Transnational families


Depending on respectively culture, some defines the families are the group to peoples in the nuclear families and some adopt a broader definition that includes the extended family. The term family includes both the factors of nuclear and extended families. In this era the transnational families are adopting a separate living arrangements in two or more countries but still they maintain the close links with their homeland[1].

Transnational families are those families which live separated from each other for the some or most of the time, after that they hold the togetherness and the feeling of collective love, affection, care, welfare and unity that called family hood, even across the national borders. After the migrations they maintained the regular contacts across the countries. In transnational families the member of the family moves to another nation and leave their family members (including the wife, parents, children, sisters, brothers etc.) in the origin nation or country. In these cases, the family ties used to continue to exist but the separation and migration dimension need to be added and these families now becomes a social unit “a geometries variable”[2].

Each and every migrated family lives and approaches migration differently. However, very often generally the main motivation behind the migration or the choice of moving to another country, is the willingness not only to improve the living conditions of himself or herself but also for the whole family and, if children are there, to offer them a better and bright future. This is done at the price of separating from family members who will stay in the country of origin.



With the migration of one of the family members, family life inevitably changes. Communication, decision making, exchange of ideas, understanding level and feelings may take different forms and go through different channels. Literacy education, and financial means that influence, among other factors, the way that a new communication is shaped. The infrastructure of the country of origin, both means of transport, roads, means of communication, phone and internet infrastructures have a significant weight in the way the migrant is able to keep him/her  in contact with his/her family[3].

Transnational motherhood & transnational solidarity

Recently the research is showing that the assumption that geographical distance negatively affects kin relationship is not accurate. Transnational families, indeed, exchange all forms of solidarity which are normally exchanged in families living in the same place. However, out of the five dimensions of transnational solidarity, it is recognised that only emotional, financial, and practical support can be exchanged transnationally, while accommodation and personal solidarity can only be offered during visits[4]. Moreover there are four types of involvement in solidarity provision have been identified: (1) direct provision at a distance, (2) direct provision with physical co-presence (3) delegation of support and (4) coordination of support.

This opens to a vision of care for family members, which is not only limited to direct provision and proximity. In particular: “Coordination is essential to the functioning of family networks, and people’s involvement can range from participation in coordination activities (e.g. exchanging information with siblings about institutional care options for a disabled nephew), to taking on the main organizing role for the provision of a particular type of support. Family members can also delegate the provision of care to a third person (relative, friend or paid-career). Delegation can range from complete withdrawal to ‘caring about’ the dependent person; staying informed of the level and quality of the care that s/he is receiving.[5]

The women play an important and complex role as in many cases like, they can be care receivers and care giver at the same time (e.g. grandmothers who take care of the grandchildren in the country of origin but become with age in need of care themselves). Another aspect to be taken into account on the gender roles is the emotional and perception behavior of men joining the wives who already work in the destination countries.  The traditional division and the definition of roles of women and men (women as taking care of the house and children and men as breadwinners) may create difficulties for some men to accept the inversion of roles and them being dependent on their wives, showing that gender equality in the family still needs to be fostered. Geographical differences exist and they influence the transnational relationships. For example migration from India to America, long distance migrants are more prone to apply for family reunification, while the migration from India to China might keep the transnational relationship for long time, mainly because they can visit to their families in origin countries more easily and often[6].

Another gender perception is when the mothers are the ones moving, they usually tend to rely more on their own mothers, mother’s in law and other female family members for caring for their children, even if the husband or partner is still at home. In the reversed situation, when the migrant is the father, the main caregiver of the children is the mother[7].

Migrant families and social security

It is very common to see the “abuse” of social benefits by migrants in the public discourse. A recent study on active inclusion of migrants (2011) commissioned by the European Commission and prepared by a team of researchers from the Institute for the Study of Labour (IZA) in Bonn and from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) in Dublin concluded that “contrary to what many may believe, there is no clear evidence that migrants are particularly welfare prone. In addition, the statistical evidence in most of the studies remains weak or suggests only a tiny magnet-effect of welfare generosity on an inflow of migrants. Based on the data used in this study, when we consider all types of social supports together, the descriptive analysis suggests that migrants do not use social supports more excessively than natives. Migrants are, however, more likely to be in receipt of unemployment related supports in a wide range of countries and also of family-related payments. However, they are less likely to receive old-age and sickness and disability payments. The most clear-cut result to emerge from this element of the analysis was the greater likelihood of migrants being in poverty.[8]” Reasons for migrants to be more likely to use employment support include the nonrecognition of their diploma from the country of origin, language barriers in accessing a more pertinent job (this being the reason of being able to access only low profile, low quality, low paid and temporary jobs). Access to information and awareness about what their rights are, through formal and informal channels and social nets also contribute to the (non)application of social support.


