Most migrants, even those who resettle in other countries, leave with the idea that one day they will return. In fact, a good number of the so-called “permanent migrants” who went from Europe to the Americas in the nineteenth and twentieth century eventually returned. The majority, however, remained abroad and the expression, “the myth of return,” was eventually coined to indicate a variety of situations (Carling 2015), but principally the fact that return never took place. As migration systems expanded both in terms of migration corridors and policies, the interest in return acquired more prominence. Researchers have examined the reasons people return, how reintegration takes place, the factors that facilitate reinsertion in society and labor markets, the impact of return migration on local societies, and failures in the reintegration process that orient migrants to go abroad again.
Policymakers also have addressed return migration for a variety of reasons. Countries of origin, particularly in the temporary migration system, deal constantly with returning migrants, as settlement abroad is often not possible, and their reintegration is perceived both as an opportunity and a challenge. Countries of destination have explored a variety of schemes to encourage the return of migrants to the point of revitalizing the idea of temporary migration, disguised under the terminology of circular migration, particularly of highly skilled migrants. Countries affected by irregular flows have pursued readmission agreements with countries of origin to ensure they would readmit migrants subject to expulsion. Finally, countries of temporary resettlement of refugees have pushed for programs of assisted voluntary repatriation (AVR), a concept utilized also to indicate the repatriation of irregular migrants.
The variety of forms of return migration, the implications for migrants, their families and the countries, and the vulnerability of migrants and refugees who are subject to repatriation and expulsion demand that sound principles governing return migration be adopted in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. Before indicating possible areas that should be covered in the Compacts, it is necessary to discuss the conceptual difficulties inherent to return migration and the policy framework that could facilitate the choice of interventions toward returning migrants.
1. Return Migration: Conceptual Difficulties
In spite of the fact that return migration has always been there, the research on it did not flourish until the 1980s, coinciding with the end of temporary migration programs to Western Europe and the interest of those European countries in encouraging the repatriation of migrants. Since then, many more studies have been dedicated to return migration. A recent bibliography (Carling, Mortensen, and Wu 2011), admittedly not complete, listed more than 1,100 contributions dealing with a variety of aspects, but in particular the decision to return and the reintegration after return. Although many aspects of the return process have been investigated, many others remain in need of understanding.
Definition and numbers. If international migration is still searching for a consensus on definitions, return migration has even less consensus. Excluding the return of contract workers who spend some time with their family before going abroad again, migrants can return for good, at some points in their career or at retirement age, or they can return for some extended time, but then migrate again. The lack of a clear definition generates confusion on the assessment of needs and possibilities and on estimates of the size of return migration. In addition, the absence of administrative tools to register returning migrants means that in many countries the number of returnees is unknown, as are the interventions that could be provided for reinsertion in the labor market and for assistance and support.
The reasons for return. The determinants of migration have received much attention by scholars, and some theoretical syntheses have been advanced, differing according to discipline and ideological approaches. The determinants of return migration (except for the mandatory return at the end of contract) do not approach the formulation of a synthesis, as more personal factors seem to be at play. The different migration theories ignore return completely or consider it as a failure or success of the migration process (Cassarino 2004). If family concerns are often presented as the reasons for migration — some authors, like Stark (1993), actually consider them the main reason for migrating — the decision to return is even more prominently directed by family situations, including issues of adaptation, decisions on where the children should be educated, and requests for the migrant to be present in the family. Such variety of possibilities does not allow the formulation and testing of clear hypothesis on why and when a migrant will return.
The relevance of personal factors does not exclude the role of structural factors, both in the countries of origin and destination, in influencing the decision to return. Such a decision can be taken even while the economic differentials of migration persist, provided that the conditions for economic development and reemployment at home are considered more favorably. In the attempt to systematize the issue, Rogers (1984) proposed a matrix, based on combined events related and unrelated to migration with aggregate and individual events respectively in the home and host country, producing eight situations. The matrix might be an oversimplification of factors, but it was sufficient to cast doubt on the expected correlation between level of assimilation and rate of return. There are integrated and successful migrants who do return, just as there are unsatisfied migrants who remain. In particular, periods of economic recession do not necessarily produce an outflow of migrants toward the home country (Warren and Kerwin 2015, 82-84), as witnessed also in the recent global crisis.
