Voluntary International Migration

by Jeannette Money and Timothy W. Taylor (Wheaton College)
in Oxford Bibliographies (2016)

Although migration has been a human phenomenon from time immemorial, the creation of a system of states, usually dated from the Treaty of Westphalia (1648), has posed the issue of individuals crossing state boundaries, encompassed in the concept of state sovereignty. The decline of transportation and communication costs has increased human mobility over time, with international travel expanding exponentially since the Second World War. Remarkably, the proportion of the global population living outside their country of origin has remained relatively stable over the past seven decades, running around 3 percent of the global population. The fact that international migration remains the exception rather than the rule in an increasingly globalized world is an important observation. International migrants travel in all directions, with at least half moving within the Global South. However, the distribution of international migrants is not uniform; typically migrants move from poorer, more unstable states to wealthier, more stable states.

And international migration has become a salient political issue virtually everywhere: in receiving societies, in sending societies, and even in transit societies. So a bibliographical article on the various dimensions of international migration is timely. International migration is a multidisciplinary research arena. Economists evaluate the impact of migration on the economy, on the state, and on different groups in the society, in both home and host societies. Sociologists examine the processes of immigrant incorporation, seconded by psychologists and anthropologists; sociologists are also attentive to the ties that migrants maintain to their home society, even while becoming members of the host society. Political scientists explore the determinants of immigration control policies and policies that govern resident foreigners upon arrival, as well as the determinants of state policies toward emigrants, such as remittance policies. And virtually all of these disciplines, enlarged by geographers, have weighed in on the processes that fuel the movement of individuals across international boundaries. Migration is usually divided into two categories, “forced” and “voluntary.” This is a useful dividing line, even though it is widely acknowledged that migrants have multiple reasons for moving and that there is often no clear dividing line to distinguish “forced” versus “voluntary” migrants.

Due to the breadth and multidisciplinarity of the literature, this bibliography covers only voluntary international migration, both short and long term. It does not cover the research on forced migration flows (refugees and asylum seekers) as defined in the United Nations Convention and Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 and 1967). Subsequent to the overview of international migration and migration processes, the literature is organized around four themes. Immigration control focuses on state choices to admit a specific number and type of migrant; various categories of migrants, workers, family members, students, etc., are included in this section. Immigrant incorporation addresses issues of immigrant treatment upon arrival in the host state, immigrants’ willingness and capacity to adapt to the host society, and the maintenance of ties to their home state and society. Migration governance deals with the degree to which states are willing and able to cooperate with their counterparts in the international system to achieve their interests. Migrant rights are a central component of this section.

Finally, the last section deals with linkages between international migration and other international issues, such as security, trade, aid, and development.

This article reflects the bulk of the scholarship on international migration that has been produced in the Global North and/or published in globally prominent scholarly journals.

There are additional resources, in regional or national journals and books, in languages other than English, that are often referenced in the articles and books cited in this bibliography.

Download the bibliography