The migration of labor. Cambridge: Basil Blackwell Inc.Google Scholar
  74. Taylor, J. E. (1999). The new economics of labour migration and the role of remittances in the migration process. International Migration, 37(1), 63–88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Ünver, O.C. (2006). Current discussions in the German integration debate: The culturalist vision vs. social equity? Revue européenne des migrations internationales, 22(3), 2–14.Google Scholar
  76. U.S. Census Bureau (2009). Current population survey, annual social and economic supplement.Google Scholar
  77. Van Dijk, J., & Folmer, H. (1985). Entry of the unemployed into employment: Theory, methodology and Dutch experience. Regional Studies, 19(3), 243–256.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. Vasileva, K. (2010). Foreigners living in the EU are diverse and largely younger than the nationals of the EU member states. Eurostat Statistics in Focus 45/2010.Google Scholar
  79. Walmsley, T., & Winters, A. L. (2005). Relaxing the restrictions on the temporary movement of natural persons: A simulation analysis. Journal of Economic Integration, 20(4), 688–726.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  80. Winters, L. A., Walmsley, T. L., Wang, Z. K., & Grynberg, R. (2003). Liberalising temporary movement of natural persons: An agenda for the development round. World Economy, 26(8), 1137–1161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Wood, C. H. (1981). Structural changes and household strategies: A conceptual framework for the study of rural migration. Human Organization, 40(4), 338–344.Google Scholar
  82. Woodruff, C., & Zenteno, R. (2007). Migration networks and microenterprises in Mexico. Journal of Development Economics, 82, 509–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht. 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Population Studies and Training CenterBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

Personalised recommendations