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Migration and Development

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 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 facilitate 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.

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