Scottish Longitudinal Study
Development & Support Unit

Current Projects

Project Title:

The economic impact of return migrants to Scotland: Evidence from the Scottish Longitudinal Study

Project Number:



David McCollum (University of Dundee)
Jackie Horne (Scottish Government)

Start Date:

Approved on 13-10-2009


The aim of the project is to explore the economic impact of return migrants to Scotland. Four main hypotheses have been formulated:

  • Return migrants to Scotland are likely to participate in the labour market upon return and characteristics such as their age, skill level and occupational profile suggests that their return is likely to have a positive economic impact on Scotland.
  • Return migrants generally leave Scotland when they are in their early twenties and return around ten years later with a spouse and children, or have children soon after return.
  • Regardless of place of birth or place of last residence in Scotland return migrants predominantly return to large urban areas, especially Edinburgh.
  • Those who have left Scotland and not been recorded as returning represent a significant ‘brain drain’ which will have a negative economic impact for Scotland as they were last recorded as being young, well educated and in skilled occupations or tertiary education.

This project is being carried out as part of a three month internship at The Scottish Government through the ESRC/TSG PhD internship Scheme. The overall objective of the project is to use the SLS to study the theme of return migration to Scotland within the broader policy context of The Scottish Government’s Population Target. This policy seeks to promote population growth as a key contributor to, and consequence of, a more vibrant and dynamic economy. As Scotland is currently heavily dependent on net in-migration for population growth and has an increasing average age of population, attracting people of working age to the country is a key element of economic policy.

The SLS represents a valuable but as yet underutilised source of information on return migration to Scotland. Return migrants make up a substantial proportion of all migrants into Scotland and encouraging Scots living elsewhere to return is seen as key to population and thus economic growth. However a strategic approach to migration policy requires a sound evidence base. This study will make use of the longitudinal qualities of the SLS to identify return migrants to Scotland and assess the potential economic impact of their return in line with their characteristics and migration patterns. The findings of this study will be of policy relevance as they will shed light on the validity of attempts to encourage return migration as a strategy for economic growth. Finally, if the study shows that return migration has a positive economic impact on Scotland, the findings may help to identify how policies might better encourage Scots living elsewhere to return.


Armstrong, J. Harris, R. McLaren, J. and Moffat, J. (2008). 'CPPR Analysis of Scottish Government Economic Targets'. Centre for Pubic Policy for Regions.

Hastie, N. and Carmichael, E. (2008). 'The Government Economic Strategy and the population growth target'. Presentation at the Improving population and household statistics conference 31st October 2008.

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Explore the variables held in the SLS data dictionary.

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