The types of return. Because of the different types of migration and the different reasons behind migrants’ decisions, there are different types of return. A common misunderstanding in policy debates and policy planning is to think of return migration as a homogeneous phenomenon. The return of different populations — permanent or temporary migrants, refugees or asylees, students, second-generation migrants, short-term returnees for health reasons or for employment, those displaced by political or environmental crisis, and the forcibly repatriated because of irregular migration — must be addressed in different ways.
The reintegration process. Most attention has been dedicated to the reintegration of permanent or long-term migrants. Because of their long experience abroad, they have been considered potential contributors to the development of the country of origin as they have savings to invest and have acquired skills that can bring innovation in the economic system. Returnees normally dream of positioning themselves in a different economic activity than the one they had prior to migration. Often this implies a change of sector (from agriculture to industry or services) and sometimes the initiation of a self-employed activity. Research has ascertained that the positive impact of reintegration is dependent on a variety of factors, both personal and structural.
The renewed interest among policymakers in the early 2000s on the nexus between migration and development, and specifically on the potential impact of migration on the development of countries of origin, has refocused attention on return. Some conclusions reached previously (Rogers 1990; Battistella 2004) were reaffirmed.
Some migrants become self-employed and open a business. The majority of returnees need to find reinsertion in the labor market. If the economy they return to is not expanding, many return migrants have problems in finding a job or they need to go through retraining before finding employment. The level of savings of returning migrants is not sufficient to undertake big initiatives. Transport and service are the sectors where it is easier to open a business. Migrants can take advantage of positive economic conditions, but they cannot turn a sluggish economy into a vibrant one.
Migrants do not necessarily acquire innovative skills abroad; they are often employed in repetitive occupations or occupations which are below their skill level (Battistella and Liao 2013). In addition, the economy of the country of origin may not be able to utilize the skills that migrants have acquired. From a social perspective, there can be difficulties, particularly for long-term or permanent migrants. Migrants do not find the community they dreamed about with nostalgia when abroad, and the community looks at migrants with circumspection. Thus, migrants have to go through a re-adjustment process, which is similar to the adaptation they experienced in the host country.
A specific aspect in the reintegration process concerns the children of migrants. Children born abroad face return as a migratory experience. This is especially traumatic for children when they are forced to return with their deported parents, even though they may be citizens of the host country and have adapted to the language and culture of the host society, often attending years of schooling. It is precisely the desire of parents to ensure that children attend school and grow up within the culture of the home country that determines the decision and the timing for return. By this decision, parents often seek to ensure that problems of communication and dialogue within the family do not deteriorate. However, reinsertion of children in the home country (actually, the country of the parents) is not unproblematic. In particular, because of difficulties in language and incompatibilities of educational systems, sometimes children have to be set back at least one year, do not receive counseling, and often need to forget what they have learned abroad to absorb the teaching of the local school.
Similar difficulties in reintegration can apply to refugees who have the opportunity to return because the conditions that motivated their search for refuge have ceased. In the worst case, return is complicated by the lack of infrastructure, facilities, and economic conditions to support the reintegration of a large number of refugees, like the Afghans that returned from Pakistan and Iran. Social services like schools and hospitals are strained, paid wages are insufficient, and land prices tend to increase (Muzhary 2017).
An additional difficulty in the understanding of the reintegration process is to know where the migrants will resettle. Not all migrants depart from the city or province of birth. In many cases, international migration is preceded by internal migration. In some cases, it is only the migrant who has moved from one province to another. In other cases, the whole family has migrated. When return takes place, it is possible that the migrant will return to his place of origin, or to the place where the family has moved or to a different place altogether, based on opportunities and means. The current construction boom in Metro Manila is fueled by remittances from Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) who presumably will resettle in the metropolis rather than returning to their place of origin.
The complexities of return require the adoption of a conceptual framework to accommodate the different situations. Ignoring the reasons for return, as they can be many and difficult to operationalize, it is possible to place the main types of return on a continuum utilizing two variables: the time for return (at the end or before the end of the migration project) and the decision to return (voluntary and involuntary). The four general situations that would result are:
- Return of achievement: the migrant returns voluntarily at the end of the migration project (or contract) having achieved the purpose for which he or she went abroad.
