Reversing the Flow by Returning “Home” - New Canadian Media

Reversing the Flow by Returning “Home”

Immigration has long been studied from the perspectives of those who move and the societies to which they come. Most approaches to understanding migration have looked at the economic incentives of immigration and how receiving…

Immigration has long been studied from the perspectives of those who move and the societies to which they come. Most approaches to understanding migration have looked at the economic incentives of immigration and how receiving societies can mutually benefit from the arrival of newcomers.

That discussion seems to be changing. Attention is increasingly focusing on the effects of migration on the homelands from which the migrants come, with one of the main concerns being the loss of skills to homeland economies, also known as the brain drain. More recently, however, the international community has been looking at the developmental benefits of migration for sending societies, an area of study that has been embraced by the United Nations and many other international organizations.

To a large extent, the current discussion around migration and development has emphasized money transfers from the migrants to their family members back “home”. Several studies by global economic agencies such as the Organiation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Bank have shown that financial transfers can reduce poverty, contribute to economic growth, and enhance employment and incomes for many of those living in developing countries.

More than just money

While financial remittances can indeed improve the lives of the poor, there is another approach to poverty reduction and institutional development that looks to those migrants who return home. The developmental premise to this is straightforward: societies whose institutions are better governed, more transparent, and more accountable will develop more rapidly than societies less able in these regards. The re-integration of migrants to their homeland can contribute to the creation of such institutions, owing to the enhanced human capital that they bring with them as a result of their integration in their host society abroad.

The success depends upon the migrants’  integration in their host society, where they experience and understand how effective business and governmental institutions  are managed, and held accountable. Transferring these experiences to the homeland can be of tremendous advantage to developing countries, but only if they are in a position to receive and take advantage of them.

Adjusting to the new reality at home

Similarly as to how migrants must integrate into their new societies, so too must they re-integrate into their home countries when they return. This can actually be more difficult than integrating into a new society.

Many homeland countries may not be the same as when the migrant left. Their welcome may be strained owing to the considerable degrees of resentment felt by those who stayed behind and who may have suffered by comparison to those who left, especially during a time of conflict or violence. 

Even more challenging can be the way new ideas are received at home. For example, countries that for generations have governed through patronage and corruption will not react well to being told that they would be better off adopting a system of transparency and accountability, especially when the changes would make those in power worse off.

The benefits of re-integration

But there is both hope and potential that re-integration can pay off in the long run, for both host and homeland societies, not to mention the migrants themselves. For the host, integration can mean improved social cohesion, social capital, and overall economic activity. From the point of view of the immigrant, integration can mean better employment prospects with potentially higher wages and greater access to benefits including health, education, and social services. From the point of view of the homeland, returning migrants who have successfully integrated themselves abroad can yield not only increased levels of financial transfers as a result of higher wages earned abroad but also the benefits of the knowledge, skills, and values acquired from their migrants’ participation in the mainstream.

The timing for giving re-integration careful consideration is apt given the growing levels of returning diaspora throughout the world, including to some of the world’s least developed areas, including Africa and the Caribbean. In order to unpack the dynamics of integration, re-integration, and development, a one-day public seminar is being held in Ottawa that will bring together experts on both integration and development to discuss this potential.

This event forms part of a new World Bank initiative, the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) and is being hosted by the Metropolis Project housed at Carleton University.

The seminar will examine the potential for enhanced human capital flows to assist development and to explore how policy on the part of both sending and receiving societies can take full advantage of this potential. Special attention will be given to the processes of integration into a host society followed by return to and re-integration in the homeland as a means to influence institutional change, enhancements to business and trade practices, and enhancements to governance that could be facilitated by the return and re-integration of migrants with enhanced skills and resources acquired from their host country. 

The event is being held on March 4 at the Indigo Hotel in downtown Ottawa from 9 am to 3 pm. For more information or registration to the seminar, please write to

About the author

Themrise Khan
Howard Duncan

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