Discussion – Key Debates, Viewpoints & Interviews

Covid politics – We Have to do Something About It! Agency and Pandemic Mikołaj Pawlak
Covid politics – The Unexpected Victory of the Nation State Agnieszka Bielewska
Covid politics – Pandemic, War Metaphors, and the Process of Civilisation Daniel Arenas
Covid politics – Crisis in the Time of Disaster (Coronavirus) Dr Veselin Mitrović
Covid politics – Morality and Solidarities in a State of Exception Teppo Eskelinen
Covid politics – Your Own Personal State of Emergency José Duarte Ribeiro
Covid politics – Beware of the Ministry of Purity Javier García-Martínez
Covid politics – Reflections on the COVID-19 Rupture: Towards Transformation Angela Martinez Dy
Covid politics – Calling Leaders’ Bluff: The Covid-19 Outbreak and Power Relations in European Societies Matteo Antonini
Covid politics – The Pandemic in Europe's Community of Destiny Stefania Adriana Bevilacqua
Covid politics – Being Tough (Enough?) – Navigating the Limits of Democratic Power in the Coronavirus Crisis Isabel Kusche
Covid Inequalities – Scenarios of Return (im)Mobility and Pandemic Izabela Grabowska
Covid Inequalities – The Butterfly and the Cocoon: The Chinese Community of Prato (Italy) during COVID-19 Laura Leonardi
Beliefs and knowledges – Between a Purifying and Polluting Spoon Milica Resanović
Beliefs and knowledges – The Sound of Silence: The Aestheticization of the Coronavirus in Service of the Production of Knowledge Dr Shirly Bar-Lev
Beliefs and knowledges – Coronavirus, Theodicy and Capitalism Bartholomew A. Konechni
Beliefs and knowledges – Toilet paper and pangolins: Magical thinking during the Covid-19 pandemics David Redmalm
Beliefs and knowledges – Socio-Ecological Mentalities and the Trilemmas of Covid and Climate Dennis Eversberg
Beliefs and knowledges – The Largest Possible Experiment: The Corona Pandemic as Nonknowledge Transfer Matthias Gross
Covid life-courses – Reflecting on Meta-Temporalities in the Study of Youth Futures Within the Covid 19 Pandemic Giuliana Mandich
Covid life-courses – Parents’ Home Office Challenges During the Corona Pandemic Lena Hipp
Covid life-courses – Robots Versus Human Care Workers in Elderly Care: Un-/empathic and Un-/Infected Marcus Persson
Covid life-courses – "My Life in Times of Coronaviruses": Changes in the Everyday Life of Children of Madrid Lourdes Gaitán
Covid life-courses – Alone Together: Biographical Crises in Times of Pandemic Ana Caetano
Life, health, death – Living in a Lockdown: An Opportunity to Enhance Physical Activities? Dr Mihaly Szerovay
Life, health, death – The "Bare Death": Biopolitics and Religiopolitics of Jewish Covid-19 Victims Noa Vana
Life, health, death – Pandemics, Social Sciences and Inequality of Time Cláudio Pinheiro
Life, health, death – The Display of Displaced Care: Funerals in Corona Times Erika Anne Hayfield
Reflections – (Inter)acting in a Different Timeframe Aurianne Stroude
Reflections – Relational Corona Dr. Markus Lange
Reflections – Everything has Changed and Nothing has Changed Hannah Bradby
Reflections – Pandemic Possibilities in Sweden – From a Room with a View Gabriella Wulff
Mediating Covid – Following the #. Italians and ‘Biographical Continuity’ Under Covid-19 Veronica Moretti
Mediating Covid – The Evolution of Fake News in the Context of Coronavirus: First Explorative Insights into the Emergence and Spread of Fake News in Austria Daniela Wetzelhütter
Mediating Covid – Epidemic, Pandemic, Infodemic: A Project in Three Acts Marc Hannappel
Covid Working – Becoming Irrelevant for the System: A Discussion of Terms Elke Hemminger
Covid Working – The Corona Crisis and the Systemic Relevance of Jobs in Germany: Towards a New Appreciation and Solidarity? Paul-Fiete Kramer
Covid Arts – Arts in Finland Sari Karttunen
Covid Arts – The Impact of the Pandemic on Artists: Case Study in Malta Dr Valerie Visanich
Covid Arts – Resisting Pandemics: Balconies, Musicians and Contemporary Lockdowns in Contemporary Spain Kerman Calvo
Covid Arts – The Show Must Go On(line) - Music in Quarantine Alenka Barber-Kersovan
Covid Arts – The State and the Arts in Sweden During the Initial Phase of the Covid-19 Crisis – Less Visible Losses in the Shadow of Lost Lives and Livelihoods Christopher Mathieu
Covid Arts – The Arts in the Time of Pandemic Dr. Olga Kolokytha
Mediating Covid - Covid-19 as a Global Risk and Global Chance Svetlana Hristova

Covid Inequalities – Scenarios of Return (im)Mobility and Pandemic

Issue 46: Pandemic (Im)Possibilities vol. 2 Sat 1 May 2021 0

Izabela Grabowska and Olga Czeranowska, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities, Mobility Research Group, Poland.

