Refugees can be immense economic contributors to the host communities where they settle, but to maximize their contributions, refugees need formal labor market access.
Many of the world’s 25 million refugees spend years struggling to provide for themselves or contribute fully to their host economies because they are legally barred from working or owning businesses. Granting refugees formal labor market access unlocks a range of benefits—for refugees, hosts, and global businesses.
There are over 25 million refugees in the world today and most of them—especially those in developing countries—do not have formal labor market access (LMA). Granting refugees formal LMA has the potential to create substantial benefits for refugees and their hosts.
Policymakers and voters reasonably want to know what the effects of immigration are, to help them decide how much immigration there should be. But the effects of immigration are highly contingent on where, when, how, and who. We must ask a more fruitful question: how can different policy choices generate positive economic effects from immigration and avoid negative ones? Immigration is not inherently “good” or “bad.” Its effects depend on the context and the policy choices that shape it.
Can Regular Migration Channels Reduce Irregular Migration? Lessons for Europe from the United States
Lawful migration channels are often suggested as a tool to reduce unlawful migration, but often without much evidence that they work. There is evidence that lawful channels for migration between Mexico and the United States have suppressed unlawful migration, but only when combined with robust enforcement efforts.
As waves of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the US Southwest border, development agencies have received a de facto mandate: to deter migration from poor countries. Will it work? Here we review the evidence on whether foreign aid has been directed toward these “root causes” in the past, whether it has deterred migration from poor countries, and whether it can do so.
In response to the recent migrant and refugee crisis, rich countries have redoubled policy efforts to deter future immigration from poor countries by addressing the “root causes” of migration. We review existing evidence on the extent and effectiveness of such efforts.
The Need for a Bilateral Labor Agreement Between the US and Mexico, and the Responsibility for Leadership
From his keynote speech in Mexico City, Michael Clemens writes:
Mexico and the United States need a bilateral agreement to regulate the labor migration flows between these two neighboring countries. They have needed such an agreement my entire life.
Within a decade, Europe will require hundreds of thousands more nurses than it is likely to train. To meet the growing need, nurses will move in large numbers to Western Europe from other countries, including those in Eastern Europe. But Eastern Europe currently lacks nurses already relative to Western Europe, while Eastern European youths crave opportunities in skilled employment. How can nurses trained in Eastern Europe move to Western Europe in a way that benefits both regions?
The world urgently needs innovation to shape how international migration happens. Today people who are forcibly displaced are seen and treated largely as a burden, not as a resource that can bring shared benefits. A new type of private-public partnership can offer new opportunity for some of those who are forcibly displaced. It can be called a Global Skill Partnership, and this note illustrates how it might work for Syrians displaced into Turkey.
Testing for Repugnance in Economic Transactions: Evidence from Guest Work in the Gulf - Working Paper 463
Workers from poor countries can find enormous economic opportunity by working temporarily in a rich country. But agencies that fight global poverty do little to facilitate guest work. This may be because guest workers are perceived to typically suffer negative side effects that outweigh the benefits. This paper uses a natural experiment to test several perceptions of harmful side-effects on Indian guest workers in the Gulf. The research shows little evidence that the harmful side-effects often ascribed to guest work are typical and systematic, though this does not contradict the occurrence of many individual cases of harmful side-effects.
From 2011 to 2016, about 179,000 unaccompanied children from El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala were apprehended entering the United States. While the crisis received ample media attention, limited data has meant little rigorous analysis of what made those children move.
Violence, Development, and Migration Waves: Evidence from Central American Child Migrant Apprehensions - Working Paper 459
This paper studies the relationship between violence in the Northern Triangle and child migration to the United States. It finds that one additional homicide per year in the region, sustained over the six-year period of study—that is, a cumulative total of six additional homicides—caused a cumulative total of 3.7 additional unaccompanied child apprehensions in the United States. The explanatory power of short-term increases in violence is roughly equal to the explanatory power of long-term economic characteristics like average income and poverty.
An influential strand of research has tested for the effects of immigration on natives’ wages and employment using exogenous refugee supply shocks as natural experiments. Several studies have reached conflicting conclusions about the effects of noted refugee waves such as the Mariel Boatlift in Miami and post-Soviet refugees to Israel. As a whole, the evidence from refugee waves reinforces the existing consensus that the impact of immigration on average native-born workers is small, and fails to substantiate claims of large detrimental impacts on workers with less than high school.
Immigration Restrictions as Active Labor Market Policy: Evidence from the Mexican Bracero Exclusion - Working Paper 451
We estimate the economic effects of short-term work by a small sample of farmers from Haiti in the United States, where no US workers are available. We then compare these to the effects of more traditional assistance. We find that these work opportunities benefit Haitian families much more directly, and to a dramatically greater extent, than more traditional forms of assistance—raising workers’ current earnings on average by multiple of 15.
We report a small-sample, preliminary evaluation of the economic impact of temporary overseas work by Haitian agricultural workers. We find that the effects of matching new seasonal agricultural jobs in the US with Haitian workers differs markedly from the effects of more traditional forms of assistance to Haiti, in three ways: The economic benefits are shared roughly equally between Haiti and the United States; these benefits are very large, including raising the value of Haitian workers’ labor by a multiple of fifteen; and the portion of the benefits accruing to Haiti is uncommonly well-targeted for the direct benefit of poor Haitian households.
Mexico and the United States have lacked a bilateral agreement to regulate cross-border labor mobility since 1965. Since that time, unlawful migration from Mexico to the US has exploded. To address this challenge, CGD assembled a group of leaders from both countries and with diverse political affiliations—from backgrounds in national security, labor unions, law, economics, business, and diplomacy—to recommend how to move forward. The result is a new blueprint for a bilateral agreement that is designed to end unlawful migration, promote the interests of US and Mexican workers, and uphold the rule of law.