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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon

Possibilities and realities of return migration: perspectives on integration, exclusion and withdrawal

Awarded: NOK 19.9 mill.

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Project Period:

2011 - 2017

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The project addressed return migration in a broad sense, the relocation of immigrants back to their country of birth, regardless of the degree of volition with which it happens. Return migration was examined as a hypothetical possibility - something immigrants consider as a future option - and as an actual experience. The project covered return migration from Norway and the United Kingdom, with in-depth case studies of return migration to Afghanistan, Burundi, Iraq, Pakistan and Poland. Towards the end of the project period, findings were summarized as ten broad insights: 1. Return intentions are shaped by multiple attachments Considerations about returning or not are shaped by multiple and sometimes competing attachments to people, communities, and countries. The balance of attachment is particularly important. But it can be challenging to draw comparisons when attachments concern different spheres of life. 2. Return migration is not simply a personal issue Decisions about return migration are complicated because they have implications for other people. Not only are family members affected; return decisions are made in social and political contexts where they can be seen as statements of identity or allegiance, and they affect the life choices of others. 3. Potential returnees grapple with uncertainties and distrust The future is always uncertain, and a future in a different place, even more so. Information to help anticipate the outcome of return migration is often scarce, untrustworthy or biased. Individuals who contemplate return can have a hard time knowing what to believe and whom to trust. 4. A secure status abroad creates opportunities for return The uncertainty of return migration makes irrevocable return an intimidating prospect. Having the possibility to reconsider makes return much more appealing. For this reason, the ultimate form of structural integration in the destination - acquiring citizenship - can facilitate return to the country of origin. 5. Return migration is an engagement with time as well as with place Migrants' thoughts about possible return migration are shaped by the temporal dimensions of their own lives, especially concerning migration histories and life stages. Moreover, return migration is about shaping one's future and re-engaging with one's past. 6. Return migration creates intersections of the social and the economic All migration has both social and economic dimensions, but the intersection of the two takes particular forms in the case of return migration. Potential returnees usually have first-hand experience from both origin and destination countries and face expectations in both places. 7. Gender relations affect return migration in contradictory ways The literature on return migration has found that men, more often than women, are inclined to return to their country of origin. The reasons partly have to do with gendered notions of status and belonging. Nuances and contradictions, however, modify this overarching pattern. 8. Return visits play a crucial role in migration trajectories Shorter visits to the country of origin play a role that should not be underestimated. Such visits are important for making informed decisions about return as well as for maintaining transnational ties while living abroad. Return visits can become focal points for conflicting experiences of difference and attachment. 9. Return experiences are shaped by more than tangible outcomes Just as considerations about return are multi-faceted, so too are return experiences. The circumstances of return affect not only the tangible outcomes for individuals, but also whether they see the glass as half-empty or half-full. Making sense of one's own experience is a process in its own right. 10. Reintegration can be as challenging as integration It can be enlightening to compare reintegration after return with integration after the initial migration. On the one hand, reintegration seems more straightforward since an individual is re-entering an apparently familiar social environment. On the other hand, expectations, suspicions and invisible differences may loom large.

Six out of ten non-Western immigrants in Norway are considering returning to their country of origin. Return is usually a future option rather than a short-term plan, but the possibility of return is a significant factor in people's lives: experiences of marginalization in Norway can stimulate plans for return, or the prospect of return can lessen commitment to integration in Norway. Actual return migration is also considerable: half of immigrants re-emigrate within a decade. In addition, large numbers of rejected asylum seekers leave Norway involuntarily or under pressure. This project deliberately takes a broad approach to return migration and seeks to use it as a lens for understanding broader processes of integration, exclusion and withdrawal from Nor wegian society. Four research questions guide the project: 1) How do immigrants in various situations reflect upon and decide about return migration? 2) How does the possibility of return interact with A) integration in Norway and B) transnational relatio nships? 3) How can we understand and explain the patterns of actual return among immigrants in Norway? and 4) How is return migration experienced by return migrants and the communities to which they return? We address these questions with an integrated mu lti-method approach, comprising survey data, register data, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. Comparative data collection in Norway and the UK will facilitate an understanding of the processes at work. Data collection in five countries of retur n provides understanding of the return experience and its consequences. The core consortium consists of PRIO, Statistics Norway, the University of Bristol and SOAS. The IOM and partners in countries of return take part in data collection. Plans for contin uous, reciprocal engagement with users are integrated in the project schedule. Fifteen articles submitted to international peer-reviewed journals will ensure dissemination and scientific integrity of the results.

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VAM-Velferd, arbeid og migrasjon