This article seeks to understand the role of the migration lifecycle in the subjective evaluation of return by Ethiopian deportees from Saudi Arabia, focusing on the conditions that lead to positive evaluation of the return. Logistic regression analysis was carried out on a unique data set of 2,039 Ethiopian deportees from Saudi Arabia collected in 2014. Despite having been deported, 45 per cent of respondents evaluate their return positively. It is found that subjective socio‐economic position is highly influential in returnees’ assessment of their reintegration, but those who are self‐employed on return are much less likely than those who are unemployed to describe their return positively. This may be linked to work conditions and because these respondents are engaged in necessity entrepreneurship. Additionally, all stages of the migration cycle, including before and during the migration episode, are influential in shaping perceptions of return.