E.g., 10/24/2014
E.g., 10/24/2014

From A Zero-Sum to a Win-Win Scenario? Literature Review on Circular Migration

Reports
September 2006

From A Zero-Sum to a Win-Win Scenario? Literature Review on Circular Migration

For an increasing number of scholars, international migration has undergone a transformation, particularly in the last decade or so. The recently released UN Secretary-General’s Report on International Migration and Development suggests a “new era of mobility” characterized in part by a greater degree of nonpermanent, or circular, migration. Researchers have noted circular migration’s unprecedentedly large scale, involving a greater cross-section of groups and taking a wider variety of forms than ever before. Although circular migration’s impact on development is far from settled, a review of the current literature suggests increasing optimism about its developmental potential.

This optimism stems mainly from the erosion of the traditionally polarized migration framework, where migrants who depart are seen as “lost” to the sending country and arriving immigrants are therefore “gained” by the receiving country. Instead, a transnational framework is gaining ground where migrants continually forge and sustain multiple attachments across nation-states and/or communities. As these transnational migrants return home, it is argued that they can facilitate the transfer of the critical financial and human capital the developing world needs.

However, the optimism pervading the current literature is not without a healthy dose of caution. Although the pendulum has started to move away from the dominant zero-sum scenario of previous decades toward a more positive “win-win” scenario, there are calls to keep the pendulum from moving too far. Indeed, amidst the optimism, also evident in the current literature, is a simmering concern that the impact of policies encouraging more circular migration is still very much conditioned by the political, economic, and social conditions in the countries of origin and destination, as well as by the characteristics of the migrants, their respective diasporic communities, and the dynamics of return.

Notwithstanding this concern, however, it is very clear that the previous decades’ abrupt dismissal of the developmental impact of circularity as negligible or even negative is no longer warranted especially in an increasingly transnational world. The challenge still is to understand this new reality and to comprehend precisely the circumstances in which the win-win potential of a policy encouraging more circular migration has been and could be realized. Unfortunately, with this goal as standard, the literature, as it stands right now, has barely scratched the surface.