12 Types of Migration (Human Geography Notes)

types of migration, explained below

Migration is the process of moving from one place to another either permanently or temporarily. In human geography, there are multiple ways of classifying migration, including voluntary or involuntary and internal vs external.

Some examples of types of migration include chain, forced, voluntary, cyclical, economic, and step.

By studying migration patterns, we can better predict population growth and plan for it, as well as understand how best to provide for the people who move to and from regions of the world, many of whom are often fleeing persecution or danger.

Types of Migration

1. Chain Migration

Chain migration is a process whereby people migrate to a new location in groups, often following family or friends who have already made the move.

There are a few reasons why people may choose to engage in chain migration. One reason is that it can be cheaper than migrating alone. When people migrate in groups, they can often pool resources and share costs, making the overall journey more affordable.

Additionally, chain migration can provide social and emotional support during what can be a difficult and stressful process. Thus, migrants often move to the same neighborhoods of other expatriates, creating clusters such as a ‘Little Italy’ or ‘Chinatown’ within a city.

A real-life example of chain migration is the Irish diaspora. Over the centuries, many Irish people have left their homeland to seek better economic opportunities and social conditions abroad. These migrants often settled in countries with significant Irish communities already in place, such as the United States, Canada, and Australia. This allowed them to benefit from the support of these existing communities as they adjusted to their new life.

2. Cyclical Migration

Cyclical migration is a type of migration pattern in which people move back and forth between two or more destinations over a period of time. This type of migration can be motivated by a variety of factors, including economic opportunities, family ties, and cultural attachments.

Cyclical migration that occurs for economic reasons often takes place during seasons. People will migrate during harvest seasons to get work, then return to their homeland once the harvest is over. A real-life example of cyclical migration for economic reasons is the annual migration of sugarcane workers in Brazil. Every year, millions of people travel from all over the country to work in the sugarcane fields during the harvest season. Once the harvest is over, they return to their homes.

This type of migration can also be motivated by family ties and cultural attachments. For example, many people from Mexico migrate to the United States for work. But they often return to Mexico for important holidays and family events, such as weddings and funerals. This type of cyclical migration is often called circular migration.

Thirdly, cyclical migration can occur due to environmental factors. This is often the case with nomadic tribes who will return yearly to a certain place to hunt, catch fish, or seek shelter. A real-life example of this is the annual migration of the Mursi people in Ethiopia. Every year, the Mursi migrate to the Omo River Valley to graze their cattle.

3. Economic Migration

Economic migration is the movement of people from one place to another in order to find work or improve their standard of living.

People engage in economic migration for many reasons, including poverty in their homeland, lack of employment opportunities, and natural disasters that have devastated their home economies.

Economic migrants often have difficulty finding work in their new countries and may face discrimination and exploitation. Furthermore, it’s often looked less kindly upon than other forms of migration because economic migrants are often unfairly seen as taking the jobs of local populations.

A real-life example of economic migration is the movement of people from the economically-depressed country of Venezuela to neighboring Colombia in search of work during the 2020 economic crash.

Another real-life example is the Syrian refugee crisis. In 2015, over 4 million Syrians fled their homes due to the Syrian Civil War. The majority of these refugees have settled in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

4. Environmental Migration

Environmental migration is the movement of people from one place to another due to environmental factors such as climate change, natural disasters, and pollution.

Environmental migrants often face many challenges, including a lack of legal recognition, difficulty finding work, and discrimination.

A real-life example of environmental migration is the movement of people from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati to New Zealand due to rising sea levels and severe flooding.

Environmental migration due to climate change is predicted to be one of the most significant causes of forced migration in the 21st Century. Rising tides alone are expected to engulf many pacific islands and low-lying areas of the world such as Vietnam, causing an estimated 150 million forced displacements in the next 80 years.

5. External Migration

External migration is simply any movement of people from one country to another. It is the opposite of internal migration, which is migration within a territory.

Many of the other types of migration on this list are examples of external migration, as this is an umbrella term for any intra-territorial migration.

External migration can be motivated by a variety of factors, including economic opportunities, family ties, and cultural attachments.

6. Forced Migration

Forced migration is when people are displaced against their will, often due to conflict or natural disaster. This type of migrant is often treated with most sympathy by host nations because their migration was not of their choosing.

International rules state that nations must accept people who are fleeing their homeland due to conflict or persecution, but this doesn’t always happen in practice.

Forced migrants may be displaced within their own countries (internally displaced persons) or across international borders (refugees and asylum seekers). According to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), there are over 82 million forcibly displaced people worldwide.

