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  • Author: Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 09-2015
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: This paper critiques the last decade of research on the effects of high-skill emigration from developing countries, and proposes six new directions for fruitful research. Design/methodology/approach: The study singles out a core assumption underlying much of the recent literature, calling it the Lump of Learning model of human capital and development, and describes five ways that research has come to challenge that assumption. It assesses the usefulness of the Lump of Learning model in the face of accumulating evidence. The axioms of the Lump of Learning model have shaped research priorities in this literature, but many of those axioms do not have a clear empirical basis. Future research proceeding from established facts would set different priorities, and would devote more attention to measuring the effects of migration on skilled-migrant households, rigorously estimating human capital externalities, gathering microdata beyond censuses, and carefully considering optimal policy—among others. The recent literature has pursued a series of extensions to the Lump of Learning model: This study urges instead discarding that model, pointing toward a new paradigm for research on skilled migration and development.
  • Topic: Migration, Refugee Issues, Developing World
  • Author: Michael Clemens, Timothy N. Ogden
  • Publication Date: 02-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: It is time to fundamentally reframe the research agenda on remittances, payments, and development. We describe many of the research questions that now dominate the literature and why they lead us to uninformative answers. We propose reasons why these questions dominate, the most important of which is that researchers tend to view remittances as states do (as windfall income) rather than as families do (as returns on investment). Migration is, among other things, a strategy for financial management in poor households: location is an asset, migration an investment. This shift of perspective leads to much more fruitful research questions that have been relatively neglected. We suggest 12 such questions.
  • Topic: Economics, Migration, Political Economy, Poverty, Labor Issues, Immigration
  • Author: Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: The most basic economic theory suggests that rising incomes in developing countries will deter emigration from those countries, an idea that captivates policymakers in international aid and trade diplomacy. A lengthy literature and recent data suggest something quite different: that over the course of a "mobility transition", emigration generally rises with economic development until countries reach upper-middle income, and only thereafter falls. This note quantifies the shape of the mobility transition in every decade since 1960. It then briefly surveys 45 years of research, which has yielded six classes of theory to explain the mobility transition and numerous tests of its existence and characteristics in both macro- and micro-level data. The note concludes by suggesting five questions that require further study.
  • Topic: Economics, Migration, Social Stratification, Social Movement, Developing World
  • Political Geography: United States, Canada, Mexico
  • Author: Royce Bernstein Murray, Sarah Petrin Williamson
  • Publication Date: 06-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: After a natural catastrophe in a developing country, international migration can play a critical role in recovery. But the United States has no systematic means to leverage the power and cost-effectiveness of international migration in its post-disaster assistance portfolios. Victims of natural disasters do not qualify as refugees under U.S. or international law, and migration policy toward those fleeing disasters is set in a way that is haphazard and tightly constrained. This paper comprehensively explores the legal means by which this could change, allowing the government more flexibility to take advantage of migration policy as one inexpensive tool among many tools for post-disaster assistance. It explores both the potential for administrative actions under current law and the potential for small changes to current law. For concreteness, it focuses on the case of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, but its policy lessons apply to future disasters that are sadly certain to arrive. The paper neither discusses nor recommends "opening the gates" to all disaster victims, just as current U.S. refugee law does not open the gates to all victims of persecution, but rather seeks to identify those most in need of protection and provide a legal channel for entry and integration into American life.
  • Topic: Humanitarian Aid, Migration, Natural Disasters, Foreign Aid
  • Political Geography: United States
  • Author: Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 08-2011
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: Large numbers of people born in poor countries would like to leave those countries, but barriers prevent their emigration. Those barriers, according to economists' best estimates to date, cost the world economy much more than all remaining barriers to the international movement of goods and capital combined. Yet economists spend much more time studying the movement of goods and capital, and when they study migration at all, they focus on the effects of immigration on nonmigrants in destination countries. I ask why this is the case and sketch a four-point research agenda on the effects of emigration. Barriers to emigration deserve a research priority that is commensurate with their likely colossal economic effects.
  • Topic: Economics, Migration, Poverty, Immigration
  • Author: John Gibson, David McKenzie
  • Publication Date: 05-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: A unique survey which tracks worldwide the best and brightest academic performers from three Pacific countries is used to assess the extent of emigration and return migration among the very highly skilled, and to analyze, at the microeconomic level, the determinants of these migration choices. Although we estimate that the income gains from migration are very large, not everyone migrates and many return. Within this group of highly skilled individuals the emigration decision is found to be most strongly associated with preference variables such as risk aversion, patience, and choice of subjects in secondary school, and not strongly linked to either liquidity constraints or to the gain in income to be had from migrating. Likewise, the decision to return is strongly linked to family and lifestyle reasons, rather than to the income opportunities in different countries. Overall the data show a relatively limited role for income maximization in distinguishing migration propensities among the very highly skilled, and a need to pay more attention to other components of the utility maximization decision.
