What is Migration: Causes, Characteristics, Types and Effects

Migration refers to the process of moving from one place to another for reasons like seeking economic opportunities, political persecution, environmental factory, terrorism so on and so forth. This article will deal with a detailed explanation of migration, its causes, characteristics, types and effects.

Ever since the beginning of time, humanity has been on the move. The phenomenon of migration isn’t recent rather it has a long history that predates the history of humanity. The motive of migration right from the very beginning has been to seek better and safe living conditions which was not available at the home country. People associate multiple reasons to migrate such as relocate to join family in another country, boost educational chances,  find employment  opportunities, to rescue from hostilities, persecution, terrorism, escape natural catastrophes so on and so forth.  However there is a pattern of change in the reasons behind migration pertaining to the question of time. In the ancient times, shelter and security were the prime reasons behind migration that motivated an  individual or groups of individuals to move from their home country to another country they consider suitable to inhabit. But with the passage of time, reasons expanded to economic, political, social and environmental security. With advancement in communication and transportation, the phenomenon of migration increased manifold that not only remained limited to national boundaries but became an international matter. As per the reports of  the United Nations International Organization for Migration (IOM), in 2020, 281 Million people, or 3.6 percent of all people in the world, were identified as migrants who embarked on dangerous  journeys to escape poverty or oppression with the hope of  getting a better life. This shows how the phenomenon of migration is increasing with every passing day.

Also Read: 6 Major Social Issues in the Society

Causes of Migration

While discussing the causes of migration, the mention of Push factors and Pull factors are necessary.  Push factors make a person  leave a place, whereas pull factors attract a person to a particular area. These two factors never operate in isolation but  together. For example, if someone is leaving an area due to inadequate employment opportunities (push factor), they are presumably going to a place with abundant employment opportunities (pull factor).

However, the causes of migration are as follows –

  • · Economic Causes of Migration– Economic causes of migration often lead to voluntary migration where a person feels the urge from within to move from one place to another. Economic causes can be anything that include improvement in a person’s financial situation by shifting  to a country or region where there are ample amount of employment opportunities along with payment of a wholesome amount, having access to better educational facilities, having personal connections to enhance economic growth, or escaping the toxic and corrupt work culture of the home country or region, so on and so forth that shows a path to people to improve their economic conditions.   According to the UN International Labour Organization, migrant workers stood at roughly 164 million worldwide in 2017 and represented nearly two thirds of international migrants where almost 70% were found in high-income countries, 18.6% in upper middle-income countries, 10.1% in lower middle-income countries and 3.4% in low-income countries. This number shows an increase when a new ILO report estimated that between 2017 and 2019 the number of people migrating for work internationally increased from 164 to 169 million.
  • Political Causes of Migration- Political causes includes events and episodes like conflict, war, tyranny, lack of freedom, and violations of human rights that convince people to migrate. These are undoubtedly the push factors of the home country of the migrants but attractive pull factors like ensuring human rights, liberty and equality,  benefits offered by the government and the existence of powerful institutions that do not entertain corruption further stimulates the urge of people to migrate to enjoy these benefits.  Asylum seeking is a direct outcome of the outflow of political migrants from an oppressive state who flee to a more democratic country. For example, in the year 2002, United Kingdom received the highest asylum applications, nearly 15% of the total global asylum applications.  It cannot be denied that political reasons like human rights violation, political persecution, limitation on freedom, lack of judicial independence, wars are some of the main reasons of migration.
  • Environmental Causes for Migration– Living in a healthy and beautiful environment is a natural human tendency as a healthy environment builds a mentally and physically healthy individual. But people residing in a country or region that is prone to natural calamities, famine, drought, landslides or anything else brought  by nature that would take a toll on one’s life would make people leave that region or country and migrate to some safe place where the environment is pleasant and hospitable. A pleasant climate, secured location and scenic beauty of a place always attract people to migrate to that place.
  • Social Causes of Migration– There are many elements in the society that motivates people to migrate to another region or country and lead their lives. Social bonds, culture, emotional dependence are some of the social factors that leads to migration.  For example, the desire to be with family or relatives who have previously migrated to another country, identification of similar cultural and social traits of the desired region with that of the individual, the urge to enhance social status and situation etc.  are some of the social causes of migration.

