Transnational Migration

The United Nations (UN) Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and their Families (1990) defines a migrant as:

"... a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a State of which he or she is not a national." (United Nations 1990)

This definition refers to a classical (and still relevant) model in which migrants leave their home country and settle in another country in order to find better employment opportunities, to start a new life there, to cut (or loosen) their ties with their place of origin and to engage in a process of assimilation. Only in some cases there is a return to the country of origin that again marks a definite move from one place to another.

However, different studies have shown that migration cannot be reduced to the movement from one place to another. The social fields in which migrants are engaged cannot be pinpointed to the receiving city or the home villages of migrants only, but include both or even a third or forth place in the country of origin or another country. Looking at migration implies to take all those places into account as well as the way they are linked together in the migrants' everyday life.

In order to take into account all these aspects, termtransnational migration approaches have been developed to understand these migration dynamics. These approaches look at the links that migrants and their non-migrating family members sustain between their home villages and places of destination and how they get reflected in daily practices of the migrant's life (Thieme 2007).

Transnational activities are conducted by national, regional or global actors such as governments or multinational corporations, or by (often less powerful) individuals, such as migrants and their kin and friends in their home country.
Large flows of migrants are not a new phenomenon (think of the Irish or other Europeans migrating to the United States from the end of the 18th century on), but in contrast to earlier periods, new processes of globalisation (like the spread of new information technologies and the new division of labour) led to an intensification and multiplicity of relations between sending and receiving countries on a global level and on a mass scale (Backhaus). Greater access to the amenities of the modern world, such as air-transport, long-distance telephone and electronic communication is a major vehicle for allowing the migrants' intensified and sustained exchange with their place of origin (Thieme 2007).

Are there migrant groups in your country for residence? Do they belong rather to early form of migrant groups or are they engaged in transnational migration?

Delimitation of the concept of transnationalism

According to (Portes et al. 1999) transnationalism refers to:

"activities that require regular and sustained social contacts over time across national borders for their implementation. (...) [It] involves individuals, their networks of social relations, their communities, and broader institutionalized structures such as local and national governments." (Portes et al. 1999)

Transnational migration is established when:

  • the process involves a significant number of migrants and their home country counterparts,
  • the activities of interest are of certain stability and resilience over time, and
  • the content of these activities is not captured by some pre-existing concept, making the invention of a new term redundant.

Click on the figure in the right-hand column in order to have a look at some examples of transnational activities:

Download and read the .pdf in the right hand column to gain some insights on how transnationalism emerged as a major question in migration studies:

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