Migration networks and the experience of return migrants

As shown in Hazans (2011b, Box 2.25), among those aged 18-65, the proportion of individuals who had some relative or friend with foreign work experience reached 75% as early as the end of 2005 and increased to 82% by the beginning of 2011. Both at the end of 2006 and in the middle of 2008, 15% of working-age individuals were able to obtain information about work abroad from recent (of the last two years) experience, either their own or that of a close relative. Moreover, at the end of 2010, 28% of respondents indicated that some of their close relatives were working abroad (i.e., during the survey), and 10% had personal foreign work experience (including 9% during the last five years).

These data confirm the emergence of powerful migration networks. This, as noted above, significantly reduces information and job search costs, as well as psychic and adaptation costs for potential emigrants. Another (possibly, even more important) conclusion from these data is that in recent years, work abroad has become an integral part of Latvian national identity.

Let us now look at how return migrants assess their experience abroad. The NIPCM survey (December 2010-January 2011) identified 89 respondents who spent at least three months abroad (in a single visit) during the last ten years, but have returned to Latvia. Figure 4.11 presents information on the impact of this experience on various aspects of their lives (health, family, etc.), according to their own assessment. Generally speaking, migrants seem to view their experience abroad as having affected their lives favourably.

A majority of respondents were of the opinion that the time spent outside of Latvia had a positive effect on their lives in terms of health (60%), relationships with family members (82%), material well-being (73%; only 8% reported a negative impact) and self-confidence (82%).

Figure 4.11. Return migrants’ assessment of the impact of their time spent abroad on various aspects

of their lives

Percentage

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from NIPCM.

Respondents were also asked to assess the effect of their stay outside of Latvia on their professional skills. Again, most (69%) considered the experience to have affected their lives positively in this respect (Figure 4.11). The effect of time spent abroad on language skills in Latvian or Russian as second language is less pronounced but very interesting. 44% of respondents reported a positive effect, one-third noticed no effect, while a negative assessment was very rare (Figure 4.11). As could be expected, most respondents (69%) felt that their English language skills had improved.

With respect to other foreign languages, a perceived negative effect of time spent abroad is more common (13%) than in the case of English, yet a perceived positive effect prevails (33%).

Return migrants have higher employment levels than people without a migration background. An econometric analysis (omitted here), however, showed that this association can be accounted for by differences in the age and gender distributions of the two groups.

Figure 4.12 sheds some light on the question of whether foreign work experience helps to earn more in Latvia. For this purpose, we look at the personal net income of individuals employed in Latvia in the second half of 2010, depending on their (and their family members’) post-accession foreign work experience. Among those respondents who did not have family members working abroad during the survey, those who had personal work experience abroad have, on average, an 18% higher income than those without such experience (LVL 306 vs. LVL 261 per month). On the other hand, among respondents who did have a family member working abroad during the survey (and, therefore, were likely to receive remittances), return migrants’ average income exceeds the average income of individuals without recent foreign work experience by 25% (LVL 383 vs. LVL 306 per month). Comparing median rather than average income of these groups does not change the results qualitatively. Econometric analysis (details omitted) confirms that even after controlling for educational attainment, age, gender, region and family members working abroad, employed return migrants collect a 13% higher income than their employed counterparts without post-accession foreign work experience. Moreover, this difference is due to experience abroad rather than to differences in productivity between return migrants and other workers. A study based on 2007 data yielded similar results (Hazans, 2008).

To sum up, both the respondents’ opinions and their labour market outcomes suggest that the effect of foreign work experience on various aspects of the lives of return migrants has been largely positive.

Figure 4.12. Personal net income of individuals employed in Latvia in the second half of 2010, by their own and their family members’ foreign work experience

LVL per month

Source: Author’s calculations based on data from NIPCM.

 
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