What works for addressing root cause and drivers of irregular migration? There are few answers to pressing policy questions.
Mass irregular migration is a pressing global issue, especially for low- and middle-income countries. In 2018, there were over 100 million irregular migrants estimated worldwide (Yayboke and Gallego 2019) and the number continues to increase as more individuals seek better lives, conditions, or livelihoods, or escape from violence, persecution, or repression. The journeys attempted or successfully completed through irregular channels – from the Mediterranean Sea to the Darien Gap – are often intertwined with arduous physical efforts and increased risk of vulnerability, violence, physical and/or sexual abuse, and exploitation. 3ie has completed mapping and synthesizing evidence of the effectiveness of programs that address the root causes and drivers of this phenomenon. In this blog, we explain why the evidence falls short and what more is urgently needed to inform policy.
Intervention domains and our approach
In August 2022, the International Organization for Migration and 3ie, with support from USAID, began work on an evidence gap map (EGM) to identify effectiveness studies of “root cause” programming for preventing and alleviating risks that lead to irregular migration. We focused on four domains of interventions, those designed to 1) address economic insecurity and lack of decent work opportunities, 2) reduce and prevent community violence, 3) strengthen resilience to shocks and stressors in origin countries, and 4) those focused on irregular migration drivers, such as information asymmetries about irregular journey risks and absence of legal pathways.
This EGM is described in an earlier blog. We then produced a mixed-methods systematic review (SR) of one of the largest clusters of evidence identified in the EGM—skills-based active labor market policy interventions (i.e., vocational training and apprenticeship programs). We pooled the results of 10 impact evaluations (all randomized control trials) and ran random effects meta-analyses. We then supplemented quantitative findings by searching for qualitative research on the same programs and analyzing for insights into the program design, implementation, context, and population.
Evidence gap map and systematic review findings
We identified and mapped a total of 89 impact evaluations, 15 linked studies, and seven systematic reviews. Here’s what the EGM reveals:
- Overall, the evidence is scarce and concentrated in a few intervention categories: human capital strengthening interventions such as cash transfers, active labor market policies, and information campaigns of irregular migration risks.
- We found only 10 studies of resilience interventions and zero for violence prevention and intervention.
- The evidence is also sparse in most contexts, coming mostly from Sub-Saharan Africa (42%) and Latin America and the Caribbean (21%). Many studies covering the former are impact evaluations of Mexico’s PROGRESA/Opportunidades/PROSPERA program.
- Few studies explicitly evaluated irregular migration outcomes and no studies examined forced displacement. In most cases, studies did not discern whether migration was internal or international, through regular or irregular channels. This may be due to the sensitivity of the subject, or because migration was not the primary outcome of the intervention or study. In fact, only one-third of the studies we found were evaluating migration programs.
Our systematic review of skills-based active labor market policies found small and insignificant or no effects of skills-based active labor market policies on migration outcomes. Here are the key takeaways:
- Findings from the qualitative literature suggest that some design features could help increase program uptake. These include targeted outreach strategies, safe and accessible training locations, or providing completion certificates as proof of credentials for entry into the labor market.
- We found similar characteristics of the EGM studies, in terms of geographic concentration and low proportion of programs targeting potential migrants.
- Programs may have limited influence on migration outcomes if participants did not intend to migrate in the first place.
- Building skills and strengthening local workforce capability may address short-term “demand-side” issues but will fail to achieve longer-term impact for those contemplating irregular migration if solutions for “supply-side” economic root causes (e.g., lack of local labor market and economic opportunities) are left unaddressed.
More evidence is direly needed
As stated in our protocol, billions of dollars are invested in programming that addresses the root causes of irregular migration and forced displacement. However, to understand whether and to what extent development programs are able to improve the lives of those who are considering irregular migration, more rigorous research is urgently needed.
We will present findings from these research studies and discuss the next steps and implications for policy and practice with expert researchers and practitioners. More details will be provided on 3ie’s website soon.
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Register for our launch event and panel discussion on 13 February 2024.