Monday, December 10, 2012

Modelling Return Migration

Why do expatriates return home? Migrations back to Cleveland and India share many characteristics. Family is the primary consideration. Also important is opportunity. While established metros are struggling, the places left behind are booming. The lure of Bangalore:

"I had been thinking of moving back for a fairly long time. At some point of time every Indian living abroad does think of moving back. But most of them do not take action and I surely did not want to be one of them," he said.

So, what drew him back to India? "Firstly, India is going through a kind of transformation. Another important reason was that my parents were ageing and I wanted to be close to them."

Family is the biggest reason for people wanting to move back to India. Brij Singh, founder of is no different. "In 2008 we decided to spend time with our family and moved back. The desire to stay close to the family was the biggest reason. Later on business decisions influenced my mind," said Singh.

He added, "India is at a very interesting point right now. Booming economy, attractive demographics and a rising middle class provides a very conducive environment for career adventures. That is largely the reason you see a lot of folks coming back and 'doing something' here."

Emphasis added. Figuring out why someone migrated is easy. The mystery is how people transition from mulling over relocation prospects to making the move. From Britain to France:

She said: "If you ask people why they have moved to France they will often point around them and say it's because it is so beautiful or because it is like Britain used to be in the past – safer, friendlier and so on.

"However, these responses hide very personalised biographies and a much more complex set of variables. People's decisions are often based on previous travel or holiday experiences, while factors such as globalisation, economic and political changes and people's class also play an important role.

"A large portion of the British population share the idea of a rural idyll and could afford to make it a reality, but only a small percentage of people actually act on their dream and move to France."

Dr Benson conducted 12 months of ethnographic fieldwork with British residents in the Lot to gain detailed insights into the migration decision and post-migration lives of the generally affluent British migrants.

With many of those interviewed, she found there was a watershed moment at the core of the migration; redundancy, retirement and children leaving home were all presented as factors explaining the timing of migration.

However, it also became clear that for all the migrants, lives led before such watershed moments were building up to that point. For many migrants, the knowledge and skills of how to live abroad had been gained through other overseas experiences – working abroad, as part of the military or through tourism.

The "watershed moment" is the catalyst for migration. For those hoping to induce a move, that's not much help. Actionable is the pregnancy of possibility. You go where you know, if you know how to go. Uncertainty leads to risk aversion. You might long for rural France. How does one pull it off? What will life be like once you have settled into your new home? Such questions are barriers to migration.

How well do you know where you go? India is a large country. The repatriation story glosses over a finer grained geography. Focusing on Bangalore narrows the analysis considerably. The scale of relocation is even smaller than that:

But why Koramangala? "We picked Koramangala because it is a hub within a hub in many ways. If Bangalore is a centre of the Indian IT revolution then Koramangala is a centre within Bangalore," said Singh.

Anshuman Bapna, an MBA from Stanford used to live in New York. He relocated to Koramangala after his stint with Google and Microsoft. "I loved that familiar feeling in Koramangala after I came back. I returned to start my company, What we were building required an operational scale and technical prowess, both of which could be found here in India," said Bapna 

Emphasis added. Bapna's statement is vague. I think he is talking about seeing threads of his New York experience in Koramangala. Repats like to be around other repats. Koramangala is a return migration ghetto.  A familiar place attracts migrants.

I noticed the same pattern in Cleveland. Repats are clustering on the West Side in Ohio City and Tremont. Those neighborhoods are familiar to boomerangers coming from New York or Chicago. They grew up in the Cleveland suburbs but now have a taste for urban living. There is a link between neighborhoods that are hundreds of miles apart. That connection is the path of least resistance. Cities could and should do a lot more to leverage that flow.


Mihir said...

I've noticed this pattern as well - it's not "spiky cities", but "spiky neighborhoods" - and that goes for migration, whether of the "greenfield" or "boomerang" variety. Take folks moving from, say Metro NYC to the NC Triangle (Raleigh-Durham-Chapel). People moving from Manhattan to the NC Triangle are more likely to settle in Chapel Hill, Carrboro, or certain desirable neighborhoods of Durham. People moving from Somerset County, NJ are more likely to move to suburban Cary or North Raleigh in Wake County. I believe I saw this analysis on a blog somewhere, where it analyized IRS county-to-county migration data, as published by the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram. I'm sure you'd find similar patterns in Pittsburgh: people wanting a quality urban environments concentrating in Squirrel Hill, Shadyside, etc. Well-off families wanting a more suburban environment will probably gravitate to Upper St. Clair, Monroeville, Fox Chapel, etc.

Jim Russell said...


Thanks for sharing your observations. Hearing from others seeing the same thing is encouraging. Check out this map from WNYC:

VManhattan Lures the Newest New Yorkers