When Borders Migrate: Reconstructing the Category of ‘International Migrant’

Anastasia Gorodzeisky, Inna Leykin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using the Baltic states as an empirical example of a wider social problem of categorization and naming, this article explores the statistical categories of ‘international migrant/foreign-born’ population used in three major cross-national data sources (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Eurostat and The World Bank Indicators (WBI)). We argue that these seemingly politically neutral categories ignore historical processes of state formation and migration, and privilege the current ethnonational definition of the state. We demonstrate how, in regions with recent geopolitical changes, the international migrant category’s spatial and temporal constraints produce distorted population parameters, by marking those who have never crossed sovereign states’ borders as international migrants. In certain social contexts, applying the international migrant category to those who have never crossed international borders shapes and legitimizes restrictive citizenship policies and new forms of social exclusion. We further argue that, when uncritically adopting this category, transnational institutions assert territorial imaginaries embedded in ethnonational political discourses and legitimize exclusionary citizenship policies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-158
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We are very grateful to Shir Caller for her excellent research assistance, to Neringa Klumbyt? for providing us with excellent sources on citizenship in the Baltic states and to Moshe Semyonov for his insightful comments. We also thank the Editors and three anonymous reviewers for their very helpful comments and constructive suggestions. The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2019.

Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Baltic states
  • European Union
  • categorization
  • citizenship
  • international migrants
  • methodological nationalism
  • migration
  • political change
  • politics of naming
  • social exclusion


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