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Impact of emigration

Return migration

Though most attention is focused on out-migration, a significant proportion emigrants return.

This is most obvious in the case of contract workers. Most South Asians who work the Gulf, for example, go back after a few years. And few Thai men working on collective farms in Israel plan to stay very long.

On the other hand, many people who migrate with the aim of long-term settlement change their minds after a couple of years. Of the 30 million people admitted to the United States between 1900 and 1980 10 million are believed to have returned eventually. Some return out of disappointment. Others leave when they have accumulated sufficient funds. But often the deciding factor will be the situation in the home country. If the economic outlook improves then returning will seem a more attractive proposition. One of the most striking examples is Ireland which has now become a country of immigration.

Many people have also been returning to Asia, notably Taiwan and China, to take advantage of new opportunities. Indeed Asian governments that find themselves short of skilled labour have been going out of their way to woo their expatriates.

The return home will not always be smooth. Returning migrants, who are often wealthier than the people around them, can stir resentment. Thus West Indian migrants who have spent most of their lives in the UK and return home to retire can become a ready target for crime. Some returning migrants who find it difficult to settle will remigrate.

Less welcome returnees are those who have been deported as criminals. Since 1996, the US has deported around half a million people after they have served a year more in prison, often for drug offences. This has had the effect ot exporting US gang and drug culture to Central America and countries like Grenada.

Return migration to Kenya

Migrant returns to Kenya as part of the Return of Talent Programme of the International Organization for Migration.
© IOM 1995 - MKE0018 (Photo: Cemil Alyanak)