With the Covid-19 global pandemic, societies have been shifted from hyper mobilities to forced immobility [1]. There is however a space for an exceptional type of mobility return mobility. When threats, but also opportunities, appear, people tend desperately to return home, which we observed in March 2020, both with the EU programme and various national actions where governments organised charter flights to bring back their citizens home from various parts of the world.

In the pre-pandemic era “depending on the studies, usually measured from host country data, return rates vary from 20-75% among immigrants within their first five years after arrival in OECD countries (OECD 2008). Fresh estimates using a new method show that, when aggregated across the globe, 26-31% of migration movements in each time period constitute a return to an individual’s home country (Azose and Raftery 2019, at [2]). In the EU in the pre-pandemic era in 2018, 723,000 persons aged 20-64 returned to their home country, as compared to 680,000 in 2017 ([3], [4]).

Return migration was usually analysed in the context of macrostructural changes, such as economic recession ([5], [6]). However, it is not clear yet to what extent the pandemic can be conceptualised as a similar kind of crisis as an economic downturn. An important differentiating factor may be, firstly, the pace of the changes involved: when the pandemic started in China on the turn of 2019/2020, it was impossible to predict that only three months later the majority of the world would be affected. Secondly, unlike economic crises, the pandemic, or rather precautions undertaken by governments to hinder its spreading, inevitably prevents mobility.

In this text we offer four scenarios of return (im)mobility during or between or post-pandemic times, on two continuum axes: (1) return to an origin and multi-directional mobility, and (2) pandemic lockdown and pandemic unlock.

Graph 1. Scenarios of return mobility during/between/post-pandemic

Source: own elaboration inspired by: a seminar Pandemic and Immobility, with Karylin Schevel, Steven Vertovec, Olena Babakova and Biao Xiang, which took place on the Zoom Platform on the 9th April 2020, and which was organised by Konrad Pedziwiatr and Jan Brzozowski from the Migration and Multicultural Observatory in Cracow; and also by the online lecture by Biao Xiang delivered on the 19th March 2020, at COMPAS, University of Oxford and the Coronavirus and Mobility Forum at: https://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/project/the-coronavirus-and-mobility-forum/ (accessed 14/04/2020).

Scenario 1: Immune Passports.

The first scenario is one of pandemic lockdown connected with a strong will to return home (as opposed to undertaking different, more geographically dispersed, mobility) by migrants.

Two types of motivations should be taken into consideration. Firstly, emotional/psychological factors: people prefer being close to their families during the uncertain times. This may be especially true for migrants who left their parents and grandparents behind, as the elderly are statistically in more vulnerable positions during the Covid-19 pandemics, and ‘caregiving from a distance’ [7] may no longer be possible or sufficient. The second type relates to rational/economic motivations: as migrants can foresee the economic consequences of the pandemic lockdown, especially when “typical migrant” sectors such as hospitality and other services will be probably most affected. Returning to the home country can be the strategy especially for economic migrants without strong ties with the host country, and those in difficult situations on the labour market: precarious workers, low-skilled, underemployed.

Migrants would therefore try to undertake journeys to the home country, despite quarantine being demanded in their current locations. Migrants’ individual strategies might intermingle with country-level strategies (partly motivated by public opinion and voters’ demands). We had already seen at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 how both the European Commission and independently some governments were able to organise home return programmes for their passport holders.

Scenario 2: Return Boom.

The second scenario is also based on the assumption of a prevalence of return motivations, but without a pandemic lockdown. As of the beginning of April 2020 there are no reliable premises to predict when the borders will re-open, but several European countries are planning to lift everyday life restrictions soon, and the European Commission has recommended to the Member States carefully to plan a gradual returning to a normalcy.

