Circular Migration

Updated on January 24, 2024
Article byAswathi Jayachandran
Reviewed byDheeraj Vaidya, CFA, FRM

What Is Circular Migration?

Circular migration is the recurring movement of people between two or more countries. It is a form of temporary migration. This concept is a contrast to permanent migration. In this migration, people repeatedly move between nations throughout their lives for various reasons.

Circular Migration

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In this pattern, unlike permanent migration, individuals do not relocate permanently to a new country. This may be regulated or managed migration through government-sponsored labor recruitment programs that permit legitimate cross-border travel between two nations. The pattern might take the shape of spontaneous movement (whether formal or informal).

Key Takeaways

  • Circular migration involves repeated cycles of temporary migration, with individuals moving back and forth between countries multiple times. In this pattern, unlike permanent migration, individuals do not relocate permanently to a new country.
  • This type of migration is often viewed as a “triple win,” benefiting the migrants themselves, their origin and destination countries, and both.
  • Economic opportunities, labor demand, and social networks are common causes of circular migration.
  • Circular migration has economic, social, and cultural impacts, including economic development, social integration challenges, and brain drain concerns in origin countries.

Circular Migration Explained

Circular migration describes a pattern of migration in which people leave their place of origin momentarily for work or other reasons before returning. This type of migration is often viewed as a “triple win,” benefiting the migrants themselves, their origin and their destination countries.

It enables businesses in the destination country to effectively hire migrants from a pool of workers who are already there, maintaining low salaries and lowering irregular migration. Their stay there is temporary. Therefore, the social infrastructure of the destination nation is not burdened by circular migrants, which lowers the fiscal costs of importing labor.

This form of migration also diminishes the social and political costs of immigration. Remittances made by workers while they are away from home and increased human capital due to anticipating emigration and circular migrant returns are both advantageous to sending countries. Additionally, working overseas increases an individual migrant’s income. This allows them to further their careers and build human capital through global job experience.

According to the push-pull theory of migration, which was first put forth by Ravenstein in 1885, appealing qualities at the destination location, such as benevolent crises or safety from violent conflicts, can induce individuals to migrate. They are more significant than other circular migratory push factors.

Push forces are less urgent issues like social exclusion, poverty, and unemployment, and pull factors include events like benevolent crises, environmental degradation and safety from armed conflicts. Push factors initiate the movement process and are crucial in the origin location, whereas pull factors determine the characteristics of the migrating population and regard migration as human capital.

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Some of the general causes that contribute to the circular migratory behavior of the masses are given as follows:

  • Economic Opportunities: Economic differences between nations commonly cause circular migration. People could travel to destinations for better employment opportunities, higher pay, or access to particular sectors or companies.
  • Labor Demand: The need for temporary or seasonal employees in agriculture, hospitality, construction, and domestic work may influence circular migration. It often takes place to cover temporary labor demands.
  • Social Networks: Current social relationships and networks influence circular migration. Families, friends, or members of the community who have already made connections or secured jobs in the destination country may be followed by these migrants.


Let’s look into some examples:

Example #1

Let us take a hypothetical example to understand the concept. Dan, a migrant worker from a developing country, “XYZ,” engages in circular migration. He travels to a more developed country (UK) to become a healthcare worker under an employment contract. After completing his work assignment, Dan returns to his home country. He may repeat this cycle multiple times, seeking seasonal employment opportunities abroad to support his family and improve his economic prospects.

Example #2

Another example is the case of Germany, where a study on circular migration conducted in the year 2007 revealed that over 60% of migrants were repeat or cyclical migrants arriving from various countries. The research highlighted that factors like simplified mobility, the presence of family members in the sending region, higher education levels, homeownership, and strong ties to the labor market in Germany encouraged long-term habitation among these migrants.

Furthermore, the study indicated that both employers and governments found such migrants appealing, given their reduced likelihood of illegal residence and their ability to adapt to the fluctuating economic demands of the receiving nation. These insights underscore the benefits of circular migration for the countries involved.


Circular migration has several advantages for the nations of origin and destination countries, including those who migrate. Some of them are given as follows:

#1 – Benefits To The Countries Of Destination

  • It enables nations to respond swiftly and adaptable to workforce shortages, addressing cyclical or temporary shortages.
  • Additionally, it makes it possible for nations with a skills gap to upskill their workforce, counteract the effects of population aging, and gain the support of electorates who may otherwise feel threatened by long-term migration.

#2 – Benefits To The Countries Of Origin

  • Circular migration may relieve the labor surplus and bring about financial gains for the nations of origin.
  • Circular migrants contribute more to remittances, bring new knowledge and ideas home, and support the growth of trade relationships with their destination countries.
  • Additionally, circular migration lowers the danger of losing human capital to brain drain because the human resources of the migrant population are only partially lost during their absence.
  • Circular migrants may be more invested in their home country, which translates into higher economic activity and giving back to the community.
  • It generally has both favorable and unfavorable effects on migrants.
  • It provides migrant workers with better wages, qualifications, and experience; it can also benefit family members and preserve cultural heritage.
  • It can also have a severe effect on local economies. Compared to permanent migrants, circular migrants are more susceptible to exploitation before, during, and after their migration. The labor migration industry may exploit potential immigrants through dubious schemes, exorbitant fees, harsh treatment, unfavorable working conditions, and low pay. The amount of remittances that migrants may send back to their home towns decreases due to this economic exploitation.
  • Returning immigrants may struggle to reintegrate into their home nations and suffer negative impacts from being apart from their families and friends.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the difference between circular and seasonal migration?

Circular migration means people repeatedly migrating temporarily between countries. Seasonal migration is a circular migration where people move for short periods tied to specific seasons, like farming or tourism.

2. Why is circular migration important?

Circular migration is important because it helps in economic growth and betters the livelihood of those involved. It fills the labor gaps, supports industries with temporary needs, and allows migrants to send money back home. It also maintains connections and contributes to development.

3. What is the importance of enhanced mobility in circular migration?

Enhanced mobility in circular migration means making it easier and safer for migrants to move between countries legally. It aims to protect their rights, help them integrate, and benefit migrants and the countries involved.

4. What are the problems with circular migration?

Problems with circular migration include difficulties fitting into new communities, being away from family for long periods, skilled workers not returning to their home country, and the potential for exploitation in certain industries or places.

This has been a guide to what is Circular Migration. Here, we explain the topic in detail including its examples, causes, and effects. You can learn more about it from the following articles –

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