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Circular migration has played a substantial role in the assimilation process of rural–urban migrants in Spain across the twentieth century. This paper analyses the short-term impact of the temporariness of this type of migration in the economic assimilation of migrants during the rural exodus, 1955–73. More specifically, I study this process in one key scenario – the Spanish tourism boom. Using a novel micro-dataset, results show that the temporariness was a key factor that constrained the capacity of migrants to achieve income growth. Thus, the incentives to persist with circular migratory movements and the socio-economic constraints on permanent settlement had significant adverse consequences. These migrants sorted into lower-income occupations and had lower incentives and chances to acquire host-specific human and social capital in comparison with permanent migrants. As a result, circular migrants registered lower occupational attainment leading to a higher income gap with natives and permanent migrants as the years of circular migration increased in number. These results indicate that most migrants had fewer chances than natives of taking advantage of the process of rapid structural change not solely because of lower human and social capital factors but also because of the temporariness of their migration.