- Return of completion: the migrant returns after completing the contract, but it is not a voluntary return, because the migrant would like to stay abroad for another period or to go abroad again; however, it is not possible.
- Return of setback: the migrant returns voluntarily but before the end of the migration process, for various reasons, including unhappiness at working conditions, family reasons, experience of abuse, or trafficking. It is a setback from the perspective of the original migration project.
- Return of crisis (forced return): caused by situations like political upheaval or environmental disaster. It is an involuntary return: the migrant is forced to leave for reasons of security or political decisions made by the country of origin or destination. This scenario can also include the repatriation of irregular migrants.
The continuum, instead of a matrix, allows for situations that overlap matrix quadrants. In particular, there are similarities between the return of completion and the return of setback. It serves the purpose of illustrating that there are different types of return migration and that different returns require different intervention.
2. Policies toward Return Migration
In many countries of origin, policies toward returning migrants were not developed or were a residual concern among policymakers. Attention was mostly on capturing remittances through the formal channels, encouraging that remittances be spent in productive ways, and fostering entrepreneurship. Slowly the need for return migration policies emerged, both to help migrants break the revolving door cycle (the need to continue to go abroad because of lack of alternatives) and to utilize the potential contribution of returning migrants for the development of the country. Countries of destination have increasingly developed return migration schemes mainly to diminish the number of migrants, particularly irregular migrants, in their territory. Unable to avoid the entry of migrants in irregular ways, countries intend to ensure that the repatriation of migrants is successful and, in this regard, have provided incentives toward return and agreements with the countries of origin.
As it is not possible to provide a comprehensive overview of return migration policies in the various countries of the world, I will illustrate briefly the programs offered in the Philippines, a major country of origin in the world and one that has developed policies that address the various aspects of the migration process.
a. Return Migration Policies in the Philippines
Traditionally, reintegration programs in the Philippines were assigned to the Overseas Welfare Worker Administration (OWWA), the social fund that provides a variety of assistance programs to migrants and their families. The Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipino Act of 1995 (Republic Act [RA] 8042) mandated the establishment of the Replacement and Monitoring Center, which was intended to facilitate the reintegration of Filipino migrants. The provision was not acted upon and was revitalized by the Department Order 79-07 which established the National Reintegration Center for Overseas Filipino Workers (NRCO) in 2007, later institutionalized by RA10022, which amended RA1042 in 2010. NRCO received an initial fund of 2 billion pesos (US $40 million). The institutional organization was unstable, as NRCO was attached to different agencies, and some of its programs overlap with those provided by OWWA. Its basic programs consist of the following.
Job referral. It is probably the most needed service that government can provide as most OFWs need employment after return. There are many obstacles in finding employment, including age and need for retraining. NRCO can connect returning migrants to potential employers by making available resumes with particular skills and qualifications. This is in addition to a regular service to facilitate employment offered by the Department of Labor throughout the Philippines in the Public Employment Service Offices (PESO) and to job fairs that are regularly organized in different locations. The advantage of the NRCO program is that it is specific to OFWs. An initiative which encountered positive response among returnees was “Sa ‘Pinas, Ikaw Ang Mam Sir!” a program to rehire teachers who had left teaching for a job abroad. Through an agreement with the Department of Education, NRCO guarantees 300 slots a year for returning teachers.
Assistance toward entrepreneurship/Micro-enterprise development. This assistance consists in providing start-up capital in the form of loans and technical assistance for OFWs who intend to open a business. The loan can be for a maximum of 2 million pesos (US $40,000) and carries an interest of 7.5 percent and is granted by the Land Bank, a government financial institution. There is no study to assess the performance of this program and the rate of survival of business initiated with the loans. One common criticism of the program among OFWs is that only a few can afford to apply for this loan because of the collateral required by the Land Bank. Financial assistance is needed but for the majority it should be provided without collateral, even if in smaller amounts (US $2,000-3,000).
Training and capability building. A variety of courses are offered free of charge by the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), and other institutions, and returnees can avail of them. Financial literacy and money management is utilized by many as everyone needs those basic skills. Popular courses teach welding, catering, cake making, packaging, pharmacy tech, and food safety (Murphy 2016). Other training programs are offered by Local Government Units but are not well publicized for returnees to take advantage of them. Of course, training is effective if it is accompanied by the other forms of assistance that facilitate returnees to initiate self-employment activities.
