When Do Migration Aspirations Materialize?
(1) Aspirations: In the absence of reliable, internationally available migration flow data necessary for statistical forecasting, policymakers increasingly turn to survey data on emigration intentions to evaluate future migration trends. The important assumption – i.e. that there is a measurable and systematic relationship between the intention to migrate and actual migration – has not been firmly established at the international level. In a first step, we examine the association between estimated population averages of emigration intentions and official migration flow data based on data for more than 160 countries. First results show a strong association between emigration intentions and recorded bilateral flows to industrialized countries, as well as between intentions and aggregated out-migration. The results provide policymakers with a reliability assessment of survey data on emigration intentions and encourage future attempts to incorporate survey data in formal statistical migration forecasting models.
(2) Policies: Furthermore, we want to explore to what extent migrants consciously decide to migrate to countries that allow them to improve their economic situation taking into account the difficulties to migrate to this country. In particular, we would like to know how the difficulty to immigrate into a country prevents potential migrants from moving to this country. Might it be that migrants decide to move to more liberal countries to increase the chances to be accepted? We already know that migration flows increase when the destination country is economically more attractive (Borjas 1989; Hatton and Williamson 2003) and decrease when immigration policies are more restrictive (Helbling and Leblang 2018). These effects are to some extent due to rejections during the migration processes when for example visa applications are declined or people are not allowed to enter a country when they arrive at the border.
(3) Corruption: Eventually, besides immigration policies in potential destination countries, the formation and subsequent materialization of migration aspirations is determined by various factors in the country of residence. However, there is surprisingly little empirical evidence on factors outside the pure economic sphere. For instance, the link between corruption and emigration has received growing attention. Until now, the evidence claiming a strong relationship relies on individual case studies and correlational analysis which severely limits generalizability. In our study, we apply quasi-experimental methods including instrumental variables and propensity score matching to global survey data on 130 countries over 6 years, covering almost 600’000 individual respondents. We find support for the notion that corruption – systematically and strongly - induces emigration plans across countries, across various model specifications and estimation methods. Strengthening causal claims about the link between corruption and emigration is important for further research in this field. Results are also relevant for policy-makers exploring options to address irregular migration in the context of development and trade agreements.