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How does access to social protection programmes affect the decision to migrate?

Working papers

Written by Jessica Hagen-Zanker, Carmen Leon-Himmelstine

Individuals or households often decide to migrate in response to shocks, stresses, poverty and uncertainty in their home areas. Migration can, therefore, be considered an informal coping strategy in a bigger portfolio of livelihood choices. In theory, the availability of other sources of livelihoods — such as formal social protection — affects the decision to migrate.

Access to social protection may, therefore, increase or decrease the likelihood of migration. On the one hand, potential migrants who have access to a social protection programme may decide there is no need to  migrate. On the other hand, migration and social protection could be seen as complementary strategies by prospective migrants, with the cash  obtained from accessing a social protection programme used to finance migration.

Understanding this particular linkage is highly relevant to policy making. This background note reviews current evidence on how access to social protection programmes influences decisions to migrate internally or internationally.

The positive effects of migration on migrant households are obvious and well-documented. These include poverty reduction, wealth creation and investments in businesses. However, migration may also have a negative impact on a migrating household — such as child abandonment — and on their home areas, including labour shortages. For these reasons, and others, policy makers often aim to reduce migration.

The decision to migrate is highly personal, and is influenced by a variety of social and economic factors. The academic evidence suggests that the impact of specific migration policies on migration flows has been limited, compared to other factors. These could include other public policies, such as the provision of social protection.

The question of whether and how access to social protection programmes affects the decision to migrate should, therefore, be of great interest to policy makers.

Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Carmen Leon Himmelstine