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  • The Iranian Diaspora:Its Formation and Transformation
  • Elhum Haghighat (bio)
The Iranian Diaspora: Challenges, Negotiations, and Transformations. Mohsen Mostafavi Mobasher, ed. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. 284 pages.

[Published Winter 2020]

Migration is not a new phenomenon in the Middle East, and it is certainly not new to Iran and Iranians. Population movements, dispersions, and displacements trace back to the ancient world of empires, regional rivalries, and colonial rulings. During the modern era (from the early to mid-nineteenth century), coerced and voluntary migration was a common occurrence in the region consequent to sporadic political upheavals and changes in state boundaries and territories.

It is safe to assume that migration is seldom the preferred option since most people do not willingly leave their home and move to an unfamiliar location where unknown risks can often outweigh the hoped-for advantages. Furthermore, governments have imposed additional hurdles as they set up systems to restrict, monitor, and prevent individuals from crossing regions and borders and, in some cases, even from moving outside their immediate towns. The reasons for migration stem from multiple variables, including demographic changes and imbalances between developed and developing countries and regions, age structure1 and imbalances in the age dependency ratio,2 a search for opportunities, income differentials, security and human rights issues, and violations that lead immigrants to seek refuge for safety (Haghighat 2018; Martin 2003, 11). Migration patterns in crude terms are often explained by (a) supply—a push factor; (b) demand—a pull factor; and (c) network systems enabling family unification, chain migration, and active immigrant networks (for support) in the host country. The motivation for leaving a homeland can be economic or non-economic. The aspiration is that the new country/destination will offer better [End Page 372] employment and non-employment opportunities (e.g., work and educational opportunities), reconnect families, and perhaps offer peace and security. Ethnic and immigrant networks ranging from informal contacts with family members and friends to structured establishments such as nongovernmental and government-sponsored organizations all serve as tools to make the immigration process possible.

Models and theoretical perspectives explain the different dimensions of international migration within the context of individual decision-making, household/family/kin unit decision-making, and the supply and demand for labor of national and international/global economies. Theories of international labor migration (both classical and neoclassical) assume that individuals make economically rational decisions to migrate, whether the migration is internal (rural to urban) or international. The objective is to optimize one's employment, earnings, and life opportunities by migrating to a new destination. Nonetheless, this model is based on economic rationality within the context of the transnational free market. The demand for labor is also due to changes in development in countries where migration is often from less developed/more populated/less resourced countries to more developed/less populated/more resourced countries of the Western world (Haghighat 2018). Neoclassical economic models also point to the inevitable flow of labor as countries develop economically, such that international migration contributes to the supply and demand of labor and balances labor among the developed and developing countries. The receiving countries benefit from the talent, labor, and contribution of the immigrants to their economy, while the sending countries benefit from lower unemployment and receiving remittances.

The new economics of labor migration model has been challenging the assumption made by the neoclassical models (Stark and Bloom 1985). Rather than focusing on individual decision-making, this model focuses on household/family unit decision-making, where the outcome of one's migration is expected to improve the family/household unit and not just the well-being of the individual. This level of decision-making minimizes risk and maximizes expected income for families (Katz and Stark 1986; Stark 1991; Stark and Levhari 1982).

On the other hand, historical-structural models focus on the global structural inequalities that have created an imbalance between countries and have ignored the micro-level decision-making of individuals in relation to the inherent labor supply and demand of developed economies. Piore (1980) argues that migration is not simply a consequence of push or pull factors but is rather due to developed economies' continuous need for migrants...