  • Topic: Economics, Migration, Political Economy, Immigration
  • Political Geography: Australia/Pacific
  • Author: Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 08-2009
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: Large numbers of doctors, engineers, and other skilled workers from developing countries choose to move to other countries. Do their choices threaten development? The answer appears so obvious that their movement is most commonly known by the pejorative term “brain drain.” This paper reconsiders the question, starting from the most mainstream, explicit definitions of “development.” Under these definitions, it is only possible to advance development by regulating skilled workers' choices if that regulation greatly expands the substantive freedoms of others to meet their basic needs and live the lives they wish. Much existing evidence and some new evidence suggests that regulating skilled-worker mobility itself does little to address the underlying causes of skilled migrants' choices, generally brings few benefits to others, and often brings diverse unintended harm. The paper concludes with examples of effective ways that developing countries can build a skill base for development without regulating human movement. The mental shift required to take these policies seriously would be aided by dropping the sententious term “brain drain” in favor of the neutral, accurate, and concise term “skill flow.”
  • Topic: Development, Migration, Labor Issues, Brain Drain
  • Author: Michael Clemens, Lant Pritchett
  • Publication Date: 03-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: It is easy to learn the average income of a resident of El Salvador or Albania. But there is no systematic source of information on the average income of a Salvadoran or Albanian. We create a first estimate a new statistic: income per natural—the mean annual income of persons born in a given country, regardless of where that person now resides. If income per capita has any interpretation as a welfare measure, exclusive focus on the nationally resident population can lead to substantial errors of the income of the natural population for countries where emigration is an important path to greater welfare. The estimates differ substantially from traditional measures of GDP or GNI per resident, and not just for a handful of tiny countries. Almost 43 million people live in a group of countries whose income per natural collectively is 50% higher than GDP per resident. For 1.1 billion people the difference exceeds 10%. We also show that poverty estimates are very different for national residents and naturals; for example, 26 percent of Haitian naturals who are not poor by the two-dollar-a-day standard live in the United States. These estimates are simply descriptive statistics and do not depend on any assumptions about how much of observed income differences across naturals is selection and how much is a pure location effect. Our conservative, if rough, estimate is that three quarters of this difference represents the effect of international migration on income per natural. This means that departing one's country of birth is today one of the most important sources of poverty reduction for a large portion of the developing world. If economic development is defined as rising human well being, then a residence-neutral measure of well-being emphasizes that crossing international borders is not an alternative to economic development, it is economic development.
  • Topic: Demographics, Development, Economics, Migration, Poverty, Population
  • Political Geography: United States, Albania
  • Author: Satish Chand, Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 09-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: Does the emigration of highly-skilled workers deplete local human capital? The answer is not obvious if migration prospects induce human capital formation. We analyze a unique natural quasi-experiment in the Republic of the Fiji Islands, where political shocks have provoked one of the largest recorded exoduses of skilled workers from a developing country. Mass emigration began unexpectedly and has occurred only in a well-defined subset of the population, creating a treatment group that foresaw likely emigration and two different quasi-control groups that did not. We use rich census and administrative micro data to address a range of concerns about experimental validity. This allows plausible causal attribution of post-shock changes in human capital accumulation to changes in emigration patterns. We show that high rates of emigration by tertiary-educated Fiji Islanders not only raised investment in tertiary education in Fiji; they moreover raised the stock of tertiary educated people in Fiji—net of departures.
  • Topic: International Relations, Education, Markets, Migration
  • Political Geography: Asia, Australia/Pacific
  • Author: Michael Clemens
  • Publication Date: 03-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Center for Global Development
  • Abstract: The emigration of highly skilled workers can in theory lower social welfare in the migrant-sending country. If such workers produce a good whose consumption conveys a positive externality—such as nurses and doctors in a very poor country—the loss can be greater, and welfare can even decline globally. Policies to impede emigration thus have the potential to raise sending-country and global welfare. This study uses a new database of health worker emigration from Africa to test whether exogenous decreases in emigration raise the number of domestic health professionals, increase the mass availability of basic primary care, or improve a range of public health outcomes. It identifies the effect through two separate natural quasi-experiments arising from the colonial division of the African continent. These produce exogenous changes in emigration comparable to those that would result from different immigration policies in principal receiving countries. The results suggest that Africa's generally low staffing levels and poor public health conditions are the result of factors entirely unrelated to international movements of health professionals. A simple model proposes that such results would be explained by segmentation of health workforce labor markets in the sending countries. The results further suggest that emigration has caused a greater production of health workers in Africa.
  • Topic: International Relations, Health, Migration
  • Political Geography: Africa