UN World Youth Report



WYR 2013 Chapter Two

Factors influencing youth migration

The role of the family

There is considerable research on the role of the family in decisions relating to youth migration. Some researchers argue that it is an individual’s characteristics (such as life-cycle stage, attachment to place, social capital and environmental values) and the rational expectation of being better off elsewhere that drive migration decisions. This approach implies that the decision to migrate is a personal rather than a collective decision. Other researchers argue, however, that the individualist model is unrealistic, considering the complexity of migration and the potential role of social networks in reducing the costs and risks of migration. In the collectivist model, the family is recognized as the primary decision-making unit. This is true whether young people plan to migrate alone, with their parents, or with others inside or outside their kinship group.

In many cases, young people lack the financial resources to bear the full cost of their migration and must rely on their families for monetary support. Where family members provide financial or moral support for a young person’s decision to move, migration and its benefits are considered a family gain rather than a personal gain. Remittances are often the central feature of the self-enforcing social contract between migrants and their families. The family helps the potential migrant move with the expectation that the young migrant will remit funds periodically in return. Sending a family member elsewhere allows the family to diversify their assets and resources against the risk of bad outcomes at home. For student migrants, the benefits of migration are expected to accrue upon return.

Youth participants in the online consultation noted that parents and close relatives were largely supportive of migration decisions and in some cases indicated their expectation of remittances to ensure family financial security. The responses suggested that a number of parents supported temporary migration abroad but not permanent settlement.

The role of others

Although families constitute the main source of support for potential young migrants, social networks of friends, peers and community members can have a significant impact on young people’s migration decisions as well. Some youth are even influenced by casual acquaintances or strangers.

Thoughts of migration may originate from young people themselves or from a multitude of external sources. Distant relatives or friends living abroad may share their own first-hand experiences or provide (possibly inaccurate) information on migrant prospects. Young returnees are often highly respected by family members and society at large, which can be a motivator for others. Young people participating in the consultation reported having been positively or negatively influenced by television programmes, social media or other information sources featuring successful or unsuccessful migration experiences. The stories highlighted below reflect the diverse circumstances surrounding young people’s migration decisions.

Youth Voices

Tome and Elizabete, labour migrants Portugal → France: As a young, unmarried couple, we sought stability and the chance to start a life together. However, in Portugal, there were no prospects for the near future. Elizabete worked in a hotel, and I was unemployed and living with my parents. We were searching for a better life, and there came an opportunity to migrate. The proposal came from relatives who were living in the south-west of France.

Mohammed, currently a lawyer: Egypt → Italy: When I was 27 years old, I got to know this man whom I’d met several times. We became friends, and he asked me if I wished to travel to Italy, as he could make arrangements with someone who could facilitate my travel. I replied unhesitatingly that sure, I wanted to travel…. (to be continued)

Zunira, granted political asylum Pakistan → United States:
I was born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, as an Ahmadi Muslim. The political and security situation in Pakistan was dire, and after considering the impending threats, my family came to the U.S. and I came with them. We were hoping to stay here for a few months until the situation improved. However, soon after we came we realized that it was not going to get better anytime soon, so we decided to apply for political asylum. Our application was accepted in January of 2011, and I have been living in the U.S. ever since.

Rebeca, third-generation internal migrant rural ↔ urban Brazil: I am pretty much a city girl. I was born at a hospital in the city centre of Brasilia, the capital of Brazil. Nevertheless, my urban life would never have been possible if my dad had not migrated from a little rural town called Pires do Rio to the newly constructed capital Brasilia in the 1970s. Filled with the hope of better opportunities and a better life, my grandparents were among the millions of Brazilians who left rural areas during that period and established themselves in rapidly growing cities. Now, I see that my dad’s rural-urban migration influenced my own migration story—one that actually changed my own feelings about the agricultural sector and made me realize that HOPE for the future is actually in the rural areas.

Irini, female, age 27 Cyprus → Tanzania: I believe the family environment is very important, both in relation to the acceptance of a young person’s decision to migrate and in terms of the specific ‘culture’ created within the family and immediate social environment in which migration is acceptable or unacceptable.

Laz, male physician/student migrant, age 30 Nigeria → United States: My friends who were already in the U.S. greatly influenced my migration decision. My family felt good [about it] and had no reservations whatsoever. However, I am sure my parents would not have supported a decision to settle permanently in another country. Thus, I have plans to return to my country of origin after school.

Yasmyn, female, age 25 currently living in Paris: I have always had my mother’s support [when it comes] to travel. She is the one who passed on the love of travelling [by introducing me to] TV programmes that showed me the good things one could expect abroad.

Other factors influencing migration decisions

During the consultations relating to the pre-migration phase, participants engaged in active discourse on the various push and pull factors motivating youth migration. Employment and education were identified as the top reasons for youth migration followed by marriage and family reunification to a limited extent. Overall reasons young people gave for migrating included expectations of ‘greener pastures’ (economic prosperity), professional or educational opportunities abroad while only a few left home in search of adventure or a sense of belonging. Various young participants noted that internal migration from rural to urban settings typically offered improved access to basic public and social services for their family or better work opportunities. Youth in developing countries often migrated to their country’s capital prior to undertaking international migration to a more developed country.

Among the respondents to the Survey on Youth Migration and Development, some noted that they had migrated because of environmental changes in their country of origin. Environmental change is rarely the direct cause of migration, but its impact on a country’s economic, social and political circumstances can drive migration decisions.

Some youth decide to migrate because of perceived injustices in their countries of origin. There may be a high incidence of corruption, chronic political instability, or serious human rights violations. Those who are not members of mainstream society may fear discrimination or persecution. In one of the migrant stories below, a young woman writes that her sexual orientation and her local society’s failure to protect her rights within this context were central to her migration decision.

Youth perspectives on factors influencing migration decisions

Joseph, male, aged 26-29 years, labour migrant United States → Italy: I left my hometown because even with a university degree I could not find work. I later earned an advanced degree and left my home country because—again—I could not find work. >

Lorraine, female, aged 26-29 years, labour migrant Ireland → Australia: Irish skills and education are highly regarded in Australia; there is a shortage of workers in my skill area. I also had over five years of experience in my area, and this was highly regarded. The pay in Australia is much higher than in Ireland. >

Liaam, female, aged 19-25 years currently living in the United States: Persecution based on my sexual orientation and gender identity was a deciding factor [for me] as a transgender woman. My country of origin did not provide the guarantees necessary [to protect] my life.



Read 17260 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 February 2014 18:44
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The UN Focal Point on Youth aims to build awareness of the global situation of young people, as well as promote their rights and aspirations, working toward greater participation of young people in decision-making as a means for achieving peace and development.

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