Counseling. NRCO makes available counseling services not only toward employment but also to address family concerns, value formation, and the need to prepare for return. Similar services are also offered by nongovernmental organizations and faith-based organizations.
Reintegration programs for distressed returnees. Direct assistance by the government is mostly needed for OFWs who return because the migration project was interrupted or who are repatriated because they were working in a country struck by a political or environmental crisis. For them, NRCO — in connection with other government agencies — provides a variety of services, such as rescue and temporary shelter assistance, legal assistance, medical assistance, and repatriation assistance. Balik Pinay! Balik Hanapbuhay! is the program tailored in particular to the reintegration of distressed women migrants. Between 2011 and 2014, 3,720 returning female migrants took advantage of the program (Mantilla 2014).
Return migration in the Philippines is addressed by many government agencies. In addition to the ones already mentioned, programs are run also by the Commission on Filipinos Overseas (CFO). Overall, these programs were mostly conceived to address the welfare and humanitarian needs of displaced OFWs. NRCO is not acknowledged for coordinating an overall approach to provide the knowledge deriving from data and labor market forecasts; engaging multisector, multistakeholder cooperation in developing the environment conducive to reintegration; or implementing the appropriate tools and providing the necessary communication and monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to make reintegration smooth for OFWs and beneficial for the country.
b. Return Migration Policies Framework
The example of return policies designed in the Philippines illustrate what most countries of origin try to implement to facilitate the reintegration of returning migrants and to enhance their contribution toward development. However, such policies often have limited impact because they do not consider the different types of return and the different needs of returning migrants.
Keeping in mind the conceptual continuum developed above, I would like to suggest the corresponding return policies that could be provided. Such policies are distinguished by nature (policy of assistance or policy of development) and the type of intervention (direct intervention to benefit the returning migrants or indirect intervention — policies not elaborated for returning migrants but which returning migrants could utilize).
Figure 1. Return Migration and Return Migration Policies
Return of achievement should be addressed by policies of development to encourage entrepreneurship. Such policies would not be designed for return migrants, but for the broader public. Migrants who have achieved their objective through migration might be in a position to take advantage of opportunities that are broadly available. For this reason, such policies indirectly benefit returning migrants. Often, the opportunities that returning migrants can utilize are at the local level. Migrants return to their country, but to a specific province and city of the country. This implies that migration, and specifically return migration, must be factored into local development plans (Asis 2011). It also implies that migrants are provided with the knowledge necessary to take advantage of opportunities. Therefore, these policies should include information on local economic opportunities, financial literacy programs, entrepreneurship development and trainings, access to credit, investment packages, and cooperative undertaking. While not all achievers will be involved in development projects, probably all of them have a clear idea on what to do after migration. There are no specific data to determine what proportion of returning migrants can be considered achievers, but the limited use of government programs for returnees might be explained also by the fact that many returning migrants do not need assistance by the government.
Return of completion should be met by policies of reintegration. These are migrants who are still in need of earning, because what they achieved through migration is not sufficient for what they intended to accomplish upon return. At the same time, they cannot return abroad for a variety of reasons, like family situations, the end of the economic activity for which they were hired, a change of employment conditions, or the impossibility of continuing to stay abroad. As they do not possess the sufficient savings for self-employment, they need to find domestic employment. A policy of reintegration should include information on labor market opportunities, retraining programs, and certification of skills acquired abroad. These would be direct reintegration policies and migrants should be informed that such programs are available, but they are also indirect, as some programs would also be available for the local population.
Return of setback should be addressed through policies of reintegration or redeployment. As indicated in the conceptual framework, return of setback has similarities with return of completion and policies also can be to some extent similar. Depending on the setback, migrants might be willing or unwilling to return abroad. Programs for reintegration should be direct programs offered by local governments, while the possibility to return abroad is an indirect policy because it is afforded by employment agencies rather than the government. In case of migrants who return because they have become victims of trafficking, the policy to be offered should be more directly an assistance policy, consisting of legal, social and psychological support.
