Impact of Circular Migration on Human, Political, and Civil Rights: A Global Perspective

Author:   Carlota Solé; Sonia Parella; Teresa Sordé Martí; Sonja Nita
Publisher:   Springer International Publishing.
Reviewer:   Wegene Mengistu

Solé, C., Parella, S., Martí, T., S. and Nita, S. (ed.) (2016). Impact of Circular Migration on Human, Political and Civil Rights: A Global Perspective. Springer International Publishing: Switzerland.  ISBN 978-3-319-28896-3. pp. 296 

The book Impact of Circular Migration on Human, Political, and Civil Rights: A Global Perspective is an edited volume organized into three separate sections and a total of thirteen chapters. The first part of the book consists of an introduction and the first five chapters. This first section of the book provides an insight into how circular migration is currently being used as a policy tool. In this part, the impacts of circular migration policies on the economic, social, and political lives of migrants, both at home and in their destination countries, have been aptly explored. The next section, which consists of only three chapters, looks into circular migration from the perspective of the migrants’ agency and its transnational dimension. The final part of the book, which spans the final five chapters, discusses circular migration and its impacts on human development and citizenship rights and offers some concluding remarks on the issues addressed by the book. The text thus approaches circular migration from conceptual, policy, and practical perspectives, while adopting an interdisciplinary approach.  

The authors have extensively explored the lack of conceptual clarity that surrounds the notion of circular migration. This book draws attention to the absence of common meaning of circular migration both among the academic and policy circles. According to the authors, there is still confusion as to what the term specifically connotes, even among those countries which have entered bilateral agreements to allow migrant workers into their labor markets. The case of Moldova and the EU is among those cases presented by the authors to show the ambiguity and vagueness in the notion of circular migration as a policy tool. Such ambiguities are mutually shared by the policies of both receiving and sending countries. 

Having addressed the conceptual ambiguities and imprecisions surrounding circular migration, the text discusses the deficiencies in the implementation of circular migration agreements, and the lack of data-driven policymaking. The book underlines the importance of data-driven policymaking, which the authors examine via the examples of South African and Mexico-US migration policies.  Specifically speaking, if circular migration is chosen because other avenues to permanent residence or citizenship rights are closed (see the example of the GCC in this book), it may instead leave the migrant in a vulnerable situation (Solé, 268). According to the authors, circularity should be part of a deliberate life strategy and, coupled with the freedom to choose between different options, that is when it is more likely to represent an added value to the migrant. In contrast, the association of circular migration with impermanency has repeatedly exposed circular migrant workers to the violation of their social, economic, and political rights. Intending to emphasize the discrepancies in circular migration-related practices and policies, this book sheds a light on how current models of citizenship (both the national and post-national) fall short of addressing some of the circular migrant workers’ concerns. For this reason, the authors suggest, the ratification of migrant workers’ rights should be guided by migrants’ circumstances.

Practically speaking, the lived experiences of migrants contain different realities than what is commonly stereotyped. This is why, according to the authors, circular migration shouldn’t be conceptualized nor analyzed in isolation from the daily lives of migrant workers. Subsequently, this book further challenges the notion of the so-called triple win by relying on the lived experiences of South Asian migrants to the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member countries. Through these examples, the authors attempt to demonstrate how circular migration may not always be the consequence of migrants’ free choice. To further explain the issue, the authors analyze migrants' lived experiences and migration decisions in relation tothe agency-structure debate. According to the authors’ findings, circularity has never been accidental; it is part of the life of migrants. One particular quote outlines the phenomena, by bringing to light how “the rural Bolivian family has not stopped suffering the effects of the “chronic rural poverty” that forced them to use old migratory logics as new adaptation tools, with several local particularities and the generation of logics of practice that would later also be influential in the departures of the future generation.” (Ávila, 148).

Not only is circular migration thus ill-defined as a concept, mismanaged as a policy phenomenon, and unavoidable by nature; it also leads to inadvertent repercussions, both positive and negative.   In this text, the relationship between circular migration and the flow of social remittances[1] has been examined by relying on the experiences of Filipino potential migrants and returnees from Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. The authors took the idea of human development as a benchmark to evaluate the relationship between the two. In other words, if circular migrants are to contribute to the development of their home countries, it is of utmost importance to provide them with (safe) opportunities to network and participate politically while being abroad. But, as the authors specify, “for that aspect to be acknowledged, development has to be conceptualized not merely in technical terms but in the wider concept of human and democratic development” (Rother, 213). 

To summarize, the authors warned of the importance of refraining from a blinded appraisal or critique of circular migration. Policies, perspectives, and arguments concerning circular migration need to be corroborated by actual data. The different sections and chapters of this book were able to collectively examine the impacts of circular migration on economic, human, political, and civil rights development, while the findings have been validated by examining cases from different parts of the world. Such a comprehensive discussion at a conceptual, policy and practical level is indispensable to bring more clarity to the issues of circular migration. The extensive attention given to conceptual clarification, policy debates, and the lives of migrants makes this book useful to anyone interested in obtaining a deeper understanding of circular migration and its impacts on those involved. Particularly speaking, researchers and academicians working on the issues of labor migration and human rights, and postgraduate students specializing in migration studies will be encouraged to read this book. Policymakers and advisors to labor migration and human rights departments might also benefit from reading this text. 

But then again, as a text whose scope is global, one expects an adequate, systematic inquiry into the progress made as well as the challenges encountered by some regional and global institutions working on the issue of migrant workers’ rights. While this book has devoted one of its sections – section II - to discuss circular migration vis-a-vis migrant agency, an uneven emphasis has been apportioned to structural factors shaping circular migration and its impacts. Lastly, except for a few wording problems and lack of a concluding section in the fourth chapter, this text remains informative and thought provoking. 

Wegene Mengistu, Lecturer, and Researcher, College of Social Science and Humanities, Addis Ababa University, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. 

E-Mail:  [email protected]


[1] Peggy Levitt has brought attention to social remittances as the “ideas, behaviors, identities, and social capital that flow from receiving – to sending-country communities” (1998: 927).


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