Rose Jaji (Phd)
Senior researcher at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS)
The idea of migration trajectories that crisscross the globe as one of the hallmarks of globalization creates the impression that everyone from the disparate parts of the world can move. This apparent possibility for everyone to participate in global migration masks unequal mobility opportunities that are embedded in dichotomous categorizations of mobility at regional, national, and individual levels. Global migration is disaggregated into North-South, South-North, North-North and South-South. This is replicated at national level by classification that designates countries in binary terms as either sending or receiving countries notwithstanding the fact that countries can straddle this boundary and act as points of transit. Construed as mere references to geography and physical borders, these categories seem benign. However, in reality they generate a correspondingly regionalized and nationalized migration nomenclature that influences how the individual is situated and classified in global migration trajectories. The distinctions at global and national levels show a pattern that coalesces into a migration lexicon that privileges mobility by the affluent and problematizes that by the poor.
Drawing from my research in 2017 with migrants from the global North living in Zimbabwe, which culminated in the book Deviant Destinations: Zimbabwe and North to South Migration, 2020, Lexington Books, I argue that the framing of the migration narrative in binary categories creates unequal mobility opportunities based on how individual migrants are positioned in this dichotomous categorization. The binary categorizations privilege North-South as the antithesis of South-North mobility in line with the presumed motivations for each of these migration trajectories. This filters down to the national level where migration from certain countries is securitized while that from others is normalized. This has implications for individuals’ prospects to engage in regular migration and their experiences during and post-migration are influenced by the countries they come from or, more specifically, the passports they travel on.
Passport rankings tend to reflect countries’ rankings on global and regional development and security indices. This translates into countries that are highly ranked on these indices having the strongest passports that bestow more mobility opportunities. For example, the first position on the Global Passport Power Rank 2023 goes to the United Arab Emirates, followed in second position by ten countries in Western Europe and South Korea. On the one hand, affluent regions and countries are often designated as receiving countries that draw migrants. Mobility by citizens of affluent countries draws positive visibility and connotations by which it is associated with adventure and benevolence or the desire to diffuse the benefits of development to the less fortunate parts of the world. Individuals traveling on highly ranked passports are thus perceived as desirable and face very few, if any, structural obstacles to their mobility. This enables them to engage in “regular” migration, which in turn increases the trustworthiness, credibility, and legitimacy of their motivations for mobility.
On the other hand, countries experiencing economic and/or political turmoil are ranked at the bottom of regional and global development, governance, and security indices. They predictably occupy the bottom rungs of passport ranking indices and are primarily designated as sending countries. Mobility from these countries tends to draw negative visibility and connotations that portray this mobility as a problem or a crisis that needs a solution in the destination country in the form of stringent immigration policies or in the country of origin through addressing the causes of migration. Mobility by citizens of countries that are designated as sending countries is linked to poverty, desperation, and compulsion as opposed to affluence, desire, and choice (Jaji 2020). People traveling on lowly ranked passports are often met with suspicion, hostility, and rigorous and expensive processes to legitimize their entry among numerous other obstacles that sometimes force those who are determined to migrate despite these impediments to take “irregular” channels.
The North-South migration trajectory is associated with the trappings of affluence while people engaging in the South-North migration are regarded as the epitome of poverty and other social ills. People engaging in the North-South migration trajectory are welcome because they are perceived as benefactors of their destination countries in the global South arriving to impart skills and share resources. In contrast, people moving from the South to the North are not welcome although they may be wanted in the destination country because of the services they provide, for example, cheap labor. They are generally viewed as beneficiaries arriving to receive skills and resources (Jaji 2020). South-North mobility ostensibly signals impending inundation which leads to erection of physical and legal barriers exemplified by walls or fences along the borders and stringent immigration policies in Northern countries. The benefactor/beneficiary binary is cloaked in moral terms that portray North-South and South-North migration trajectories as right (normal) and wrong (anomalous) respectively (Faist 2013; Sheller and Urry 2006). The contrast between the North-South and South-North trajectories in terms of motivations for migration is evocatively captured by perception of people moving from affluent parts of the world as engaging in mobility while those moving from poor countries and regions are referred to as migrating (Castles 2010).
The regional and national classifications filter down to the micro level where they influence how individual migrants are categorized and named. For instance, migrants from the global North are usually referred to as “expatriates” which has positive connotations regardless of individual motivations to migrate. They are associated with terms such as cosmopolitanism, global citizenship, lifestyle migration, and retirement migration all of which reflect the mobility possibilities that affluence and transversal skills offer. In contrast, migration from countries in the global South is generally intertwined with terminologies that denote problems exemplified by underqualified migrants, refugees, poverty, insecurity, and desperation. People whose mobility is associated with affluence and adventure presumably travel while those whose mobility is linked to desperation and compulsion ostensibly flee (Jaji 2020). This is the case regardless of individual motivations for migration and the fact that many countries straddle the boundary between the sending and receiving categories in the sense of being both in addition to being transit countries (Jaji 2020).
Although mobility opportunities at a global level are framed around region and/or country of origin, it is important to note how they are mediated by class and social status such that the affluent in poor parts of the world are able to translate their economic, social, political, and symbolic capital into global mobility opportunities, just like their counterparts in richer parts of the world. The global South, as a euphemism for the periphery in Wallerstein’s term, also has a core whose affluent occupants enjoy the individualized status which enables them to access the same privileges as their counterparts in global North although the latter enjoy the additional structural privileges deriving from highly ranked passports. Conversely, the poor in affluent parts of the world may possess highly ranked passports but fail to convert them into mobility opportunities due to lack of individualized economic, social, and symbolic capital. In this sense, they face similar constraints as their counterparts in the global South because their individual material circumstances make it difficult for them to convert structural advantages into personalized mobility opportunities.
Rose Jaji is senior researcher at the German Institute of Development and Sustainability (IDOS). Her research areas of interest are migration/refugees and conflict and peacebuilding. She has published peer-reviewed articles on migrants/refugees and gender, refugees and social technology, identity, asylum seekers, and border crossing, return migration as well as gender and peacebuilding. She is the author of Deviant Destinations: Zimbabwe and North to South Migration (Lexington Books, 2020) and Non-migration amidst Zimbabwe’s Economic Meltdown (Lexington Books, 2023).
Castles, S. 2010. Understanding global migration: a social transformation perspective. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 36(10): 1565–1586.
Faist, T. 2013. The mobility turn: a new paradigm for the social sciences?. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 36(11): 1637–1646.
Jaji, R. 2020. Deviant destinations: Zimbabwe and North to South migration. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.
Sheller, M. and Urry, J. 2006. The New Mobilities. Environment and Planning A, 38: 207–226.
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