Return of crisis requires redeployment programs and emergency policies. Redeployment programs should be available because many of these returnees saw their migration project interrupted by external forces and are far from reaching their objectives. Emergency initiatives include financial assistance upon arrival, counseling and psychological support, and information on labor market opportunities.
As some of the policies are useful in all types of return, governments should provide core services that are always available, regardless of the types of return. Core services should include information on labor market opportunities, retraining programs, provision for skills certification, and protection of acquired rights.
3. Preparing for Return
All the stakeholders in the process need to prepare effectively for reintegration to succeed (Cassarino 2014b). Preparedness is needed at the individual and institutional levels. At the individual level, it is presumed that when return is voluntary the returning migrant is prepared for it, but that is not always the case. Often, migrants discover that the situation, both within the family and in the place of return, is different from what they imagined or find out that their human and financial resources are insufficient. This leads often to new migration. On the other hand, forced return typically coincides with insufficient preparedness because the migrant did not expect to conclude suddenly the migration project.
a. Individual Preparedness
Individual preparedness is not limited to the returning migrant. It also includes family who have taken part in the decision to migrate and to which the migrant returns to utilize the benefits of migration. There are several levels of preparedness to be considered.
Psychological preparedness. Is the migrant ready and willing to return? In the case of contract labor migration, where return is frequent and periodical, the decision to return usually consists in the decision not to seek reemployment. Psychological preparedness is probably higher than in the case of long-term and permanent migration, where the decision to return consists in a reinsertion in a country where the migrant (and sometimes the family) have not lived for a long time.
Technical preparedness. If return is not for retirement, the returnee needs to find a source of income. It is not sufficient to be aware of one’s capabilities and skills; what counts is whether those capabilities can be placed successfully in the local labor market.
Financial preparedness. Remittances are often spent for the very reasons that the migrants undertook the migration project, including for housing, education of children, and payment of debts. Consequently, it is possible that the level of savings accumulated during work abroad will not last for a long time, unless there is a positive reinsertion into an economic activity. On the other hand, reducing the level of expenditures of the family is seldom possible. This is the main reason why return, although meant as final, in many cases lasts only for a while and leads to repeated migration. Financial preparedness requires early planning: it is covered in the predeparture orientation seminars that Filipino migrants must undertake before going abroad. Early preparation sometimes consists in the family initiating economic activities while the migrant is still working abroad.
Social capital. The migrants’ social capital plays an important role in the success of their return. It must exist in a local context, although not necessarily the place where the migrant was born. Familiarity with the context — the institutions and opportunities available, the key persons that make things happen, where to get advice and support — are indispensable components in the reintegration process.
b. Institutional/Country Preparedness
Central institution preparedness. This preparedness is to be done by the institutions at the national level responsible for the governance of migration, or indirectly connected to it. Such institutions should equip the migrants with adequate opportunities and effective services. As more than one agency is often involved, interagency collaboration is crucial also to avoid lengthy bureaucratic procedures. Country preparedness should involve cooperation with countries of destination. This cooperation should not be limited to agreements on readmission of irregular migrants or to dialogues to facilitate the placement of workers. Countries of destination can cooperate through direct investment projects and trade agreements. Bilateral agreements for the protection of migrant workers can be expanded to include the development side of migration.
Local institution preparedness. It is at the local level that return migration becomes productive and should be factored in the local development plans. Local institutions should collect data on their migrant populations and provide information on opportunities and constraints. Cooperation between the local and the national agencies should be smooth and productive.
Return migration should not be considered the aftermath of the migration process or an act that simply concludes migration. It is an important stage in the migration project and very relevant to the well-being of the migrant and the welfare of the state. Already the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (MWC) envisioned its application during return (Article 1) and provided for cooperation among state parties for the “orderly return of migrant workers and members of their families” (Article 67.1). The discussion process in preparation of the Global Compacts has addressed return migration in various circumstances, reflected in the Chair Statement at Puerto Vallarta. Civil society has dedicated Act 9, of its Ten Acts for the Global Compact, to return migration.
Given the need for policies to address different types of return, some policy recommendations on return should be included in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and others in the Global Compact on Refugees. The following are necessary to ensure the protection of migrants during return, to facilitate their reintegration, and to maximize their contribution to the country of origin.
