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International Migration and Development

Migration has huge potential to enhance development but also poses some serious challenges in both developing and developed countries. By allowing workers to move to where they are most valued, migration allows an increase in aggregate world income and output. The impact of migration on sending and receiving countries has been under-researched in the past, due mainly to data unavailability and political sensitivities. But international migration and development is now a key area for World Bank research, including work on determinants of migration, the brain drain, and the role of remittances.


Maurice Schiff

Tel: (202) 473-7963Email:
Caglar OzdenTel: (202) 473-5549Email:
Mirvat SewadehTel: (202) 458-9239Email: 

The Knowledge for Change Program has been central to the rapid mobilization of the effort on migration. Among the main findings of the research program are the following:

There is a strong impact of existing diasporas as a driver of migration. The size of the diaspora is by far the most important determinant of migration even after accounting for the usual factors affecting bilateral migration costs such as distance, colonial links and linguistic proximity. Diasporas are found to favor more the migration of the low-skill than the highly skilled. Disregarding diaspora externalities but using much more detailed data on base wages and returns to skill, our results suggest that policies aiming at increasing the educational quality of the migrants might be highly undermined by the existing migrant’s network. In the presence of large diasporas, more selective migration policies might fail unless family reunification programs are deeply reformed and limited.

Migrant men and women exhibit important differences. There are differences in the determinants of their decisions to migrate, the amount of remittances they send back to their family in their country of origin, and the allocation of these remittances across various expenditure categories. For example, we found that, overwhelmingly, the impact of male migration on household production is negative, while that of female migration is positive or insignificant.

Remittances have large poverty-reducing effects when migration is assumed to be exogenous—that is, when migration is assumed to have already taken place. These effects are largest in countries such as Mexico and El Salvador, where migrants come from the lower part of the income distribution. Extreme poverty falls by over 35 percent in both countries, and moderate poverty falls by 15 percent for Mexico and 21 percent for El Salvador. The reduction in extreme poverty and moderate poverty for the 12 countries averages 14 percent and 8 percent, respectively. Moreover, female headed households receiving internal remittances spend a larger percentage of their budget on education and health, and spend a lower share of their budget on food and a greater share on consumer and durable goods, housing, health, and other goods.

The poverty-reduction impacts of remittances is much larger if measured only for recipient households rather than for the population as a whole. Moreover remittances increase investments in human (education, health) and physical capital. Increased remittances to the Philippines, for example, led to enhanced human capital accumulation and entrepreneurship in origin households, with greater child schooling, less child labor, more hours worked in self-employment, and a higher rate of entry into capital-intensive enterprises.

There is evidence of massive brain drain (defined as the rate of migration among highly skilled workers) from small poor nations in the Caribbean and Africa. Small states  had three out of seven skilled individuals (43%) living outside their country of origin in 2000;  had a brain drain level that amounts to over 5 times the brain drain in developing countries as a whole, 12 times that in high-income countries as a whole, and 8 times that of the world.

Many educated migrants from developing countries can only find unskilled jobs in developed country labor markets, leading to significant brain waste. This is especially prevalent among migrants from Latin America in the US and North Africa in the EU. A large part of the brain waste can be explained by the actual human capital levels of migrants even though they might have university degrees obtained in their home countries. This has important implications in terms of education and migration policies of the sending countries.

Carefully designed policies can enhance seemingly opposing interests of host and source countries. Developing countries tend to gain more from the migration of the unskilled workers whereas there is strong political preference for skilled migration among the destination developed countries. Appropriately designed and jointly enforced temporary migration policies, such as under the Mode IV of GATS, can lead to economically superior outcomes for both sending and receiving countries.

Edited Volumes


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Edited Volumes

Academic Papers

Over 60 working papers of which many have been published in leading academic journals. All working papers are on the Migration Website.

Survey Instruments - specifically designed surveys for individual purposes

1. Survey of migrant African physicians and African Medical students
2. Pacific Islands - New Zealand Corridor survey for the special lottery program of New Zealand
3. Ghana Migration survey as a special module to Ghana 2006/7 LSMS
4. Brazil - Japan Corridor Survey that tests different survey methodologies to analyze the migration patterns of ethnic Japanese from Brazil
5. Kerala/India-Persian Gulf survey in collaboration for Center for Development Studies as repeat survey of 1997 and 2003 survey

Data Sets

  1. Brain Drain Dataset - Bilateral migration data for 1990-2000 for three educational levels from all countries to each OECD country
  2. Global database on bilateral migration stocks 2000/01 between 190+ countries
  3. Medical Brain Drain - Annual bilateral migration data of physicians from 190+ countries to each OECD country over the last 15 years
  4. All data generated by surveys listed above


Medical Brain Drain in Africa 

Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) faces the most chronic shortages of health professionals (HPs). The region has 11 percent of the world’s population and a quarter of the global burden of disease, but only 3 percent of the world’s health workforce (GHWA, 2008). This shortage is one of the most important constraints to achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). This new research project aims to look at mobility decisions of physicians, as well as current medical students, and to provide insights into effective policy tools both for sending and receiving countries to address the misallocations within the countries in SSA. The survey data will provide insights into the determinants of the decision to migrate, on the extent of return migration and circular flows, and the degree of financial and knowledge transfers generated between migrants and their countries of origin, and information about what physicians and medical students themselves identify as the main changes in policy that would induce their temporary or permanent return to their countries of origin. Survey instruments were developed and implemented in a pilot in Ghana.

Demographic Patterns and Migration

This study investigates the impact of the divergence of demographic profiles between developed and developing countries on migration patterns from the latter group to the former. This component will use the bilateral migration matrices as well as the new dataset on age profiles of migrants generated in the first component of the proposal. The critical issue addressed is the link between changes in “migrant” supply conditions that arise from unique demographic and fertility patterns in developing countries and demand conditions based on similar issues in destination OECD countries.

Expansion  of the international Database of Bilateral Migration Stocks

This work expands the International Database of Bilateral Migration Stocks, 1960-2000 that was jointly undertaken with several U.N. agencies – over the last two years and represents one of the largest data collection efforts on international migration. The main expansions are the addition of new raw data from several dozen recently identified national censuses and inclusion of the age profiles of migrants from each origin country in each destination OECD country.  The research effort involves constructing an analytical gravity model specifically for the migration context. Then, based on the gravity model, we will estimate the determinants of migration patterns between all pairs of countries for which the data are complete in the migration database. Finally, the estimated parameters of the gravity model are used to predict values of the missing cells of the migration matrices which arise due to the absence of original data from numerous developing countries. 


The International Migration and Development Research Program generated significant interest both within the policy community and the academic circles.  The edited volumes and their findings were covered by more than 80 leading newspapers worldwide including  New York Times, Financial Times, Chicago Tribune, the Economist, Miami Herald, Le Monde, news agencies such as the Reuters, AP, UPI, AFP and others in developing countries such as Brazil, China, Mexico, India. The datasets have become the main sources used in the academic literature and policy analysis on migration. For example, brain drain database was downloaded by 4,500 unique users; the medical brain drain database was downloaded by 1,125 users. Published and working papers have been cited more than 300 times in other academic publications during the last two years. There were more than 32,000 unique visitors to the Program website, 100,000 page views, and 15,000 file downloads. More importantly, 35 percent of web traffic originated from developing countries. This outreach demonstrates that the Research Program is fulfilling one of its most important goals of helping academics and policymakers in developing countries.
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