Return Migration or New Destinations?
Return migration is an essential component in the migration phenomenon—most of those who go to work abroad follow a circulatory or temporary path. They return to the origin sooner or later, their return being either permanent or temporary, followed by ulterior departures to the same destination or to other countries for economic purposes.
The qualitative data has shown that many of those who left Cleja and went to work abroad returned to their land of origin sooner or later, their return being either permanent or temporary. When temporary, their return was followed by ulterior departures to the same destination or to other countries for economic purposes. As the priest we interviewed specifies:
There are very few who return permanently, although I couldn’t say this for sure, but in general it is true. It is difficult to return because of small salaries in our home country, the poor economic state, and the possibility of acquiring wealth in foreign lands, which is attractive (...).
The excerpt from the interview shows that the very reasons people left the country to work abroad—push factors such as higher wages and better prospects abroad rather than in Romania—may be the reasons that keep them from coming home.
Return seems to be the first option for the Clejeni. The idea of staying abroad permanently is shared mostly by the youth, who are less attached to the origin and are more pessimistic regarding the economic and political situation in Romania. If the trend over time was for migrants to take their close relatives with them abroad and to seek and procure housing loans there (especially in Italy and Spain), the effects of the economic crisis have become manifest: the number of immigrants’ returns increased lately, while the number of immigrants’ departures dropped. It should be noted that the efficiency of migration networks in finding a job at the destination also has decreased: as explained by a teacher interviewed in the course of our field work:
5-10 years ago, migrants weren’t returning, but now they started to. I think this is what is happening on a global scale. There are many who return because of that [the financial crisis]. And as I said, the majority wants to return, not to stay abroad, because they have houses here. Even if they moved there, they built their houses here, so they didn’t leave permanently, they are from here. (Teacher, the same? Cleja, 35)
From this perspective, another point of interest is the perception individuals have of return. Interviews reveal discourses on “winners and losers” regarding migration. When it comes to the distinction between the first people who migrated and the ones who went abroad more recently, the second category of migrants often are treated as “losers”:
Currently, some migrants return bitter, whereas others have achieved something, they have earned money, had a good job. The successful ones are those who left early, but in the case of those who left more recently... they have lost their jobs and returned (...) (the mayor of Cleja)
The financial crisis is seen as a significant factor influencing whether one has greater chances of “success” in their experience abroad. As interviewees mention, the crisis was manifest in Romania in the years 2008-2009, but was experienced either earlier or later at different destination countries. In this context, the “overcrowding” of the destinations we mentioned in the sections above—perceived as too many migrants in the same region—is also an important factor.
It is important to note that failure and success are not objective categories, but individual and collective constructs that influence migrants’ decisions. It is clear that when return happens, it is usually caused not by the achievement of goals that were assumed by individuals when they decided to go abroad, but rather by economic reasons. One example of such important economic factors that trigger migrants’ return is the negative impact that the financial crisis has at the destination country, which leads to job loss or earning less money. Another important factor is family and the need to take care of elders or children. Such is the case of a couple we interviewed, who first had found work in Hungary, and then had left for Italy taking their daughter along with them. Although they had thought about getting a loan in Italy and buying a house, they decided to permanently return to Romania because of the perceived economic instability that had struck Italy.
In the literature, return is usually seen as the final step of the migration experience (Adda et al. 2006) or as a step in the migration process that can be followed by future departures (Gmelch 1980). When looking at migrants in Cleja, it is clear that the initial return plan changes during the experience of migration, as well as after the return. Some migrants are characterised by a high level of preparedness14 when it comes to questions of return. In other words, they are more oriented towards Romania because they have either left their children behind, or they have been sending remittances, have bought land, or have started a business, or indeed have built a house in their land of origin. The general image is that of individuals trying to achieve as much as possible as soon as possible. While people would return home and see the migration experience as a strategy of improving their life in Cleja, the economic incentive usually delays their coming back home:
I haven’t heard many people saying they want to return. Although many say That’s it, we go home!, they return, stay a few months in Romania and they see how things are here, and then go back abroad [to the same destination country or a new one]. (female, 47, with a husband in Italy for ten years)
The fact that the idea of a permanent stay at the destination country does not occur frequently is also strongly connected to the perceived level of economic risk at destination, compared to the situation in Romania. The origin is usually associated with a higher security, even when the situation there is not better in economic terms:
We decided to stay at home. Our goal is almost achieved, in the sense of a house, to build a house. (...) We were thinking of buying a house there [in Italy], but honestly, to pay for it for 30 years and never really know what is going to happen. All these years we worked there with the thought of coming back home and we are here now. It was a difficult decision, we wanted to return last year, we came back, and then we went to Italy again. This year we came to Romania and we decided to remain here. (couple, both with experience of migration in Hungary, Italy)
This is an example of the perceived level of economic risk from migrants who considered to remain permanently in Italy, but decided not to do so. The main reason is the fact that Romania is more familiar, and familiarity creates a sense of stability for them. Here, they can more easily find a solution to their problems than they would abroad, for example in case of unemployment or raising children, enrolling them to school and so on.