Guest post by Geraldine Asiwome Adiku, DPhil candidate in International Development, University of Oxford. Her research investigates South to North remittances among Ghanaian migrants and their relatives. Follow her on Twitter @geraldine_adiku.

Review of Migration of Rich Immigrants: Gender, Ethnicity and Class edited by Alex Vailati and Carmen Rial (Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Migration research has generally focused on the lives and experiences of economic migrants. However, along with economic migrants, there are other migrants who have established themselves in more favourable economic conditions. Migration of Rich Immigrants is an attempt to shed light on the experiences of this latter group who have been relegated to the margins of migration research. This edited volume has nine chapters with a conclusion and has been broadly divided into three parts: places, mobilities, and paths.

The book begins with an introduction from the editors who forcefully argue that even though there are examples of rich immigrants throughout history, the social sciences have focused on unprivileged immigrants and this often drives migration related policies. Conceptualising rich immigrants as ‘other migrants’ apart from labour migrants, they contend that rich immigrants are a fragmented category that have common characteristics. They aren’t disadvantaged migrants and include high-skilled migrants, migrant entrepreneurs, and circulating students. Methodologically, the contributions in this edited volume employ ethnographic microanalyses to dissect the socio-cultural dimensions of the migration of these other migrants. According to the editors, earlier studies have been based on comparisons of huge data sets regarding the loss of high-skilled migrants by developing countries, a phenomenon known as ‘brain drain.’

Part one, which focuses on place, starts with Cristiana Bastos who emphasises the long life history of Lisbon with its multiple layers of cultures, lifestyle, and experiences. The chapter tells the story of different groups of migrants who have influenced the social landscape of Lisbon from Galicians and Cubans to Chinese and Bangladeshis. Through the narrative of the activities of Esteban Sandoval (a Cuban) and Ramiro Espinheira (a Galician), Bastos shows that newcomers who combine imagination, initiative, and the need to make a living create the spaces for innovation in a city. Chapter two turns to the United States to discuss rich immigrants’ strategies of insertion in a market niche. Viviane Kraieski de Assunção, through an ethnography of food, shifts the focus away from labour migrants to migrant businesses that serve not only Brazilians but the Greater Boston community at large. Ethnic businesses opened by middle class Brazilians were not alternatives for escaping poverty; rather, they served as a way of increasing their earnings and social status. In chapter three, Carmen Rial and Miriam Grossi examine the social mobility of migrants in Paris. Grouping their respondents into cultural, political, and postcolonial immigrants, they argue that these migrants are owners of the means of production and space, which makes them an important social and professional category in France.

Mobilities take centre stage in part two. Chapter four provides a fresh perspective on Palestinian and Lebanese migration, which has tended to focus on refugees. Claudia Voigt Espinola argues that Palestinians and Lebanese in Brazil defy stereotypical definitions. Even though small in number, they are quite active in driving the commercial life of Florianópolis. Starting from small beginnings, they become business owners. They are part of the upper echelon of Brazilian society. Investigating social mobility among Palestinian migrants in Honduras, Liro Gutiérrez Rivera’s findings in chapter five corroborates some of Espinola’s findings. She shows that Palestinians work first as peddlers and then later start their own enterprises. She highlights the important role of family in the accumulation of capital in business. In chapter six, Caroline Zickgraf investigates the implications of socioeconomic background for Moroccan transnational family practices. Her study departs from the usual portrayal of origin country relatives as dependents of migrants. Focusing on transnational activities, she reveals that for middle class Moroccan migrants and their families, transnational practices like remittances aren’t done out of a sense of obligation but part of broader exchanges that demonstrate love during times of separation.

The book’s third section on paths begins with Katrin Sontag in a chapter that investigates the founders of global start up businesses. She explains that their movements are sequential, transmigratory, circular, and multilocal. Sontag argues that these founders are not free-floating individuals but are embedded in transnational institutions, networks, and social relationships. In chapter eight, Karine Dalsin examines Brazilian migration to Ireland. The main aim of migrating wasn’t economic. On the contrary, most of her informants were professionals who were earning very good salaries, hence had comfortable lives in Brazil. She discovered that their migration had to do with discontentment with their private and professional lives. Working and living in Ireland was about experiencing life abroad and not enhancing economic welfare. Concentrating on Albanians and Britons in France, Giuliana Prato discusses the arbitrariness of categories in chapter nine. ‘Immigrants’ are usually poor migrants whiles ‘expatriates’ are professionals working abroad. According to her, the global status of countries matter in such categorisations, which is why an Albanian irrespective of socio-economic status will be considered an ‘immigrant’ and a Briton in France, will be considered an ‘expatriate.’

In the wake of the so-called migration crisis in Europe, this book is a refreshing departure from the norm. The contributions reveal that although economic factors motivate migration, they aren’t the only consideration in immigration. Poverty is frequently seen as the cause of migration but several studies have also shown that even among poor people, it’s not the poorest that migrate. I was particularly struck by the role of class or socio-economic backgrounds in shaping not only migration but also the transnational exchanges that occur between migrants and their relatives who come from developing countries. The book challenges assertions that the relatives of migrants siphon migrant resources by, for example, demanding remittances. Instead, the ingenuity and resourcefulness of migrants is complemented and enhanced by their families, either in the destination or origin country. Through their assistance, migrants are able to shape the social fabric of destination countries. Discussing the migration of rich immigrants from developing countries can be a powerful tool for critiquing existing migration research and policies of both origin and destination countries which have focused extensively on so-called economic migrants.

Although the chapters varied in terms of geographical representation, I would have liked to see examples from the Indian sub-continent and Sub-Saharan Africa given that migration from and within these areas have been conceptualised mainly in economic terms. Also, although gender is central to the argument in the introduction and is part of the book’s title, a gendered analysis is missing in most of the chapters. Notwithstanding, this edited volume is a laudable attempt to draw attention to diversity and heterogeneity in migration. It’s an essential read for anyone who is curious about migration irrespective of academic discipline and professional background.

Any comments about this post? Get in touch with us! Send us an email, or post a comment here or on Facebook. You can also tweet us.


How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):

Adiku, G. A. (2016) Book Review: Migration of Rich Immigrants: Gender, Ethnicity and Class. Available at: (Accessed [date]).