key topic

How does migration policy affect the labor market?

Migration policy deals with issues of national and international mobility, such as supply and demand of workers, naturalization and citizenship, and the treatment and integration of refugees and other migrant categories (e.g. economic and family migrants).

Migration’s impact on the native labor force, whether their health, access to jobs, or their wages, is a major concern among politicians, policymakers, and the public, and is a key factor in shaping migration policy. Research shows that immigration and emigration have both positive and negative implications for the native workforce as well as for family left behind and the workforce in sending countries, and that these often differ sharply from public perceptions and media coverage.

For new academic research on this topic, see IZA's discussion papers on migration policy.

  • Can market mechanisms solve the refugee crisis? Updated

    The combination of tradable quotas and matching would benefit host countries as well as refugees

    Ever since the major inflow of refugees (the “refugee crisis”) in 2015 and 2016, there has been heated debate about the appropriate distribution of refugees in the EU. Current policies revolve around mandatory quotas, which disregard the preferences of EU members and refugees alike. This problem can be addressed with two market mechanisms. First, tradable quotas minimize the cost of asylum provision for host countries. Second, a matching system gives refugees more discretion over where they are sheltered. While this proposal is theoretically appealing, it has yet to be tested in practice.
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  • Do guest worker programs give firms too much power?

    Guest worker programs requiring employer sponsorship can expand global opportunity—and grant employers market power

    Peter Norlander, June 2021
    Guest worker programs allow migrants to work abroad legally, and offer benefits to workers, firms, and nations. Guest workers are typically authorized to work only in specific labor markets, and are sponsored by, and must work for, a specific firm, making it difficult for guest workers to switch employers. Critics argue that the programs harm host country citizens and permanent residents (“existing workers”), and allow employers to exploit and abuse vulnerable foreign-born workers. Labor market institutions, competitive pressures, and firm strategy contribute to the effects of migration that occur through guest worker programs.
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  • The impact of legalizing unauthorized immigrants Updated

    While legalization benefits most unauthorized immigrants, deciding how to regularize them is challenging

    Countries have adopted a variety of legalization programs to address unauthorized immigration. Research in the US finds improved labor market outcomes for newly authorized immigrants. Findings are more mixed for European and Latin American countries where informal labor markets play a large role and programs are often small scale. Despite unclear labor market outcomes and mixed public support, legalization will likely continue to be widely used. Comprehensive legislation can address the complex nature of legalization on immigrants and on native-born residents.
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  • Integrating refugees into labor markets Updated

    Economic integration of refugees into their host country is important and benefits both parties

    Pieter Bevelander, September 2020
    Refugee migration has increased considerably since the Second World War, and amounts to more than 50 million refugees. Only a minority of these refugees seek asylum, and even fewer resettle in developed countries. At the same time, politicians, the media, and the public are worried about a lack of economic integration. Refugees start at a lower employment and income level, but subsequently “catch up” to the level of family unification migrants. However, both refugees and family migrants do not “catch up” to the economic integration levels of labor migrants. A faster integration process would significantly benefit refugees and their new host countries.
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  • European asylum policy before and after the migration crisis

    The European migration crisis of 2015–2016 exposed weaknesses in the asylum system that have been only partly addressed

    Tim Hatton, September 2020
    The migration crisis of 2015–2016 threw the European asylum system into disarray. The arrival of more than two million unauthorized migrants stretched the system to its breaking point and created a public opinion backlash. The existing system is one in which migrants risk life and limb to gain (often unauthorized) entry to the EU in order to lodge claims for asylum, more than half of which are rejected. Reforms introduced during the crisis only partially address the system's glaring weaknesses. In particular, they shift the balance only slightly away from a regime of spontaneous asylum-seeking to one of refugee resettlement.
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  • Migration and human capital accumulation in China

    Migration may generate detrimental long-term impacts by widening the urban–rural educational gap

    The difference in educational attainment between China's urban- and rural-born populations has widened in recent years, and the relatively low educational attainment of the rural-born is a significant obstacle to raising labor productivity. Rural-to-urban migration does not create incentives to enroll in higher education as the availability of low-skill employment in urban areas makes remaining in school less attractive. In addition, the child-fostering and urban schooling arrangements for children of migrants further inhibit human capital accumulation.
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