The most elementary way of explaining international migration is by identifying ‘push’ and ‘pull’ factors.
According to this basic framework, international migration is the result of a combination of reasons that incite or force a person to leave a country of origin (push factors) and reasons that draw a person to a particular destination country (pull factors).
However, we must keep in mind that migration is not simply a question of being pushed and pulled. Migration is far more complex, and so are the social, economic and historical contexts in which this process takes place.
First of all, push and pull factors are never the same for everyone. These can change depending on social class, gender, ethnicity, age, physical ability and so on.
At an individual level, push factors include the immediate reasons that compel a person to migrate, such as the loss of a livelihood through redundancy or drought or, contrarily, the possession of capital required to embark on a migration project. Individual push factors may even include subjective aspects of a person’s character; for example, the fact that one has the courage to leave their country of origin.
In contrast, at a structural level, push and pull factors regard, for example, differences in national labour markets, institutional reforms, urban development, and so on.
Push and pull factors between two countries or regions also change considerably over time. The changes that occur are dependent on other factors. Thinking hypothetically, the reasons for a person being attracted to a destination country in 2020 are different to the reasons in 2000 as result of the strengthening of co-national networks that were previously not present and due to a change in government policy that has facilitated migration through employment schemes.
People have always moved in search of better living conditions for themselves and for their loved ones or escaping dramatic situations in their homeland. These two major drivers were the fundamentals of the ‘push and pull’ theory that was first proposed by Everett Lee in 1966, encompassing economic, environmental, social and political factors pushing out from the individual homeland and attracting him/her towards the destination country.
Lee’s theory has the merit of being one of the first trying to identify in a modern and scientific way the drivers of such a complex phenomenon after Ravenstein first addressed them in Scotland in 1885.
Lee begins his theory of migration formulations with certain factors, which lead to spatial mobility of population in any area. These factors are:
(i) Factors associated with the place of origin,
(ii) Factors associated with the place of destination,
(iii) Intervening obstacles, and
(iv) Personal factors.
According to Lee, each place possesses a set of positive and negative factors. While positive factors are the circumstances that act to hold people within it, or attract people from other areas, negative factors tend to repel them. In addition to these, there are factors, which remain neutral, and to which people are essentially indifferent. While some of these factors affect most of the people in the area, others tend to have differential effects. Migration in any area is the net result of the interplay between these factors.
Lee suggests that individuals involved in migration have near perfect assessment of factors in the place of origin due to their long association. However, the same is not necessarily true for that of the area of destination. There is always some element of ignorance and uncertainty with regard to reception of migrants in the new area.
Another important point is that the perceived difference between the areas of origin and destination is related to the stage of the lifecycle of an individual. A long association of an individual with a place may result in an over-evaluation of positive factors and under-evaluation of negative factors in the area of origin. At the same time, the perceived difficulties may lead to an inaccurate evaluation of positive and negative factors in the area of destination.
The final decision to move does not depend merely upon the balance of positive and negative factors at the places of origin and destination. The balance in favour of the move must be enough to overcome the natural inertia and intervening obstacles. Distance separating the places of origin and destination has been more frequently referred to in this context by authors, but according to Lee, distance while omnipresent, is by no means the most important factor. Furthermore, the effect of these intervening obstacles varies from individual to individual.
Apart from the factors associated with places of origin and destination, and the intervening obstacles, there are many personal factors, which promote or retard migration in any area. Some of these are more or less constant throughout the life span of an individual, while others tend to vary in effect with the stages in life cycle. It may be noted that the real situation prevailing at the places of origin and destination are not as important in affecting migration as individual’s perception of these factors. The process of perception depends, to a large extent, on the personal factors like awareness, intelligence, contacts and the cultural milieu of the individual.
The decision to migrate is the net result of the interplay among all these factors. Lee pointed out that the decision to migrate is, however, never completely rational. Also important to note here is the fact that not all persons who migrate do so on their own decision. Children and wives move with the family where their decisions are not necessarily involved. After outlining the factors at origin and destination, and the intervening obstacles and personal factors, Lee moves on to formulate a set of hypotheses concerning the volume of migration, streams and counter-streams, and the characteristics of migrants.
With regard to the volume of migration, Lee proposed the following set of hypotheses:
- The volume of migration within a given territory varies with the degree of diversity of the areas included in that territory.
- The volume of migration varies with the diversity of the people in that territory.
- The volume of migration is related to the difficulty of surmounting the intervening obstacles. In other words, the more is the intervening obstacles the less is the volume of migration.