Opportunities for international mobility would mean that individuals could employ their personal strategies of return, without any need to count on a government’s support. Having a possibility to monitor and evaluate a situation (e.g. challenges on the labour market), and to organise a move (involving issues of “closing down” everyday life in a host country), may mean that a wave of return mobility might be extended in time. Still, strong emotional reactions should be also taken into consideration, as well as the threat of discrimination and pandemic-related xenophobia [8]. Also, disappointment with a host country’s politics in the time of the pandemic crisis can play an important role in decisions to return to the home country, especially when compared with a home country’s more desirable responses.

Scenario 3: Mobile Things and Return Human Delivers.

Even with pandemic lockdowns hindering the mobility of people, mobility of things is less affected. The pandemic seriously disrupts supply chains, but nevertheless at least some kinds of goods have to be transported internationally. Moreover, some new channels of the mobility of things (especially over short distances, such as inside cities) have been created as a result of the lockdown, in order to help companies to survive.

Still, some people are inevitably involved in the process. Dependent on the companies’ strategies and legal possibilities, delivery workers and drivers may be returning home or travelling between different locations. The lockdown has been both a burden and a privilege, as workers on the move (frequently low-skilled, precarious workers) are forced to face health risks.

Scenario 4: Agile Mobility.

In the case of pandemic unlock, when restrictions are lifted, we can also conceptualise a scenario in which post-pandemic mobility will have a multi-directional character. As both the severity of the pandemic’s restrictions, and countries’ policies to deal with it, differ, we may also assume that the pandemic’s repercussions (economic, social, political) will vary between countries. Some labour markets will be less affected and will recover faster. The pandemic may also result in a change in occupational prestige hierarchies of certain occupations, in a similar way to firefighters after 9/11 [9]. This time, medical occupations are the most important ones, but also other groups can be defined as essential. These categories might involve fundamental jobs usually filled in by migrants.

The post-pandemic demand for certain skills on labour markets might attract migrant workers – not only single-time migrants but also multiple migrants. Mobility strategies may be analysed as an improvised step-wise migration, in which multiple migration is not a result of a well thought-out plan [10], but a reaction to unexpected changes.

Still, even with open borders, we may presume that different kinds of health-related restrictions will prevail for a longer time. It might affect workers’ mobilities to a varying degree – for example, mobility for the highly-skilled tends to be organised by hiring entities and facilitated by governments [11].

To sum up, future return mobilities might depend both on opportunities like lifting travel restrictions, on opening borders, and on social factors, including migrants’ strategies and motivations. The four scenarios that we presented in this text are not mutually exclusive – two or more can play out synchronically in different geographical locations, or diachronically, one by one. We must also remember that the current situation is in many ways unprecedented, which makes any predictions difficult. 


[1] Schewel K. (2019). Understanding Immobility: Moving Beyond the Mobility Bias in Migration Studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328-355. doi: 10.1177/0197918319831952
[2] Constant A. F. (2020). Time-Space Dynamics of Return and Circular Migration: Theories and Evidence, CESifo Working Paper, no. 8053.
[3] Fries-Tersch E., Jones M., Böök B., de Keyser L, Tugran T. 2020. 2019 Annual Report on  intra-EU Labour Mobility. Brussels: European Commission Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion Directorate D – Labour Mobility.
[4] Fries-Tersch, E. Tugran, T. Markowska, A. Jones, M. 2018. 2018 Annual Report on intra-EU Labour Mobility. Brussels: European Commission.
[5] Bastia, T. (2011). Should I stay or should I go? Return migration in times of crises. Journal of international development, 23(4), 583-595.doi: 10.1002/jid.1794
[6] Zaiceva, A., Zimmermann, K. F. (2013). Returning Home at Times of Trouble? Return Migration of EU Enlargement Migrants During the Crisis. IZA Discussion Paper No. 7111.
[7] Baldock, C. V. (2000). Migrants and their parents: Caregiving from a distance. Journal of Family Issues, 21(2), 205-224. doi: 10.1177/019251300021002004.
[8] Devakumar, D., Shannon, G., Bhopal, S. S., Abubakar, I. (2020). Racism and discrimination in COVID-19 responses. The Lancet. 395(10231), 1194. doi: 10.1016/S0140-6736(20)30792-3.
[9] Goyder, J. (2009). Prestige squeeze: occupational prestige in Canada since 1965. Montreal: McGill-Queen's Press-MQUP.
[10] Paul, A. M. (2017). Multinational maids: stepwise migration in a global labor market. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
[11] Beaverstock, J. V. (2012). Highly skilled international labour migration and world cities: Expatriates, executives and entrepreneurs. [in:] Derudder, B. (ed.) International handbook of globalization and world cities, Cheltenham – Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing, 240-250.

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