Return migration Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Return migration can be important to original homelands, when returnees come back with money to invest and with new skills and education acquired while living in the United States. At the same time, however, the United States can lose people with valuable knowledge and skills.

People who choose to emigrate to other lands, no matter what their reasons, generally do not plan on returning to their homelands. Consequently, if they later to return to their original homes, they do so for unexpected reasons. Return migration thus differs from movements of migrants who move back and forth between countries to do seasonal work or to take on short-term jobs. The concept of return migration as a special phenomenon was first articulated in Laws of Migration, The (Ravenstein)Ravenstein, Ernest GeorgeE. G. Ravenstein’s seminal 1885 book The Laws of Migration.Return migrationReturn migration[cat]EMIGRATION;Return migration[cat]PUSH-PULL FACTORS;Return migration[cat]ECONOMIC ISSUES;Return migration[cat]DEPORTATION;Return migration

Greek immigrants leaving New York City in 1912 to return home to fight for Greece in the first Balkan war.

(Library of Congress)

Studies have shown that the longer immigrants remain in the United States, the less likely they are to leave. Those who do return home are generally influenced by several factors. Sometimes they are weary of being treated poorly or suffering from racial prejudice and discrimination. Language barriers and difficulty with cultural assimilation can also be factors in deciding to return home. Even something as basic as climate may cause immigrants to leave; people used to warm tropical climates may not be able to adjust to cold North American winters. Immigrants naive enough to have expected to find easy riches in America may find the economic reality too harsh to bear.

Positive factors can be at play, too. For example, some immigrants find that the skills they have acquired in America are badly needed in their home countries. Immigrants who leave their homelands for political reasons may find that improvements in their homelands’ political climates are incentives to return. However, the principal reason most immigrants return is strong family ties in their homelands.

After immigrants return to their homelands, some settle with other returnees when they find they are unable to live as they did before they left their countries, particularly as many of them have become used to more prosperous lifestyles. Moreover, returnees often find they have more in common with fellow returnees than they do with former friends or even relatives. Women returnees often have difficulties readjusting to societies that place restrictions on their roles. For this reason, Latin American womenWomen;returning immigrants have shown an especially strong reluctance to return home. Not all returnees go home as successes, particularly those who originally intended to return who have made little effort to adapt to American ideas. However, returnees are seldom economically worse off when they return than they were before they left.

Some immigrants who remain in the United States for long periods of time before returning to their homelands send Remittances of earningsmoney home to build up savings for their planned retirement in their homelands. Others return home but maintain residencies in the United States. Some countries, such as Jamaican immigrants;returneesJamaica and Portuguese immigrants;returneesPortugal, offer financial incentives and other inducements to persuade emigrants to return.Return migration

Further Reading
  • Bernstein, Nina. “No Evidence of Return Migration Is Found.” The New York Times, January 15, 2009, p. 20.
  • Brettell, Caroline. Anthropology and Migration. Walnut Creek, Calif.: AltaMira Press, 2003.
  • Sowell, Thomas. Migrations and Culture. New York: Basic Books, 1996.

“Brain drain”

Chain migration


Economic opportunities


Permanent resident status

Categories: History