Migration is first and foremost about rewards – whether they are real or imagined. This is why an economic recession might hinder immigration but it will not stop it. Migrants hope they can make it against all odds, where others have failed. There is the underlying belief that, as we say in French, ça n’arrive qu’aux autres (it only happens to others). So, even if the economy is not doing great, I will find a job, I will make it. This reminds me of the Sri Lankan housemaids I interviewed when working on my Ph.D. Stories of negative experiences encountered in host countries did circulate in Sri Lanka (whether through the local media or more directly through returnees themselves). Yet, and despite these ‘warnings’, women kept coming. I asked one housemaid: ‘Why do Sri Lankans keep coming here despite all the problems? Don’t women warn them when they go back to Sri Lanka?’ Her answer was: ‘Yes, we do, but they do not believe us, they think we are lying to keep them from coming here, they think we are jealous and are trying to discourage them from travelling and earning money’. To the same question, the Sri Lankan ambassador in post at the time replied: ‘Bad stories do reach Sri Lanka, media, TV, papers, etc., but people probably think: “It won’t happen to us, our luck is going to be better”’.
In general, migrants are not desperate beings willing to risk everything for a chance of a better life as human activists and politicians often portray them to be. Neither is human mobility reduced to “acts of love.” Immigrants are men and women driven by imagined opportunities who dream of a brighter future for themselves and their children. They are ambitious human beings who believe they can beat the system.
Immigration ultimately comes down to having faith in one’s luck or star.
One should, however, remind migrants that often, not always, it does happen to them…