Analyzing labor migration also requires us to consider factors other than distance. We need to also think about the geographical context of both the places where people leave and the places where people go.
Geographers summarize the motivations for migration by considering how the relationship between two points (origin and destination) are affected by push factors and pull factors. Push factors exist at the point of origin and act to trigger emigration; these include the lack of economic opportunities, religious or political persecution, hazardous environmental conditions, and so on. Pull factors exist at the destination and include the availability of jobs, religious or political freedom, and the perception of a relatively benign environment. Pushes and pulls are complementary — that is, migration can only occur if the reason to emigrate (the push) is remedied by the corresponding pull at an attainable destination. In the context of labor migration, push factors are often characterized by the lack of job opportunities in sending areas or countries, and pull factors are the economic opportunities presented in receiving areas or countries.
Pause and Reflect 2:
Consider examples of "push" and "pull" factors from the migration history data collected by the class.
The flow of migrants between two places may not totally develop if intervening obstacles exist between them. The number of migrants is directly proportional to the number of opportunities at a given place and inversely proportional to the number of intervening obstacles. (One may also think of intervening obstacles as intervening opportunities; that is, the presence of other places between an origin and destination point to which one could migrate.) Therefore, the volume of migration from one place to another is associated not only with the distance between places and number of people in the two places, but also with the number of opportunities or obstacles between each place. This is especially true in labor migration.
Figure 2 summarizes Lee's (1966) push-pull theory in graphic form. It shows possible migration between a place of origin and a place of destination,with positive and negative signs signify pull and push factors, respectively. Flows take place between two places, but there are intervening obstacles to these spatial movements. Although these obstacles are represented by "mountain" shapes, keep in mind that the obstacles need not be limited to physical barriers. Restrictive immigration laws, for example, can present a formidable barrier to prospective migrants. Note that both the origin and destination have pushes and pulls, reflecting the reality that any migrant must consider both the positives of staying and the negatives of moving, as well as their converses. The logic of the push-pull theory is that if the plusses (pulls) at the destination outweigh the plusses of staying at the origin, as shown below, them migration is likely to occur.
Figure 2. Lee's Push-Pull Theory
Source: Based on Lee (1966).