Transnational Migration, Citizenship and the Circulation of Rights and Responsibilities (TRANSMIC)

Formal and informal social welfare provisions between Latin American migrants in Europe and their network of relations at home

(ESR 7; Aix-Marseille University)

This research project investigates the transnational social protection arrangements of Latin American migrants in Europe and their families “back home”, as strategies sustained by families living across different countries to cope with risks and cover their needs. Although such needs increasingly transcend national borders, social protection systems are largely conceived for sedentary populations, which implies particular challenges for families whose members are living in two or more countries. The study focuses on the case of Ecuadorians, representing the largest Latin American community in Spain with a high rate of naturalization in this country, implying transnational ties and mobility. It includes female and male migrants mostly employed in low skilled jobs, often due to downward mobility faced in Europe. Acknowledging the effects of the 2008 recession on the transnational social protection arrangements, the methodological design of multi-sited ethnography also includes England as an emerging receiving context of onward migrants arriving from Spain with a dual Ecuadorian-Spanish citizenship, with data collection with families and key informants in these three countries.

This study approaches the transnational social protection question holistically. On the one hand, it considers the resources originating from diverse formal and informal providers as the state, the markets, the third sector and personal social networks; on the other hand, it encompasses several domains as the income, housing, healthcare, education and care. The circulation of resources aimed to ensure social protection needs are considered bi- and multidirectionally across the considered countries as reciprocal multifaceted flows (e.g. money, medicines, items) between migrants and their families “back home”.

How do these migrants and their families in Ecuador organize transnational social protection arrangements across several countries? How do the specific social protection environments as well as inner family dynamics influence their transnational social protection arrangements and which challenges both of these dimensions involve?

Summary of research findings:

  • Although the literature on transnational families predominantly focuses on migrants’ transnational social protection arrangements with their children “left behind”, this study shows that at this mature migration stage migrants address their provisions largely to their now elderly parents who have specific social protection needs and face related gaps in the sending context in Ecuador. The study also reveals that low income families deal with inadequate welfare systems to meet their transnational needs. As emerged in England, migrants may be excluded from welfare entitlements if they send money “back home”. On the other side in Ecuador, migrants’ parents are excluded from their social assistance benefits if they receive their migrants’ money transfers from Europe. Such rules affect families of modest means, exposing them to further risks and collide with their moral support obligations, hindering their cross-border resource allocations.
  • While engaging in ensuring the situation of their parents and other extended family members in their origin country, the mostly dual citizens of this study who naturalized in Spain face precariousness and cope with increasing social risk, linked to the severe impact of the 2009 economic recession and austerity measures affecting their conditions in Spain and England. One of the most original empirical findings in this study is that in a context of financial difficulties faced in Europe, a considerable part of migrants relies on “reverse economic flows” from Ecuador to Europe. Such arrangement pertains to more privileged families and these financial resources relate to the renting of migrants’ properties in Ecuador and remittances from their families. These reverse flows from South to North are overlooked in the migration literature, reflecting a methodological bias of one-way observation of resource transfers and a disregard of other directionalities of economic flows of the migration-development nexus framing.
  • This study goes beyond a mainly two-country dominating perspective and literature in migration studies, emerged thanks to its methodological design across three countries and multi-directional analysis of flows of people and resources, disclosing more complex transnational social organizations and arrangements. To ensure social protection needs while coping with recurring crises, families flexibly and multidirectionally adjust TSP arrangements and resources across several countries, in a generalized reciprocity mechanism of “diffuse circulation of support”, working over large time frameworks and distances. Migrants’ legal status of a EU (mostly Spanish) citizenship facilitates their international mobility resulting in dynamic spatial trajectories. Still, for onward migrants this is not enough to cope with the effects of the 2008 recession and the challenging environments of their “transnational social protection space”, with a gradual deterioration of social rights and labour conditions resulting in migrants’ progressive downward mobility and increasing risks.

Status: finished. Polina successfully defended her PhD dissertation supervised by Virginie Baby-Collin and Valentina Mazzucato on 12 December 2019 at Aix-Marseille University.


Researcher: Polina Palash  (profile page)



Polina’s position as a Marie Curie Research Fellow within the TRANSMIC project has given her the opportunity to develop her research skills and to build up an international network. She has presented her research in several international conferences and has published some of the findings of her research in peer-reviewed journals. Her PhD dissertation has been accepted to be published as a book by a recognised editor. Polina’s PhD study has attracted the interest of the Ecuadorian community, with the invitation to discuss her research findings with the Consul of Ecuador at a Latin American radio in London, and a lecture at the University of Guayaquil in Ecuador.

Polina is currently a postdoctoral researcher and associated member at the research laboratory TELEMMe (Temps, Espaces, Langages, Europe Méridionale – Méditerranée) of Aix-Marseille University. Her current research project focuses on the education and socio-professional trajectories of young migrants in Marseille. Her research interests include transnational migration, transnational social protection, comparative social policies and welfare, social rights, socio-spatial mobility, onward migration.


TRANSMIC CV: Polina Palash conducted her PhD in Human Geography at the research laboratory TELEMMe of Aix-Marseille University, a joint PhD with the Department of Society Studies at the Maastricht University. During her TRANSMIC research project Polina has been received as visiting PhD at the Queen Mary University (England) and FLACSO (Ecuador). Prior her PhD, Polina had research experience in Colegio de la Frontera Norte (Mexico), and practitioner experience with migrants in ONGs in Venice and Turin (Italy), as well as a refugee center in Seville (Spain), in the frame of the Leonardo Da Vinci programme. Polina completed her BA degree in Languages and Literatures at the University Ca´ Foscari (Venice) and a MA in International Studies at the University of Turin, followed by an Erasmus programme on International Humanitarian Actions at the University UPEC (Paris).