The Syrian refugee crisis is a real-life example of forced migration. In 2015, over 4 million Syrians fled their homes due to the Syrian Civil War. The majority of these refugees have settled in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan.

Similarly, in 2022, over 4 million refugees fled Ukraine due to Putin’s war of aggression against the sovereign democracy. Most fled to neighboring Poland.

Read More: 35 Forced Migration Examples, Causes and Effects

7. Internal Migration

Internal migration is the movement of people within a country. As with external migration (which is movement across territorial borders), many other types of migration can fit under this umbrella term.

Some people may internally migrate for economic reasons, in order to find better opportunities or to escape poverty. Others may migrate for political reasons, in order to flee persecution or to find greater freedoms.

Still others may migrate for social reasons, in order to be closer to family or friends, or to find a community with similar cultural values.

Similarly, some people may migrate for environmental reasons, in order to escape natural disasters or to find a more hospitable climate.

One example of internal migration is urbanization, which is or the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas in search of better economic opportunities in the cities.

8. Interregional Migration

Interregional migration is a sub-category of internal migration. It describes the movement of people from one region of a country to another.

This may take place due to economic factors (e.g. one state is more prosperous than another), to follow family (chain migration), or for lifestyle factors.

As most nations have internal freedom of movement, this type of migration is relatively easy.

A famous example of interregional migration is the dust bowl migration in the United States during the great depression. The largest interregional migration in US history, the dust bowl exodus took place due to a range of economic and environmental factors. Bank foreclosures, expansion of corporate agriculture at the expense of family farms, and drought and duststorms contributed to the exodus.

In all, 2.5 million people fled the dust bowl. Most ended up in California where they were not met with a warm welcome by locals who felt they would take their jobs.

9. Intraregional Migration

Intraregional migration is the other sub-category of internal migration. It describes short-distance migrations within the same region of a country.

As with other types of migration, this can happen for a variety of reasons, including due to economic pressures, for quality of life, or to be closer to family.

A quintessential example of intraregional migration is the movement of young adults from the suburbs where they grew up into nearby cities to attend university and pursue a career.

When people reach time to settle down, they often move back out to the suburbs where they can afford a comfortable house to raise children in peace while still being able to commute into the city for work.

10. Step Migration

Step migration is a migration journey that occurs in several stages. It was originally conceptualized by Ernst Ravenstein in 1885 as migration of people from rural areas of a country to cities via outer suburbs.

They would first move to the suburbs to begin integration, where it’s cheaper, before taking the final step into urban areas.

Today, though, it’s more often seen as staged external migration. A common example of step migration is someone seeking to move to a desirable country such as the USA, but only being able to find a job in an undesirable area of the country. They agree to work in the less desirable area for a number of years to secure residency before moving on to their preferred area of the country once they have obtained access.

It also commonly occurs in the EU where people enter the EU via nations with lax immigration laws. Once they have become citizens of an EU nation, they can move to any one of the 27 nations within the bloc.

11. Transnational Migration

Transnational migration is the movement of people from one country to another in order to live and work while maintaining strong ties to their homeland.

This type of migration has become increasingly common in recent years as globalization has made it easier for people to move back and forth between countries. Transnational migrants often send money back to support their families or return to visit them regularly.

A common example of transnational migration would be a migrant from Mexico who heads to the United States to work but sends money back to his family in Mexico every month, and visits them once a year.

12. Voluntary Migration

Voluntary migration is defined as the movement of people from one place to another in which they have chosen to make the journey, as opposed to being forced to migrate due to factors such as conflict or natural disaster.

People may choose to migrate for a variety of reasons, including seeking better economic opportunities, fleeing persecution or violence, or reuniting with loved ones. They may even simply migrate due to the love of a different culture of the desire for adventure.

A real-life example of voluntary migration is the migration of young people on youth mobility visas that are available in countries like the UK, Australia, and Canada. These visas allow young people to go on medium-term adventures around the world for up to 4 years before returning home.


There are many different types of migration, each with its own set of motivations and challenges. Some types of migration, such as forced migration, can be very difficult and dangerous. Others, like voluntary migration, can be exciting and full of opportunities. Through studying migration, we can better understand how to assist people as they move their lives from one location to another.

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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. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

3 thoughts on “12 Types of Migration (Human Geography Notes)”

  1. Guilherme Inácio

    Excellent article. It helped me a lot, however, I have just one question; is it possible to classify a migrational movement using more than one category, for example, an external cyclical enviromental migration?

    1. Hi Guilherme,

      While I haven’t read about anyone doing this, it makes sense to me that some could be combined in the way you suggest as the definitions of many of them can overlap.


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