Return Migration

Until my recent upsurge in interest in migration issues, thanks to Kerry, I had assumed that relocation was something people did for good and that people came to America to become Americans. I wasn’t aware of the large masses of Poles, Italians, Irish, etc., who came to the U.S. to work for a while, and then left again. And there’s a good reason for that: those people’s ancestors didn’t write American social studies textbooks. Anyway, most Mexicans don’t care that much to be Americans, either. But a lot of them would like to work here. And then, eventually, go home.

This story from Reuter’s about Polish immigrants to England moving back to Poland does a good job of illustrating the dynamic:

Four years after Polish graphic designer Chris Rychter headed to Britain to find work and study as a citizen of the European Union, he and his wife have returned home.

Part of a swelling tide of migration back east, they are having a house built in a suburb of the Polish capital.

“It took me just three days to find a job back in Warsaw,” Rychter, 27, told Reuters. “We never saw Britain as home… We went for the adventure and to get some professional experience.”


the Rychters show how Europe has shrunk and that — contrary to a popular view — migrant flows are not all one-way.

Economists now see a turnstile or pendulum effect of people moving between countries after quite short stints, in search of better conditions.

Statistics on migration within the 27-nation EU are not precise, but around half of an estimated one million people from eastern Europe who moved to Britain since 2004 have already returned home, according to a recent report by the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), a British think-tank.

Increased labor market integration with Mexico would help improve the Mexican economy, making it relatively more attractive for Mexicans to stay or return, just like it’s doing for Poland.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center