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Yang conceives new framework for examining migration policies

May 23, 2023

How can individual researchers, NGOs and governments accurately assess how to improve migration policies, given the fraught international and sometimes nationalist political environment? While migration from a poorer to a richer country can have the greatest potential for raising living standards, the evidence to back legal migration policies can be muddled.

Ford School professor Dean Yang, along with David McKenzie, Lead Economist, Development Research Group, World Bank, have set forth a framework “for thinking through what can be done, and how you can randomize aspects of the migration decision without randomizing migration policies.” In an article in the World Bank Development Impact blog, and a policy working paper, Field and Natural Experiments in Migration, they outline five factors that can be considered. 

“For randomized experiments,” they write, “this includes providing a framework for thinking through what can be randomized; discussing key measurement and design issues that arise from issues such as migration being a rare event, and in measuring welfare changes when people change locations; as well as discussing ethical issues that can arise.”

“The framework can be used to both think through how one can spur more migration, as well as interventions that might deter dangerous and irregular migration,” they write.

This framework then gives a whole range of areas where interventions could be done:

1.       Change the costs of migrating: these are both the monetary costs and the bureaucratic costs. 

2.       Change the ability of individuals to pay these costs – either by increasing their wealth, or by changing access to credit and hence how tightly the borrowing constraint binds. 

3.       Change how expectations are formed: migration decisions depend on the information and beliefs potential migrants have about the wages and amenities abroad – which can often be inaccurate. 

4.       Change the risk and uncertainty involved: migration is a risky endeavor, and so risk preferences and uncertainty come into play. This suggests the scope for experiments that provide insurance against this risk – something which is underexplored. 

5.       Change the wages and amenities at either home or abroad: For example, linking migrants to better labor intermediaries or job opportunities at destination can increase the wages (and perhaps improve the working conditions) they receive.

“A key lesson from this recent work is that it is not meaningful to talk about ‘the’ impact of migration, but rather impacts are likely to be heterogeneous, affecting both the validity and interpretation of causal estimates,” they conclude.

The paper can be read here.