What is Human Migration?

Migration (human) is the movement of people from one place in the world to another for the purpose of taking up permanent or semipermanent residence, usually across a political boundary. An example of "semipermanent residence" would be the seasonal movements of migrant farm laborers. People can either choose to move ("voluntary migration") or be forced to move ("involuntary migration").

 Migrations have occurred throughout human history, beginning with the movements of the first human groups from their origins in East Africa to their current location in the world.

Migration occurs at a variety of scales: intercontinental (between continents), intracontinental (between countries on a given continent), and interregional (within countries). One of the most significant migration patterns has been rural to urban migration—the movement of people from the countryside to cities in search of opportunities.

Types of Migration

  • Internal Migration: Moving to a new home within a state, country, or continent.

  • External Migration: Moving to a new home in a different state, country, or continent.

  • Emigration: Leaving one country to move to another (e.g., the Pilgrims emigrated from England).

  • Immigration: Moving into a new country (e.g., the Pilgrims immigrated to America).

  • Population Transfer: When a government forces a large group of people out of a region, usually based on ethnicity or religion. This is also known as an involuntary or forced migration.

  • Impelled Migration (also called "reluctant" or "imposed" migration): Individuals are not forced out of their country, but leave because of unfavorable situations such as warfare, political problems, or religious persecution.

  • Step Migration: A series of shorter, less extreme migrations from a person's place of origin to final destination—such as moving from a farm, to a village, to a town, and finally to a city.

  •  Chain Migration: A series of migrations within a family or defined group of people. A chain migration often begins with one family member who sends money to bring other family members to the new location. Chain migration results in migration fields—the clustering of people from a specific region into certain neighborhoods or small towns.

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  • Return Migration: The voluntary movements of immigrants back to their place of origin. This is also known as circular migration.

  • Seasonal Migration: The process of moving for a period of time in response to labor or climate conditions (e.g., farm workers following crop harvests or working in cities off-season; "snowbirds" moving to the southern and southwestern United States during winter).