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Using a ‘transitional’ perspective on migration, which combines three theoretical approaches on dynamic development-migration linkages, this paper interprets the evolution of migration within, from, and to Morocco over the twentieth century. Colonization and the incorporation of rural areas, along with a certain level of socio-economic development, have spurred internal and international wage labour migration both within Morocco and from Morocco to Europe. Migration seems to be the result of development rather than the lack of development. Populations from highly marginalized regions were less likely to participate in migration than populations from the three, moderately enclosed “migration belts” which had established traditions of pre-modern, largely circular migration. At the onset of large-scale emigration in the 1960s, the spatial patterns of labour migration were significantly infuenced by colonial bonds with Spain and France, selective labour recruitment, and Moroccan selective passport issuance policies. However, the influence of such policies rapidly decreased due to the effects of migration-facilitating networks. Increasingly restrictive policies coincided with a growing reliance on family migration, permanent settlement, undocumented migration, and the exploration of new migration itineraries, and had no success in reducing migration levels.Alongside patterns of decentralizing internal migration, a spatial diffusion of international out-migration has expanded beyond the historical migration belts in response to new labour opportunities in southern Europe. Persistent demand for migrant labour, along with demographic factors and increasing aspirations, suggest that migration over formally closed borders is likely to remain high in the near future. However, in the longer term, out-migration might decrease and Morocco could increasingly develop into a migration destination for migrants from sub-Saharan Africa, a transition process which may already have een set in motion.

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Journal article


International Migration

Publication Date



45 (4)


29 - 70