April 09, 2015

Immigrants “move on” regardless of labor market success

Immigrants “move on” regardless of labor market success

Empirical research shows that:

  • both successful and unsuccessful migrants leave a developed country fast
  • immigrants leave countries when they lose their jobs or earn low wages
  • out-migration of high-earning migrants leads to fiscal loss

How much should we worry about the brain drain from less-developed countries? And to what extent do migrants “leech” a country’s welfare reserves? These questions continue to saturate the media, but evidence suggests that these issues aren’t as dire as we’d expect.

In a new article for IZA World of Labor, Govert Bijwaard discusses how, in today’s globalized world, migrants are frequently circulating. In other words, both low-income and high-income migrants leave host countries at a relatively fast pace.

The concern over welfare seekers is largely unfounded; Bijwaard finds that immigrants are likely to leave a country if they earn little or no wages, and many immigrants do not automatically qualify for welfare benefits. The idea of a “brain drain” is a little more complex. This may actually just mean “brain circulation,” but home countries still risk losing out if migrants do not return. Bijwaard finds that income is an important factor here, although particular political, social, and personal factors make this trend difficult to assess.

Income of immigrants and their return, by Govert Bijwaard, was published on 9th April 2015.


Author quote: Both unsuccessful and successful migrants to developed countries stay a short time. Many leave when they become unemployed, or earn no or low income.”

IZA World of Labor is a free, online resource created by the Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in collaboration with Bloomsbury Publishing Plc. Articles focus on global labor economics issues, drawing on empirical, evidence-based research in order to offer pertinent comment and evaluation, and best-practice policy advice.

Govert Bijwaard works at the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute (NIDI), having also worked as a senior researcher at NYFER and SEOR. His current research interests include migration dynamics, and empirical analysis of labor markets. He joined the IZA as a Research Fellow in 2007.