Examining the Motivations Underlying International Students’ Migration Behaviors: the Case of Master’s Students in Spain

Rita Rueff-Lopes, Josep Sayeras Maspera, Ferran Velasco

Research output: Indexed journal article Articlepeer-review


This study aims to examine the motivations that international graduate students have to either migrate or return home after completing their master’s degree in Spain, one of the most important and yet under-researched host countries in the international European education arena. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 63 international students graduated in a business field of a top-tier highly international private university. Through thematic analysis, we extracted 113 themes, 70 from the group that decided to migrate and 43 from the group that decided to return to their home country. These themes were classified under 13 motivation categories, 5 of them being work-related and 8 non-work-related, thus resulting in a 2 × 2 factor model. Work-related motivations to migrate included the perception of better career opportunities and the desire to work for an ideal company. Salary played a limited role. Non-work-related motivations to migrate included having a global identity, which to our knowledge has not been identified before, and not returning home for political reasons. Work-related motivations for returning included not seeing job opportunities abroad and seeing higher job opportunities in the home country. Non-work-related motivations for returning included the pandemic, personal motivations, and mobility restrictions. Results from this case study bring new insights about the phenomenological motivations of this population for deciding whether to pursue an international career or not and can therefore help professionals like policy makers and career advisors to develop and implement appropriate measures to support their decisions.

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of International Migration and Integration
Early online dateSept 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Sept 2023


  • International students
  • Migration
  • Motivations
  • Spain


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