Good Practice

 In Spain, the Association Salud Y Familia has several projects to support migrant families in accessing basic services, including education, finance and health. Lack of and difficult access to information has a huge impact on access to health and education for migrant children and women. Among its projects, Salud Y Familia works on “Care for maternity” a project that involves over 6000 families per year and provides the women with orientation, support and counseling and on “Mothers in two countries”, especially directed to transnational families.

IDENTIFY COMMUNITY RESOURCES: Resources available in the community include people, materials, services, and social networks. There are a range of people in most communities who can support and assist teachers or transnational families:

  •  People who speak the family’s home language
  •  People who can provide information about the culture, traditions, values, practices, and education system of the family’s country of origin
  •  Teachers or community workers who have had experience working with transnational families

Consider services, resources, and social networks in the community that are helpful to individual families. Is there a place in the community where the family’s cultural group is more visible, such as a religious congregation (for example, temple, church, mosque) or ethnic store? Does the cultural group have regular gatherings or not? Is there any particullar group or an organization, for example, a refugee settlement center, that coordinates services for families in similar circumstances? Think about joining a Listserv for a local ESL network. Become informed about—and let the families know of— these available resources. The families will then be able to get necessary information and help from people who have been through similar challenges or who have experience in helping transnational families. If there are other transnational families in the community, center directors can organize support group sessions so the families can offer mutual support, exchange information, and share social occasions. Barowsky[9] and McIntyre (2010) suggest that it is critical for refugee families to have a strong social network so they know that they are not alone and that other families are dealing with similar challenges. Social networks are critical for transnational migrant families as well[10].

Families in migration and development research

The focus of research and debates on the effects of migration for developing countries has largely revolved around remittances (Adams and Page, 2005; Ratha, 2003), with the main questions being why do migrants remit, how much and what is the effect of their remittances on poverty levels of people. How migration impacts the various family members however, is left open yet it too, will have development outcomes. If children or elderly lose care as a result of migration, this creates social costs for society, in the first case because children may not be able to act as productive citizens of a sending country, in the latter case because an entire generation is left without care. If, on the other hand, children are given better prospects and elderly care can be organized in other ways, paid for by migrant remittances, migration may have positive outcomes for families. Yet studies focusing on remittances do not consider non-economic effects such as psychological, emotional and health outcomes for spouses, children and elderly who stay behind. Furthermore, economic studies on migration treat the household as one homogenous unit with one set of preferences (Alderman et al., 1995; Becker, 1981). Even New Economics of Labor Migration (NELM) studies, which conceive of migration as a family decision to explain why migrants remit, do not distinguish between who receives remittances within the family and whether their use benefits some members more than others. Mostly these studies are based on migration or living standards surveys in which only households back home are interviewed, usually represented by the household head, and with no data from migrants. These studies thus say little about the impacts of migration on the various family members. Research and statistics on how remittances are used by recipients are scarce however, and effects on family and community well-being, as well as the contribution of remittances to reducing poverty and inequality remains unclear. Apart from the uncertainty in estimates of remittances, assessments of impact need to be sensitive to the complexity in which this is embedded. Data on remittances need to take account of reverse flows (Lipton 1980; Findley 1997, Mazzucato 2006), of initial investment, and, from a home country public policy perspective, remittances need to be off-set against the (public) investment in education, elderly care and other forms of publicly funded investments.


The transnational family is a symptom of our increasingly globalised lives, which take place across borders and boundaries, thereby eroding the possibilities that places of birth, life and dying will coincide. The idea of transnational family implies dynamics, flux and change, yet it is also embedded in unyielding and stable structures that impact upon the experiences of family members. These structures are represented by the institutions of the host society, the restrictions imposed by geography, international politics and law, technologies that enable communication and travel and the strength of ties with family members back home or in other places. This paper provides a backdrop for discussions on the transnational family by interrelating three key dimensions of the transnational family experience: migration, emotions and belonging.



[3] ibid

[4] Merla, “Familles salvadoriennes à l’épreuve de la distance : solidarités familiales et soins intergénérationnels” Autrepart, 2011/1

[5] Kilkey and Merla “Transnational Families’ Care-Giving Arrangements: towards a situated transnationalism”

[6] The reasoning is limited to regular migrants. Irregular migrants due to their status may stay for prolonged times without visiting the family

[7] Ambrosini, Bonizzoni, Caneva, “Ritrovarsi altrove: famiglie ricongiunte e adolescenti di origine immigrata” (2010), p.74

[8] “Study on Active Inclusion of Migrants – Final Report” Prepared by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) and The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) Contract Reference Number: VC/2009/0009 (2011)

[9] Barowsky, E., & T. McIntyre. 2010. Migration and relocation trauma of young refugees and asylum seekers. Childhood Education 86 (3): 161–68.


Author: Priyanka Sati & Kashpi Agrawal, Student, BBA LLB, Galgotias University, School of Law, Greater Noida, UP.

Disclaimer: This article has been published in “Legal Desire International Quarterly Journal (ISSN: 2347-3525), page no. 74. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form by means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise, without prior permission from Legal Desire. All Rights Reserved.

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