Voluntary migration is the voluntary movement of people from one place to another in search of better economic opportunities, social conditions, or environmental conditions.
While it can be difficult to leave behind family and friends, many people see voluntary migration as a way to improve their lives and the lives of their families.
In human geography, we often focus our attention on people who are forced to migrate due to conflict or natural disasters. But voluntary migration is generally seen as a positive choice.
Those who migrate voluntarily often have higher rates of success in finding new jobs and integrating into new communities than involuntary or forced migrants. As a result, voluntary migration can be an important driver of economic growth and social change.
Voluntary Migration Examples
1. Economic Migration
People often migrate voluntarily in search of better economic opportunities.
Externally, many people move from the developing to the developed world in order to secure higher-paid jobs. This sort of migration is often called the “brain drain”, a phenomenon where educated people in poorer countries are enticed to wealthier countries, putting those poorer countries at a disadvantage because they consistently lose their best and brightest.
2. Chain Migration
People also migrate voluntarily to be with friends and family overseas. This is called chain migration.
Not all chain migration is voluntary. Some people follow their families overseas due to war, poverty, or disasters at home. Their choice to follow families is because the family can act as social support in the new host country.
However, a lot of chain migration is voluntary.
For example, grandparents people may consider moving overseas because their children and grandchildren live overseas. Their choice to move is to be with family and not a forced choice.
3. Lifestyle Migration
People may move to be somewhere they find suits their lifestyle more.
This could be a retirement community, a city with a lower cost of living, or a place with better weather.
Often, people will choose to undergo an intraregional lifestyle migration when they have children. They may choose to leave their apartments in the city and head to the suburbs where they can afford a larger self-standing house and can send their children to good schools.
Similarly, during the 2019-2022 pandemic, many people found themselves working remotely. This offered people an opportunity to move to more remote locations while keeping their jobs.
4. Student and Educational Migration
People who move for educational opportunities are called educational migrants.
Many young people’s first move after graduating high school is to head to a college town (this is a version of intraregional migration). This move allows them to attend the educational institutions of choice, and the universities often provide accommodation and support services for the move.
This type of migration is usually considered voluntary because the students are making a choice to gain new skills and knowledge. They have not been forced to move through circumstances beyond their control.
5. Tax Evasion
Some countries target wealthy migrants by offering tax incentives. This becomes a lucrative idea for people who live in countries with high tax brackets for the super-wealthy.
For example, many people in the Middle East have moved to Dubai in recent years to take advantage of the city’s zero income tax policy. Similarly, Barbados has become a popular destination for wealthy Americans looking to avoid paying high taxes.
This movement has become popularized by gurus such as The Nomad Capitalist advocating that people leave the United States to move their money somewhere where it is well protected from taxation,
6. Healthcare Migration
Some people may also choose to move cities or countries for health care reasons.
For example, some people will head to nations like Canada for medical support or procedures that are not available in their home country.
Generally, this involves medical tourism which is not migration. However, at times, people permanently move – especially across regions with disparate healthcare outcomes such as the European Union.
According to this source, the top two medical destinations in the world are Canada and Singapore. Canada is a destination for people from the United States seeking cheaper healthcare, while Singapore hosts 500,000 medical tourists per year.
7. Business Expansion
People may also move to expand their business into international markets. Rupert Murdoch is perhaps the most famous example of this.
Murdoch started out in Australia where he built a newspaper empire. He expanded into other forms of media and then moved the empire to the UK and then the United States where he set up the precursors to Fox News.
More recently, Jack Ma of Alibaba fame moved to Hong Kong to set up his business there in order to better access the Chinese market.
8. Job Transfers
Many people embrace opportunities to travel through their workplace. They may be transferred to a new branch in another city or even another country.
This can often be a voluntary choice as the employee sees an opportunity to develop their skills and experience in a new environment. At other times, it may be due to company restructuring or downsizing which leads to involuntary job transfers.
My sister, for example, embraced the opportunity to move from Sydney Australia to New York when a job position opened up in the multinational finance company she works force.
9. Retirement Seachange
People often move in order to retire in a desirable location. This is because we often only live in cities because of the job opportunities there.
Once you’re retired, you have the freedom to move to wherever you want.
In the United States, there are many retirement villages that encourage a retirement seachange. The largest of these is The Villages in Florida which has a population of over 125,000.
The most popular international destinations for retirees are Spain, Italy, and France. All three countries offer a Mediterranean climate and good healthcare system.
A snowbird is a person who migrates to a warmer climate for the winter. Because they only move for 6 months at a time, we consider these people to be cyclical migrants.
Snowbirds often move to locations such as Florida, Arizona, and California in the United States or to places like Cancun and Cabo San Lucas in Mexico.
Generally, snowbirds are retirees from northern United States or Canada.
Voluntary vs Forced vs Reluctant Migration
We can classify migration into two types of migration: voluntary and forced.
Voluntary migration is when a person chooses to leave their home country for a new location. This can be for a variety of reasons such as job opportunities, a better climate, or to retire.
Forced migration, on the other hand, is when a person is forced to leave their home country due to war, persecution, or natural disaster.
However, sometimes the divide between voluntary and forced migration is blurred. Here, we can also classify people as reluctant migrants. For example, people often make the choice to move because of poverty or lack of opportunities. They could have stayed in their homeland with their family and remained in poverty; or, they could have made the choice to leave. Here, there is no good choice.
There are many reasons why people might choose to migrate. It can be for personal or professional reasons, or it can be because they want to retire in a desirable location.
In general, voluntary migration is a choice that the person makes, while forced migration is something that is imposed on them. However, there can be some overlap between the two. For example, someone might choose to migrate for a job transfer even though it may not be their ideal situation.
Voluntary migrants often have better chances of settling into their new home than forced migrants. This is because they can plan their trip and migrate in an orderly manner rather than those forced migrants who have had to flee their homeland.