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What do we know about the impact of social protection programmes on the decision to migrate?

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Written by Jessica Hagen-Zanker

Migration can be considered an informal coping strategy in a bigger portfolio of livelihood choices. In theory, the availability of other livelihoods sources – like formal social protection – affects the decision to migrate. Access to social protection may either increase or decrease the likelihood of migration and there are theoretical arguments for both. This literature review synthesises the current empirical evidence on how access to social protection in low-income and middle-income countries influences decisions to migrate internally or internationally. The 29 reviewed studies show that access to social protection can affect the propensity to migrate in a number of ways, with about half showing that migration increased and the other half showing that migration decreased. The relationship between access to social protection and migration flows is clearly not linear. How a programme is designed and implemented is important. If implemented well, programmes that give households a dependable income source in areas of origin may be able to prevent migration. Context is critical: in areas of origin with poor employment prospects, social protection can only temporarily prevent migration. It is important to understand the reasons underpinning the migration decision and the constraints that have prevented migration so far.

Jessica Hagen-Zanker and Carmen Leon Himmelstine