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Defining and Measuring Circular Migration

Published: December 2016

Circular migration – a repetition of migration by the same person between two or more countries – is a topic of growing importance, on which information is needed for policy development. To meet this demand, tools must be established to better measure the extent to which existing international migration patterns become more (or less) circular over time and to evaluate policies aiming at facilitating (or restricting) such migration. Comparisons between different countries and their policies regarding circular migration, both countries of destination and of origin, are similarly relevant for policy development and evaluation purposes. There is therefore a need to establish an international statistical definition of what circular migration is and how it can be measured and compared between different reporting countries.

This publication presents the results of the work of the UNECE Task Force on Measuring Circular Migration in addressing this need, including a proposal for a common international statistical definition of circular migration.

Key definitions of international migration statistics and already-existing definitions of circular migration are analysed as are five dimensions of circular migration: repetition of move (frequency), directionality, duration, purpose or reason for move, and developmental impact. The publication presents proposals for a statistical definition of circular migration while also identifying several important challenges in measuring circular migration, such as measuring short-term migration and measuring a series of events within a specific period. Practical applications of the proposed definitions are presented with examples from Italy and Sweden.

PDF version:
Defining and Measuring Circular Migration (4.8 MB)

EPub version:

Defining and Measuring Circular Migration

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