Characteristics of Migration

There are a few important characteristics of migration which can be discussed as follows –  

  • Migration focus on the age factor

Young people typically being more mobile in nature than the old people migrate more for any possible reason. Young people migrate from one place to another where they seek better opportunities to pursue their further studies or boost their career by moving to those places that offers better employment opportunities.

  • Migration focus on social networks

Migrants have the propensity to migrate to those areas where they have contacts and networks with people belonging to their community who have previously migrated to that area acting as linkages to the new migrants creating a chain giving rise to “chain migration.”

  • Migration has been motivated by industrialization

 With the wide scale establishment of industries and  factories  the need for unskilled labour emerged and this need was fulfilled by  immigrants, particularly young men who remained the most suitable source of labour as they agreed to work in lower wages at less favourable conditions for the sake of work than the native born workers.

Types of Migration

Migration can be classified into various types on the basis of nature of movement, time period, nature of residence and consent.

  • In view of nature of movement, migration can be classified as-

Immigration – Immigration means entering another country for a permanent or temporary residence or for some other reasons.

Immigration can be understood as ‘in-migration’ which means that a person  has moved to a separate country. For example, A person leaving India to settle in UK for a better life makes that person  an immigrant of UK. 

Emigration – Emigration is the process in which people leave the citizenship of their own country to reside in another country for good. For example, a person leaving India to settle in UK for a better life makes that person  an emigrant to India.

Also Read: UK Family Structure – Summary

  • In view of the time of stay of migrants in the region, migration can be classified as

Short-term migration: People who migrate to another place for a short span of time from their original place is called short term migration. For example, tourists can be called short term migrants.  

Long-term migration: People who migrate to another region or country essentially for a couple of years can be called long term migration. For example, students going to another country for pursuing further studies or Companies sending their employees to another region to engage in some projects can be called long term migrants.  

Seasonal migration: Whenever people migrate to another place during a specific season and return to their original place at the end of the season is termed as seasonal migration. Agriculture-based labor is a perfect example to explain  seasonal migration.

  • In the view of the nature of residence of the migrants, migration can be classified as

Internal migration– When people move within the geographical boundaries of a country or state, it is called internal migration.  Internal migration can further be classified into four types that are as follows –

Rural to Urban Migration – When people move from rural areas to nearby towns and cities seeking for better living conditions, employment and education opportunities, rural to urban migration takes place.  

Rural to Rural Migration – When people move from one rural area to another rural area mainly for agricultural or family related purpose, rural to rural migration takes place.

Urban to Urban Migration –  The movement of people  from one urban area to another urban area to seek comparatively significant compensation and opportunities can be called urban to urban migration.

Urban to Rural Migration- When migration takes place from urban area to rural area as a matter of escape from city life hassle and issues like pollution, overpopulation and even when there is the intent of returning to one’s native place, it is called urban to rural migration.  

According to census 2011, rural to urban migration was 20.5 million, rural to rural migration was 53.3 million, urban to urban migration was 14.3 million and urban to rural was 6.2 million.

  • International migration

International migration refers to change of residence across national boundaries.  According to the International Migrant Stock 2019 report (released by the Population Division of the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs), India with 5 million international migrants has emerged as the top source of international migrants, constituting 6.4% of world’s total migrant population. International migration can be further classified as follows –

Legal immigration– Legal immigration is when people move to another country following legal procedures and complying to the  lawful authority of the receiving country.

Illegal immigration– Illegal immigration takes place when people migrate without any legal procedures.  

Refugees– Refugees refer to those migrants who migrate to another country silently in order to escape abuse they face in their home country.