- The volume of migration varies with the fluctuation in the economy.
- Unless severe checks are imposed, both volume and rate of migration tend to increase over time.
- The rate and volume of migration vary with the state of progress in a county or area.
With respect to the development of streams and counter-streams of migration, Lee suggested the following six hypotheses:
- Migration tends to take place largely within well defined streams.
- For every major migration stream a counter stream develops,
- The efficiency of a stream (measured in terms of a ratio between stream and counter-stream, or the net redistribution of population effected by opposite flows) is high if negative factors at the place of origin were more prominent in the development of stream.
- The efficiency of a stream and counter stream tends to be low if the origin and destination are similar.
- The efficiency of migration stream will be high if the intervening obstacles are great.
- The efficiency of migration stream varies with the economic conditions. In other words, it is high in the time of prosperity and vice versa.
Lee outlined the following hypotheses relating to the characteristics of the migrants:
- Migration is selective in nature. Due to differences in personal factors, the conditions at the places of origin and destination, and intervening obstacles are responded differently by different individuals. The selectivity could be both positive and negative. It is positive when there is selection of migrants of high quality, and negative when the selection is of low quality.
- Migrants responding to positive factors at destination tend to be positively selected.
- Migrants responding to negative factors at origin tend to be negatively selected.
- Taking all migrants together, selection tends to be bimodal.
- Degree of positive selection increases with the difficulty of intervening obstacles.
- The heightened propensity to migrate at certain stages of life cycle is important in the selection of migration.
- The characteristics of migrants tend to be intermediate between the characteristics of populations at the places of origin and the place of destination.
In geographical terms, the push-pull factors are those that drive people away from a place and draw people to a new location. A combination of push-pull factors helps determine migration or immigration of particular populations from one land to another. Push and pull factors are the actual factors responsible for migration.
Push factors are often forceful, demanding that a certain person or group of people leave one country for another, or at least giving that person or people strong reasons to want to move—either because of a threat of violence or the loss of financial security. Pull factors, on the other hand, are often the positive aspects of a different country that encourage people to immigrate in order to seek a better life. While it may seem that push and pull factors are diametrically opposed, in fact they both come into play when a population or person is considering migrating to a new location.
Push Factors: Reasons to leave
Any number of detrimental factors can be considered push factors, which essentially force a population or person from one country to seek refuge in another country. Conditions which drive people to leave their homes can include a sub-standard level of living, food, land or job scarcity, famine or drought, political or religious persecution, pollution, or even natural disasters. Under the worst circumstances, it may be difficult for a person or group to pick and choose a destination: speed out is more important than selecting the best option for relocation.
Although all push factors don't require a person to leave a country, these conditions that contribute to a person leaving are often so dire that if they do not choose to leave, they will suffer financially, emotionally or physically. The Great Potato Famine of the mid-19th century, for example, pushed thousands of Irish families to immigrate to the United States to avoid starvation.
Populations with refugee statuses are the among the most affected by push factors in a country or region. Refugee populations are often faced with genocide-like conditions in their country of origin, usually because of authoritarian governments or populations opposed to religious or ethnic groups. For example, Jews leaving Germany during the Nazi era were threatened with violent death if they remained in their home country.
Push factors include:
Economic and demographic factors:
- low wages
- high population growth
- lack of primary health care
- deficient education system
- poor chances of finding a partner
- conflict, danger, violence
- human rights violations
Social and cultural factors:
- discrimination resulting from ethnic or religion
Pull Factors: Reasons to migrate
Pull factors are those that help a person or population determine whether relocating to a new country would provide a significant benefit. These factors attract populations to a new place largely because of what the country provides that is not available to them in their country of origin.
A promise of freedom from religious or political persecution, availability of career opportunities or cheap land, and an abundance of food could be considered pull factors for migrating to a new country. In each of these cases, a population will have more opportunity to pursue a better life compared to its home country. Students entering universities or seeking jobs in more developed countries, for example, might be able to receive larger salaries and greater opportunities than in their countries of origin.
For some individuals and groups, push and pull factors work together. This is particularly the case when push factors are relatively benign. For example, a young adult who cannot find a lucrative job in her home country may consider immigrating only if the opportunities are significantly better elsewhere.
Pull factors include:
Economic and demographic factors:
- the prospects of higher earnings
- the prospects of improving standards of living
- personal and / or professional development
- a sense of security
- political and / or religious freedom
Social and cultural factors:
- family reunification
- migration to the country of their ancestors
- lack of discrimination
IMAGE CREDIT: Paul Salopek