Transnational Families Essay

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Transnationalism refers to the web of cultural, social, economic, and political relationships, practices, and identities built by immigrants between their country of origin and their country of settlement. Contrary to conventional wisdom, many immigrants do not sever their ties to their homeland but rather deepen them over time. Immigrant transnationalism is not a new phenomenon, but contemporary transnationalism involves more rapid and denser linkages between immigrants and the countries of origin than the experience of immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century. The intensity of transnational connections is made possible by the emergence of new communication and transportation technologies, including air transport, long distance telephone, facsimile communication, and electronic mail.

Transnational ties involve different levels of transaction and interaction with the country of origin. Transnational families often engage in a high rate of repeat or return migration to the country of origin. Families travel there regularly to visit with relatives or attend to an emergency such as illness or death in the family. The frequency of these travels may depend on the distance between the countries and the cost of travel. Sustained transnational connections also result in the constant flow of goods and money, as transnational families send food and money back home to provide both material and financial support for relatives; their cash remittances amount to billions of dollars annually. Remittances provide financial support for parents, siblings, and relatives in the country of origin, paying for medical care, funerals, home improvement, tuition for siblings, or other family needs.

In addition, transnational families tend to maintain local business interests in their country of origin or even transnational entrepreneurship. Indeed, abundant evidence shows that cash remittances to the country of origin finance a variety of economic activities. In many cases the primary motivation for the migration itself may be the need to accumulate capital for investment in the country of origin. Often, that investment may be to build or buy a house, as many transnational families harbor plans to return permanently to the home country.

Transnational families may create not only social and economic ties but also political links with their country of origin. They may establish institutions and organizations that transcend the political boundaries of the countries of origin and settlement and seek to participate in the political landscape of their homelands. They may even demand the right to hold dual citizenship as well as the right to exercise all political rights that citizenship implies, including the right to vote and the right of representation, even while living abroad.

One of the main institutions shaping transnational ties and connections is the government of the country of origin. In many cases, the government of the sending country has created policies that encourage immigrants to maintain long-term attachments to their country of origin. The governments of the sending countries attempt to tap into the loyalty of the immigrant community in order to access their socioeconomic resources, guarantee the continuous flows of remittances, and promote or accommodate diasporan capitalism (the transfer of financial resources and other forms of capital by the diasporan population [i.e., immigrants] to their homeland for investment in economic activities). In an effort to promote or strengthen transnational ties, many governments either allow or are considering allowing dual citizenship.


  1. Faist, Thomas. 2000. “Transnationalism in International Migration: Implications for the Study of Citizenship and Culture.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 23(2):80-89.
  2. Guarnizo, Luis E. 1997. “The Emergence of Transnational Social Formation and the Mirage of Return Migration among Dominican Transmigrants.” Identities 4(2):281-322.
  3. Itzigsohn, Jose. 2000. “Immigration and the Boundaries of Citizenship: The Institutions of Immigrants’ Political Transnationalism.” International Migration Review 34(4):1116-54.
  4. Levitt, Peggy and Mary Waters. 2003. Salsa and Ketchup: The Transnational Lives of the Second Generation. New York: Russell Sage.
  5. Owusu, Thomas. 2003. “Transnationalism among African Immigrants in North America: The Case of Ghanaians in Canada.” Journal of International Migration and Integration 4(3):395-113.
  6. Vertovec, Steven. 1999. “Conceiving and Researching Transnationalism.” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22(3):447-62.

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