Developmental impacts of interventions to support legal migration


What is the extent of high quality (systematic review, impact evaluation) evidence on the developmental (positive/negative) impacts of interventions to support regular, well managed, legal migration between low and low-middle income countries? Identify any gaps in research, and list key researchers/organisations working on this topic.


There is very little impact evaluation evidence of the developmental outcomes of interventions to support regular migration. The review identified only one migration intervention (the New Zealand Recognised Seasonal Employment Programme) which had had rigorous impact evaluations conducted: the scheme was found to have positive impacts on employers, migrants and origin countries (Gibson & McKenzie, 2013; Winters, 2016). Otherwise the evidence base in relation to migration interventions was found to be consistently weak. The literature highlights the lack of ‘an evaluation culture’ in relation to migration policies and programmes, despite growing numbers of interventions; it stresses the need for strengthened impact evaluation and makes recommendations to promote this. Research on migration and development as a whole, however, is growing, with a number of research organisations working on these issues.

Impacts of migration interventions – A meta-analysis of active labour market programmes (ALMPs) in Europe (Butschek and Walter, 2014) found that wage subsidies had the most positive impact on labour market outcomes for immigrants – more than training. This is confirmed by another paper (Rinne, 2012) which reviewed immigration policies: programmes closely linked to the labour market (i.e. work experience and wage subsidies) were found to generate relatively large positive effects; by contrast, settlement policies did not appear to improve the economic and social outcomes of immigrants. A 2015 review (McKenzie & Yang) of evidence on policies to increase the developmental impacts of international migration found that areas of policy success included bilateral migration agreements for countries whose workers have few other migration options, development of new savings and remittance products, and initiatives to provide financial education to migrants and their families. However, the available research offered reasons to be cautious about some measures, e.g. enforcing strong migrant rights. A research study on the state of evidence for programming on safer labour migration (Freedom Fund, 2016) found that initiatives addressing pre-departure awareness-raising and skill building were relevant and well-received by community stakeholders.

Weak evidence base – the literature highlights the limited empirical evidence available to guide the growing policy interest and efforts in relation to migration and development. Available evidence focuses on process evaluations, rather than impact (Rinne, 2012; McKenzie & Yang, 2015), and is gender blind. Underlying this weak evidence base is a lack of an evaluation culture in relation to migration policies and programmes.

Evaluation gaps in migration interventions – Reasons for the evaluation gaps include: fear of exposing problems and failings in policies/programmes; lack of capacity; lack of data; cost constraints; technical challenges; the rapid expansion in migration programming; migration interventions not traditionally being seen as a tool to promote development; and the lack of knowledge sharing among practitioners (Chappell & Laczko, 2011; Laczko, 2011). Suggestions to strengthen impact evaluation in relation to migration include: strengthening data collection; sharing costs between governments through joint evaluations; starting with evaluation of less contentious policies/programmes (e.g. remittance interventions); and sharing evaluation findings ((Chappell & Laczko, 2011; Laczko, 2011)).

Key research on migration and development – while impact evaluations of migration interventions are scarce, there is a growing body of research on migration and development generally. Leading entities undertaking this work include the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Migration Policy Institute (MPI).

Suggested citation

Idris, I. (2017). Developmental impacts of interventions to support legal migration. K4D Helpdesk Report 110. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.