Digital History

The Huddled Masses

Kinds of Migrants Previous Next
Digital History ID 3301



When we think of migrants, one image quickly comes to mind: people who permanently depart their place of birth and travel hundreds and even thousands of miles to make a new home. But this kind of migration represents only one of many forms of migration.

Migration may be voluntary or involuntary. Involuntary migrants are those people who are forced to move--by organized persecution or government pressure. Migration may be temporary or permanent. Approximately a third of the European immigrants who arrived in the United States between 1820 and World War I eventually returned to live in their country of origin. These "birds of passage," as they are known, often returned to the United States several times before permanently settling in their homeland.

Migration may also be short distance or long distance. Short-distance migrants might move from a rural community to a nearby urban area or from a smaller city to a larger one. Migration may be cyclical and repetitive, like the rhythmic migrations of nomadic livestock herders or present day farm laborers. Or it may be tied to a particular stage in the life cycle, like the decision of an adolescent to leave home to go to college.

The motives behind migration may also vary widely. Migration may occur in reaction to poverty, unemployment, overcrowding, persecution, or dislocation. It may also arise in response to employment opportunities or the prospects of religious or political freedom. In distinguishing between different kinds of migration, it is important to look at:

--The distance traveled;
--The causes of migration;
--Whether migration is temporary, semi-permanent, or permanent;
--Whether the migration is voluntary, involuntary, or the result of pressure.

Questions to think about

  1. Do you think that temporary migrants are less likely to learn the language of their new place of residence or to marry individuals outside their ethnic group?
  2. Do you think they are more or less likely to establish community, culture, labor, or religious organizations in their land of residence?
  3. Do you think that temporary migrants are more likely to select jobs that allow them to be mobile?

Copyright 2016 Digital History