Transnational migration is a form of migration where a person maintains significant ties to two nations at the same time.
Usually, the transnational migrant will permanently settle in their new country while continuing to be culturally, socially, politically, and economically involved in their country of origin.
This type of migration has been increasing in recent years as it has become cheaper and faster to move between countries. Thus, the transnational migrant can be considered in large part a product of globalization.
Definition of Transnational Migration
The most commonly cited definition of transnational migration is from Fouron & Glick-Schiller, 2001:
It is “a process of movement and settlement across international borders in which individuals maintain or build multiple networks of connection to their country of origin while at the same time settling in a new country” (Fouron & Glick-Schiller, 2001, p. 542)
The central feature of this definition is that transnational migrants straddle two nationalities and allegiances in their personal identities. They often have dual citizenship and regularly travel back and forth between their two homes.
Examples of Transnational Migration
1. Families Ties Back Home
Many people who move to a new country maintain significant family ties in their homeland. They leave behind their parents, siblings, and other relatives, but stay in close contact through technology.
These migrants will regularly head back to their country of origin to visit or to attend important events like family weddings and funerals.
Many children of immigrants will similarly have grandparents back in their home country who they want to visit regularly. The parents may ensure their children have passports to their grandparents’ home country so they can re-enter without visas or other inhibitions.
Related: Chain Migration
2. Traveling for Work
Many migrant workers travel back and forth between their home country and a destination country to find work. This often takes a cyclical form, where the migrant worker will spend harvest seasons in one country and quiet seasons back home with their families.
This is common, for example, in California where many agricultural laborers are from Mexico. During the harvest season, they travel to California to work in the fields and then return home during the winter.
A refugee who has been displaced from their home country and is living in a new country often still maintains emotional ties to their homeland.
These refugees are forced migrants, meaning they did not leave their home willingly. Many may still harbor dreams of returning once the environmental or political situation stabilizes.
These refugees often struggle to settle into their new home as their heart is always elsewhere. Furthermore, they will likely continue to follow the political stories from back home to know what is going on and when it will be safe to return.
4. Dual Citizens
A person who has dual citizenship has the privileges of citizenship in two nations. They can, therefore, enjoy as a voluntary migrant the right to live in two nations as long as they want.
Some countries such as Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, and India don’t allow dual citizenship in order to prevent this sense of double allegiance.
But those people with multiple citizenships can enjoy a sense of multiple identities. They may feel aligned with both countries and equally a member of both societies.
They may also move between the two countries in ways that privilege them most. For example, a German citizen may go to university in Germany to enjoy the benefits of their free education system, but may set up a company in the United States to enjoy a relatively lower corporate tax burden.
5. Sending Money Home Regularly
Transnational migrants often send money back to their families in their homeland. This is common when people leave a developing country to work in a developed country.
These people often feel a sense of responsibility to those they left behind. To help them out, they transfer money to them. This money can go a long way in poorer countries where the cost of living is significantly lower. Some people call this “geographical arbitrage”.
Often these people will travel to and from the wealthier country during high seasons where they can get a lot of work. For example, a Mexican farmhand may head to California during the harvest season each year, make money, then head back to Mexico where their money will stretch farther through the low season.
6. Dual Property Ownership
Many transnational migrants also maintain strong economic ties with their country of origin. They may own property or businesses across multiple nations.
They may even continue to earn income in their home country. For example, in the first few years when I moved from Australia to Canada, I continued to work online for an Australian university until I found work in Canada.
A person may also owns property in both countries so they can have a home base in both countries. Of course, these people are often the global elites who have properties around the world to travel at a whim.
7. Border Residents
A border resident is a person who lives on the border between two countries and travels between them for work, family, and travel.
For example, many Canadians in the town of Windsor Ontario find work in Detroit which is just across the bridge. These people are closely tied culturally and economically to both countries.
When the 2019-2022 pandemic occurred, the land border between the two countries was cut, leading to severing of ties for those border residents.
Similarly, in some countries, the closest services such as shops and doctors are not within their own country but across a border in another country. These people come to feel allegiance to both nations due to their reliance on both and the time spent in both territories.
8. Falling in Love Overseas
In the internet era, people from different parts of the world fall in love online all the time. This can lead people to living transitory lives where each partner needs to travel back and forth between countries.
For example, I am Australian and my wife is Canadian. We have decided to live in Canada, but travel back and forth between the two countries regularly to spend time with family. We celebrated our marriage in both countries, and I continue to keep in touch with everything that happens back home.
9. Split Identities
A person who still sees themselves as belonging to both countries and has difficulty choosing a single nationality.
For example, my child may have a strong sense of both their Australian and Canadian heritage and may not feel that they belong to one country more than the other.
Whereas once we would have said they were “half Australian and half Canadian”, these days it’s accepted that someone can be fully two nationalities at once and they don’t need to choose or feel like they aren’t a ‘true’ member of both cultures.
Many people who have been exiled from their homeland feel a longing to return. In fact, a lot of them were exiled because they were fierce advocates for improving their country – and that ruffled the feathers of those in power!
For example, authoritarian dictators often exile journalists and political figures who expose the truth about the dictators’ behaviors.
But even countries like the United States have exiled people like Edward Snowden who, for the love of the country, released documents revealing the government’s activities. He fled to Moscow, but has stated publicly that he loves America and wishes he could return.
Similarly, many Cuban Americans have fled the regime in Cuba but attempt to maintain their sense of history and heritage from afar.
Factors Contributing to Transnational Migrations
There are several factors that contribute to transnational migration. One is the increasingly global economy, which has made it easier for people to move between countries in search of work.
Another is the rise in communication and transportation technologies, which has made it cheaper and faster to move between countries.
Finally, the increasing number of refugees and displaced people has led to an increase in transnational migration.
Pros and Cons
Transnational migration has both positive and negative effects on migrants and countries.
Benefits of Transnational Migration
one benefit is that it allows people to maintain strong ties to their home countries. For example, migrant workers can send money home to support their families, and people who have migrated for love can keep in touch with friends and family online.
Another benefit is that it facilitates the sharing of cultural knowledge across borders. For example, when people from different countries live and work together, they learn about each other’s cultures and customs.
It creates a cosmopolitan ‘citizen of the world’ identity among people within multiple countries, encouraging friendship and c
Challenges of Transnational Migration
A transnational migrant’s strong ties to their country of origin can make it difficult for them to adjust to life in their new country as they never feel fully settled. As a result, transnational migration can be a challenge for both migrants and governments.
It is also incredibly expensive, especially if you need to fly between countries. This often makes transnational migration something that is exclusive for elites who are able to travel back and forth.
It also poses a challenge when it comes to taxation. Due to their significant presence in two nations, the migrant is often a dual resident for tax purposes. This may mean that they will face double taxation unless a tax treaty is in place.
Transnational migration is a growing trend in the world. It is caused by a number of factors, including the global economy, rising communication and transportation technologies, and the increasing number of refugees and displaced people.
It has both positive and negative effects on migrants and countries. On the one hand, it allows people to maintain strong ties to their home countries and facilitates the sharing of cultural knowledge across borders. On the other hand, it can be difficult for migrants to adjust to life in their new country and it is incredibly expensive.
Some of the top examples of transnational migration include Cuban Americans who have fled to the United States but maintain their Cuban ties and dual citizens with houses in both countries.
Fouron, G., & Schiller, N. G. (2001). All in the family: gender, transnational migration, and the nation‐state. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power, 7(4), 539-582. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/1070289X.2001.9962678
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.