ITHACA – Integration, Transnational Mobility and Human, Social and Economic Capital Transfers

About the Project


ITHACA (Integration, Transnational Mobility and Human, Social and Economic Capital Transfers) was a two-year research project (December 2013 - November 2015) developed by a consortium led by Professor Anna Triandafyllidou, who heads the Cultural Pluralism Research Area of the Global Governance Programme at the Robert Schuman Centre. The project was funded by the European Fund for Integration of Third Country Nationals, Community Actions.

Over the past decades, rich empirical research in the field of transnational migration studies has highlighted that migrants engage in transnational mobility for several reasons ranging from economic profit to emotional or political ties with their country of origin. They develop transnational business, trade, investments, or social and cultural programmes and circulate between their two countries.

ITHACA studied the links between migrants’ integration and their transnational engagement and explored the interconnections between the migrants’ integration process and their transnational mobility by asking three key questions:

  • What drives migrants to be transnationally engaged and mobile?
  • Which dimensions of integration affect migrants’ engagement in transnational mobility?
  • Which factors may encourage or hinder transnational mobility?

The methodological approach brought together statistical analysis, secondary sources and qualitative empirical research. Stakeholders and transnational migrants were interviewed in four EU countries (Austria, Italy, Spain, UK) and five non-EU countries (Bosnia, India, Morocco, Philippines, Ukraine) using a mixed-method (quantitative and qualitative) survey.

The project put together a database of approximately 330 quantitative questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with stakeholders and transnationally mobile individuals. The researchers looked at the conditions that may facilitate or obstruct transnational engagement practices, and investigated how such practices may change throughout the migrant’s lifecycle.

Watch also the film produced by the ITHACA project by Alberto Bougleux ‘ Ten hours from home’

Research Findings and Outcomes

  • Transnational Mobility is a niche phenomenon concerning a very small number of usually highly educated migrants. It develops out of desire or necessity and it takes different forms in different phases of a person’s life and migration trajectory. It may be a strategy of necessity (to complement income or feel ‘at home’) or a strategy of expansion and creation (to increase income or help others)

  • Regularisation and acquisition of long-term status determines migrants’ transnational mobility (frequency, duration of stay) and the ease with which they can move between origin and destination developing their economic or civic project

  • Integration in the host society facilitates transnational engagement. It enables accumulation of material and social networking resources that can then be invested in the country of origin. It also provides security that maximizes the chances for success/accomplishment of the transnational investment. Finally, it permits return to the country of destination at any point in time

  • Family motives are a powerful driver of transnational mobility. Plans to return, and particularly retirement plans, constitute the most dynamic catalysts for transnational economic engagement including travelling back and forth to repair a house or set up some small business (e.g. a shop or restaurant)

  • Transnational mobility is not directly associated with transnational engagement. In other words, individuals who are highly mobile between two (or more) locations may be intensely economically engaged in either or both locations, or, they may have minimal economic engagement. Similarly, individuals who are largely immobile may on the contrary be intensely active transnationally via their engagement in NGOs, or investments followed closely by family members

  • Specific socio-economic and political conditions at destination or origin affect different groups differently. For example, the economic crisis in Italy and Spain led to a deterioration of the migrants’ actual situation and future prospects and encouraged the pursuit of alternative or complementary investment of resources in the country of origin for certain population groups (Moroccans), but less for others (Indians or Filipinos). However, a change in local political situation in countries of origin such as Bosnia and Ukraine became a more powerful integration/transnationalism factor than the global economic crisis

  • Transnationally mobile migrants generate social remittances. They disseminate new ideas and socio-cultural practices in both origin and destination countries

Key Messages for Policy Makers

  1. Transnational mobility concerns a small number of migrants, but it can be beneficial both to the migrants and to the destination and origin countries. In addition to facilitating the transfer of financial resources it can increase social remittances, notably civic projects promoting social solidarity or democracy, the diffusion of new ideas and alternative lifestyles
  2. Transnational mobility could be sustained and encouraged through policy measures enabling portability of welfare and pension rights and facilitating transnational entrepreneurship through bilateral agreements
  3. Transnational mobility could also be a factor in healing divided societiessuch as ethnic and religious groups in Bosnia. The engagement of their diaspora in political and civic projects and the mobility between different countries of destination (e.g. UK or Austria) and Bosnia could promote politics of reconciliation and democratic consolidation as well as foster investment and socio-economic development


Ideas for Further Research

  • Study of migrants’ families at country of origin in order to assess how they receive transfers and enable or obstruct the remitting migrant’s transnational mobility
  • Study transnational mobility patterns over longer periods to capture the life history dimension and better analyse how transnational mobility relates to migrant integration


The Consortium

  • European University Institute, Florence
  • Real Instituto Elcano, Madrid
  • London Metropolitan University, London
  • International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), Vienna




Policy Brief:

Country Reports:

  • Austria, Alexandra König, Bernhard Perchinig, Jimy Perumadan, Katharina Schaur, 2015
  • Italy, Ruby Gropas, Laura Bartolini, Anna Triandafyllidou, 2015
  • Spain, Carmen Gonzáles Enríquez, Jóse Pablo Martinez Romera, 2015
  • United Kingdom, Eugenia Markova, Sonia McKay, 2015

Comparative Reports

Page last updated on 05 May 2020

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