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Either way, experts are doubtful that this or any other development project aimed at creating jobs can reverse, or even slow, the tide of emigration. “If the success of your policy is dependent on being able to defeat both market forces and human nature, your chances of success aren’t good,” said Kathleen Newland, a senior fellow and co-founder of the Migration Policy Institute.
Michael Clemens, an economist at the Center for Global Development in Washington, has studied the interplay between development and migration for years. He has found that development gains, far from keeping young people at home, are associated with increased migration — until a country attains a per capita income of roughly $7,500 (or three times that of Mali). “There’s this idea that development and migration substitute for each other that underlies all of this. That if we can just make a sufficiently successful industrial park in Ethiopia, that people will go work there and migration will end,” Clemens said. “That ignores the many, many ways in which migration and development complement each other.”
Not only does more income mean people can do more expensive things, like pay a smuggler thousands of dollars to take them to Europe; it typically means more education and bigger aspirations. That’s why Clemens says on average as countries transition from poor to middle-income, they experience a “dramatic rise” in migration. Over the very long term, it is true that development would depress migration as a country transitions to developed status. “But Mali is not going to be a developed country in our lifetime or in the lifetime of our children,” he said. “The reality is that the development of nations is measured in generations.”