International migration transforms both sending and receiving countries

Around one billion people worldwide cross national borders each year and an estimated 200 million people live outside their original home countries. Of these, around 90 million work outside their countries of origin. As a result, new patterns of international migration and new kinds of transnational migrants are emerging.

The three-year TRANS-NET project started in March 2008 to contribute towards better understanding of the underlying dynamics of international migration among policy makers and academics. TRANS-NET is coordinated by the University of Tampere, Finland and involves partners from Estonia, France, Germany, India, Morocco, Turkey and the United Kingdom. The research focused on trans-border contacts and the ties and networks migrants have in these pairs of nations - Estonia/Finland, India/the UK, Morocco/France and Turkey/Germany.

The research found that migrants may be long-term or temporary, seasonal or irregular, and may move back and forth between states, in some cases circumventing state controls on borders and taxes. They may move between developing and developed countries, especially at times of global recession. Sometimes they inhabit transnational spaces between the countries. For example, many Indian high-tech professionals see themselves as citizens of the world, driven by market forces, whose main objective is to seek career opportunities that will enable them to maximise their earnings and savings in as short a time as possible.

In addition to labour and family-based migrants, asylum seekers and university students move across territorial boundaries. This range of phenomena challenges clear-cut distinctions between emigrant and immigrant, and also between countries of emigration and immigration. High rates of return mean that a country of origin may in the future become a country of immigration again.

The study focused on the transforming effects in participating countries on a range of institutions such as citizenship, economic enterprise, welfare services and the family. Among the findings were:

  • Although a number of studies have been published on transnational networks, transnational social spaces, migrant remittances and transnational (or hybrid) identities, etc., research conducted so far has failed to generate an adequate understanding of the ways in which new forms of transnational activities affect people’s daily lives. Particularly with regard to cross-border political activities, and economic and educational relations, at present the challenges and opportunities of migrants’ transnational relations are not extensively considered.
  • In ‘migrant-sending countries’ (Estonia, India, Morocco, Turkey) the border-crossing transfer of financial and material remittances plays a central role in the local/national economy, helping to structure wider socio-cultural practices. For example, in India, migrants’ remittances play an important role in producing economic and social development. In addition to major socio-economic changes, this has led to thriving ‘boom’ economies and new forms of transnational lifestyles (IT professionals, university students, etc). Transnational mobility between India and the UK is mainly prompted by employment and family concerns, and has recently become increasingly important, in spite of the long distances involved. Technological development is a precondition for this increase in people’s transnational activities.
  • A parallel case with a colonial background, Morocco/France, provides an example of how migration has profoundly changed the social structure in sending communities. In Morocco, the remittances sent by migrants have a strategic value for the national economy. Yet the ‘brain drain’ (the large-scale emigration of individuals with technical skills or knowledge) causes the Moroccan society severe difficulties. In France, one particular aspect currently causing concern is the relatively large number of undocumented migrants of Moroccan background. A further problem regards cases of social exclusion among the representatives of the Muslim minority.
  • Throughout the world, an increase in people’s transnational mobility has given rise to an increasing interest in multiple state memberships. In some participating countries, for example Finland and India, attempts have recently been made to facilitate the attainment of dual citizenship. However, the concept of dual citizenship should be further examined, i.e. whether and to what extent dual citizens actually exercise their rights connected to their citizenships.
  • Finally, as transnational social support practices are increasing, the potential for social security practices to expand across national borders should be explored. In addition, future research in this area should focus not only on immigrants and their family and kin networks, but also on organisations providing transnational social support, as well as the benefits, services and politics provided by the nation state. The interdependences between private and public care benefits systems, and transformations in both areas, could be of particular interest.

The TRANS-NET project is ongoing and will produce preliminary recommendations in a policy brief in autumn 2010. So far, it has found deep and far-reaching transformative processes which within a relatively limited time span are changing societies and people's living conditions. By investigating transnational phenomena such as these, the project provides insights into the conditions under which cross-border relations and transnational processes can benefit social integration, economic innovation, social security systems and cross-border educational relations. These insights will provide the basis for future policy decisions.

In the meantime, the study recommends further global research collaborations to address issues such as:

  • Ongoing changes in migration patterns and the emergence of transnational social spaces.
  • Increasing patterns of individuals establishing social fields that cross geographic, political, social and cultural borders.
  • The increasingly transnational nature of people’s working and educational contexts.
  • The increasingly transnational nature of people’s social support practices in the globalising world.

TRANS-NET - Transnationalisation, Migration and Transformation: Multi-Level Analysis of Migrant Transnationalism (duration: 1/3/2008 – 28/2/2011) is a Specific Targeted Research Project funded under the 7th Framework Programme for Research of the European Union, Thematic Priority 3 – Major trends in society and their implications.

See: http://www.uta.fi/projects/transnet

Contact: Virve Kallioniemi-Chambers, Virve.Kallioniemi-Chambers@uta.fi; Pirkko Pitkanen, pirkko.pitkanen@uta.fi