Archive for November, 2010

Perpetuation of International Migration: Theories (part 2)

Perpetuation of International Migration: Theories (part 2)

by Juan “Jed”  E.  Dayang, Jr

International migration will continue to increase.  The incentives on the supply side of international migration flows are particularly strong.  High wage differentials across countries and  cheaper transportation and communication costs have increased incentives for people to move.

According to migration experts Facchini  and Mayda, migration flows are relatively small in scale compared with other dimensions of globalization—such as trade and capital flow.  Why is this so?  Restrictive migration policies of host countries is the answer. However, these policies can not stop  irregular migration as the disequilibrium between supply and demand grows.

The following theories provide an explanation  why international migration perpetuates:

Network Theory

The networks of home country association and family networks, friends and other linkages in host countries make migration easier. Networks, which are sources of information, lower the risk of migration substantially. Family members abroad provide information and financial support to their relatives in their native countries which lowers financial as well as psychological costs of migration.

The first generation of migrants are risk-takers but subsequent migration becomes easier. Networks are extremely important in liberal democracies where policies favour family reunions. Networks provide social capital and contribute to the decline of costs and risk as it expands. With networks, migration flows become less selective and thus, increase the likelihood of greater need for consular assistance.

Cumulative Causation

The supply of migrants creates its own demand. As more migrants do the jobs that are not filled up by locals, the demand for them increases. For instance, the supply of Filipino domestic helpers in Singapore and Hong Kong to expatriates and locals has increased their demand for other households to hire helpers to do child care or domestic chores usually done by wives.

Relative deprivation theory

This theory states that  it is not just that even people who are not really impoverished migrate abroad to compensate for the relative deprivation they feel from a neighbour whose material wealth increased when one family member migrates for work—a case of “keeping up with the Joneses”. One is motivated to migrate seeing that his neighbour is better off because of the remittances. Such awareness  makes him feel poorer. These factors create a culture of migration in communities and eventually takes a life of its own. In the Philippines, the culture of migration persists.

Migration System Theory

Migration flows acquire stability and structure overtime. What was intended to be a temporary labour migration for Filipinos in the 70s to decrease unemployment and increase foreign currency inflows to the country has become permanent.

Due to the requirement of protecting and regulating labour migration, the Philippine government has established the Philippine Overseas Employment Agency (POEA) to manage and regulate recruitment. It has also established the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) and increased the number of Labour Attaches posted overseas.

Bilateral labour agreements and international cooperation in labour migration have made international migration more stable and institutionalized by establishing core destinations from single and multiple sources. Saudi Arabia is one example of a core destination for Filipino construction workers and engineers in the 70s and for healthcare workers in the 2000s.

Unilateral cooperation such as South Korea’s Employment Permit System has stabilized labour migration from specific countries such as the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mongolia, etc.

Lobby groups and public opinion

Both pro and anti-immigration interest groups play a statistically significant and economically relevant role in shaping migration across sectors. Barriers to migration are higher in sectors where (anti-immigration) labour unions are significant in numbers and influence and lower in those sectors in which (pro-immigration) business lobbies more powerful.

Institutional theory

A range of institutions benefits from international migration including  capitalists and entrepreneurs who make a profit from migration, humanitarian groups (some of them with clout), and recruiters who engage in legal migration. Underground, smugglers and traffickers also make a lucrative profit from migration.

Douglas Massey argued that migration would continue regardless of the restrictions imposed by host countries and that low migration rates were artificial. He also added that the abovementioned theories indicate that migration flows would be unabated and that countries of origin were not working on restricting migration; instead labour-sending countries helped perpetuate it by making it easier for their citizens to migrate.

As international migration continues to grow, Ministries of Foreign Affairs (MFAs) as well as diplomatic and consular officials need to adapt to the demands of its citizens overseas.   In future  blog feeds, I will discuss why consular affairs has become a core task of MFAs.


Lecture by Prof. Susan Martin attended by author in the course entitled “Global Trends in International Migration” organized by the  Institute for the Study of International Migration of the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University from 19-22 October 2010 in Washington D.C.

Joaquin Arango Douglas S. Massey, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellegrino,J. Edward Taylor, “Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal,” Population and Development Review 19, no. 3 (1993).

Giovanni Facchini and Anna Maria Mayda, “From Attitudes Towards Immigration to Immigration Policy Outcomes: Does Public Opinion Rule?,” VOX, no. 21 June 2008 (2008),

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