- Develop instruments to estimate the stock of return migrants and institute, and if necessary for the benefit of migrants, an administrative mechanism for the effective registration of returning migrants.
- Cooperate among countries to enhance individual return preparedness by providing migrants before return with access to adequate information and training to enhance their reintegration process.
- Ensure state and local government preparedness for the return of migrants by establishing appropriate agencies and equip them with the capability to offer information, orientation, training, job matching, and financial assistance for the successful reintegration of returning migrants.
- Foster country-to-country cooperation to ensure that return takes place in an orderly and safe manner, ensure the protection and transfer of migrants’ belongings and tools, develop appropriate initiatives for skill recognition and portability of benefits and acquired rights, and seek cooperative development agreements (include trade and direct investment) to enhance the contribution of return migrants to their country.
- Ensure readmission of migrants to countries of origin and avoid collective and arbitrary expulsion and the transfer of migrants to third countries.
- Ensure the cooperation of transit countries for the safe return of migrants from situations of crisis or natural disaster.
- Uphold the principle of non-refoulement and ensure the voluntary participation of migrants in assisted voluntary return.
- Avoid the detention of children and the repatriation of parents or children when it leads to the breakup of the family and is against the best interest of the child.
Return migration is often badly understood and even more badly planned. In general, return is considered simply as the concluding moment of the migratory project and as such not in need of much attention. Its dimensions and modalities are often poorly understood because returning migrants do not need to report to any particular government agency. In reality, return constitutes a specific moment of the migration process and it is often followed by repeated migration. Neglect or inadequate policies do not allow for the breakup of the migration cycle. Existing policies are often generic, one-size-fits-all interventions, for which migrants have little use.
This article has argued that return should be properly understood as a diversified process according to the time it takes place, the completion of the migration project, the level of constraint the migrants experience, and the preparedness of the migrants, their families, and the institutions involved. Specific return policies are absolutely needed to reabsorb migrants who are subject to expulsion or repatriation because of individual or country crisis. They are less needed by the migrants, who might be the majority, who were able to achieve the objectives for which they migrated. They are to be formulated at the national but even more at the local level, knowing that migrants return to specific localities. A core of services, such as labor market information, accessibility to retraining programs, provision for skills certification, and protection of acquired rights should always be present. To ensure that migration plays a value-added role in the development process, and that the rights of migrants are properly protected, return migration should involve cooperation among countries of origin and destination. Finally, the best return migration policies might not be those targeting the returning migrants, but overall policies creating an environment that returning migrants can properly utilize.
 Between 1860 and 1930, more than a quarter of all migrants returned to Europe (Baines 1991).
 The consensus definition of “international migration” speaks to the movement of people from one country to another for more than one year. The timeframe is arbitrary, but necessary to distinguish migrants from tourists.
 Appropriately the Global Migration Group (2017) has identified the need to determine the stock of returned migrants, as well as “[k]nowledge of the skills composition of migration flows of both potential outbound and returning migrants” (ibid., 85)
 Perhaps the most successful and most cited is the one provided by Massey et al. (1993), which concluded that no single theory is fully explanatory of the phenomenon and that causal processes operate on multiple levels simultaneously. For an updated overview see Piché (2013).
 Kuschminder (2017) speaks of different return strategies.
 In a recent study in the Philippines, the percentage of self-employed increased from 13 percent before departure to 27 percent after return. This applied to both men and women, although in the case of women 50 percent also returned to nonpaid employment in the household (OECD and SMC 2017).
 Cassarino (2014a, 10) has questioned the validity of the “decision to return” variable, because it is determined by a destination country perspective, because it ignores the conditions in countries of origin, and because it is difficult to determine when return is voluntary or involuntary. While there is some validity in the objection, it is undeniable that some migrants return because of reasons beyond their control while others do not have to face similar circumstances. The difference makes an impact on the duration of the migration project and ultimately on the policy needed to address return.
 See IOM and SMC (2013, 135).
 According to Cassarino (2014a, 10) “at the level of the 28 EU Member States, more than 300 bilateral and multilateral agreements have been concluded to facilitate the swift removal of unauthorized aliens.”
 An Anti-Age Discrimination in Employment Act (RA10911) was adopted in 2017.
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