  • In view of the consent of the migrants, migration can be classified as –

Voluntary migration: When migration takes place upon the choice and consent of the migrants, it is called voluntary migration. For example, migrating to a different region in search of better job opportunities or educational facilities.  

Involuntary migration: When migration takes place forcefully and against the desire of the migrants, it is called involuntary migration. For example, refugees have to migrate involuntarily.

Also read: Understanding Slums in Sociological Perspective

 Effects of Migration

  • Economic effects

Economies of both the native and migratory economies are impacted by migration and it could be advantageous to one person and detrimental to another. The migratory place can economically flourish with the movement of skilled labour and the availability of the migrant labourers can contribute to the success of the economy and lead to rapid expansion of economic enterprises. There is also the possibility of the migrants becoming taxpayers in the country they have migrated to, boosting that country’s economy. But on a negative note, the employment prospects of the native citizens  might be devoured by the migrants leading to the issue of unemployment. Every country has currently been facing the issue of illegal immigration that threatens the economic development of the host country as the illegal immigrants may deplete the resources of the country depriving the native citizens from enjoying a good life. Additional population strains the host country’s economy which will have long-lasting impact on the overall development of the country.

  • Political effects

The outcome of migration has several political repercussions. Border conflict issues are on rise with migration flows worldwide. Defining international borders is a daunting task and conflict can arise when territories share border control officials from different nations that makes it difficult to determine who is responsible for migration related political controversies. The host countries are bound to formulate policies keeping in mind the needs and rights of the migrants which might not be favourable to the native citizens and conflicts take place in such a scenario. Although voting rights are hardly granted to the migrants yet they get to enjoy all other rights like the native citizens which sometimes goes against the interest of the natives.

  • Demographic effects

Demography that refers to population’s size, composition, and quality in a certain area or region, migration would have an immediate influence on the demographic makeup of a region or nation. As individuals frequently migrate to those places that offers better living and earning opportunities, the demography of that place might drastically change due to migration. Rural to urban migration is the most common type of migration resulting in  urban population rises which negatively affects the demography of the rural areas  as it loses its young and  trained workers. Changing demography is affecting the host region’s  birth rate, death rate, sex, and infertility rates along with increasing instances of criminal activities.

  • Social effects

Migration has a tremendous effect on the social structure of a region. People choose a region with multiple opportunities and consider it livable and thus decide to migrate but when that region gets overcrowded with both natives and migrants, the standard of living diminishes leading to poverty and turn the place into a  hub of criminal activities. Migration causes a number of cities or countries to lose their inhabitants’ culture and beliefs due to successful assimilation taking place in the host region as the migrants adapt themselves with the culture and norms of that region. But there also emerge the issue of discrimination when the natives shows unwillingness of accepting the migrants into their society considering them to be a threat to their social identity. This brings a disorder in the society destabilizing the life of both the migrants and the natives.

  • Environmental effects

Due to widespread migration flows from one place to another, mostly from rural to urban areas, overpopulation has become a grave issue and its effect is seen in the environment. Natural resources are under pressure and on the brink of vanishing. The unprecedented growth of city settlements, infrastructural growth is leading to issues like ground water depletion, inadequate drainage system, traffic congestion, scarcity in drinking water and food production, difficulty in managing solid wastes, pollution, flood and others.


Migration is a multidimensional process. Understanding the causes and characteristics of migration it can be realized that migration isn’t motivated by a single event or instance rather it is instigated by multiple events which has wide ranging impacts or consequences upon the society, be it the origin place of the migrants or the receiving place where the migrants have relocated to. If the concerned governing bodies of the respective host countries or region doesn’t take effective measures to handle migration flows, there would be a chaos in the functioning of the country affecting the lives of the inhabitants.


Share on:

We believe in sharing knowledge with everyone and making a positive change in society through our work and contributions. If you are interested in joining us, please check our 'About' page for more information