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Keywords:

  • return migration;
  • embeddedness;
  • social remittances;
  • economic imprint

Abstract

Until recently the role of international return migrants in local economic development has received little attention from researchers. Drawing upon Granovetter's notion of embeddedness and Levitt's concept of social remittances, I argue that return migrants are more locally embedded (in terms of local networks and cultural affinity) and better able to transfer social remittances (skills, social capital, and norms) from abroad, than active migrants. Therefore, I expect they will have a larger economic imprint (i.e., work, spend, and invest locally to a higher degree) than either non-migrants or active migrants. To test this expectation, I rely on my 2007 survey of over 400 households in the Valle Alto of Bolivia – a country where remittances from foreign labor migration have taken on great importance in recent years. I compare three types of households: (1) active migrant households, in which at least one member is working overseas; (2) return migrant households, in which at least one member has returned from overseas and there are no active migrants; and (3) non-migrant households, in which no one has ever worked abroad. The results suggest that return migrant households work and invest locally and contribute more to the economic base of their home communities than either of the other two types; and that this is made possible by the combination of their local embeddedness and their use of social remittances to further their economic success in Bolivia. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.