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Migration and Development

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People are on the move—some 270 million people currently reside outside of their country of birth—and governments are struggling to adapt.

Although much scholarship and policymaking addresses migration from developing countries to advanced economies, most of the world’s migrants move within the developing world. Take sub-Saharan Africa, where approximately 70 percent of migrants originate from another developing country.

Many projects aim to promote economic development in struggling areas, in part to encourage residents not to leave. But helping people migrate out of these areas can pave the way for better jobs, educational opportunities, and health. And just as the free movement of goods and services yields economic growth, the free movement of labor across boundaries has the potential to benefit not only migrants and their families back home but also the communities receiving them.

Yet there are challenges in realizing this potential. Aspiring migrants are constrained by lack of information, scarce resources for travel and training, and restrictions on their access to a host country’s labor market. An influx of newcomers can generate political and social tension. And there are more than 29 million refugees and asylum-seekers, who have fled violence or persecution. They face steep hurdles to rebuilding their lives as they wait to return home, be permanently resettled, or search elsewhere for opportunity and safety.

The Migration and Development Initiative (MDI) at the King Center addresses the barriers to making migration a powerful catalyst for development in low-income countries. Led by Professor Jeremy Weinstein and Program Manager Jessica Sadye Wolff the faculty and researchers at Stanford’s Immigration Policy Lab, MDI pursues research and innovation in four areas: 

  • Mobility: understanding how people decide whether or not to migrate; designing interventions to reduce barriers to movement and evaluating their impact on both sending and host communities
  • Journey: exploring how migrants decide where to go and how to get there 
  • Integration: fostering the economic and social integration of immigrants and refugees in host communities 
  • Return: studying why and when immigrants decide to return home; designing policies and programs that help them reintegrate and, in the case of conflict regions, ensure their security

MDI supports Stanford faculty, postdocs, and graduate students who are working to help migrants and make migration an engine of growth in the developing world: building key partnerships with NGOs and governments, gathering evidence, developing new policies and programs based on that evidence, and rigorously testing them in the field.

Featured Projects

Refugees' Journey Home

How do refugees decide whether and when to return home? MDI researchers are exploring this question with a major panel survey of Syrians living in Lebanon. They are using WhatsApp to stay in touch with 3,000 participating Syrian households, tracking their movement and studying how their plans evolve.

COVID-19 Impacts on Venezuelan Migrants

In partnership with Mercy Corps, MDI researchers are using a novel WhatsApp survey method to evaluate Venezuelan migrants' well-being and integration in Colombia, in the context of a global health crisis.

Asylum Policy in the Developing World

Much scholarship on migration focuses only on Western countries. To facilitate a shift of focus, MDI researchers created a dataset of asylum and refugee policies in more than 90 non-Western countries since 1951. Their work reveals how civil wars, international development funding, and transnational ethnic linkages affect policymaking.

Planning for Productive Migration

MDI researchers are designing a pilot program with Mercy Corps to help underemployed rural men in West Africa diversify their income opportunities through seasonal migration to urban centers. The program will include comprehensive migration counseling, skills training, and a transit subsidy.

Migration Data Analytics

MDI researchers are using data from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to analyze the determinants of West African migration and comparing the descriptive profile of migrants to medial portrayals of migrants.

For more information on the Migration and Development initiative, please contact King Center Executive Director Jessica Leino at