Visa restrictions can lead to increase in illegal migration

August 6, 2018, University College London
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

While Government-imposed restrictions on immigration can reduce overall migration, they can also be ineffective or even counterproductive, pushing more would-be migrants into unauthorised channels, finds new UCL-led research in collaboration with Royal Holloway and University of Birmingham.

The study, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, investigated how individuals are likely to move from one country to another based on varying levels of restriction. In particular, they looked at student and high-skilled visas, low-skilled and family visas.

The team found that restricting students and those eligible for high-skilled visas does little to change the overall volume or composition of incoming . Whereas restricting family and low-skilled visas appears to reduce overall migration, but also diverts a significant portion of aspiring migrants to unauthorised channels.

Illegal reorientation is especially problematic when government restrictions are placed on family reunification, where roughly a quarter of all those who would have migrated legally would, instead, move abroad through illegal channels.

Lead academic Miranda Simon (UCL Security & Crime Science and UCL Political Science) said: "We show that even minimal visa requirements can significantly reduce immigration, but this comes at the cost of reorienting aspiring migrants towards unauthorised channels."

"The largest reorientation towards unauthorised channels happens when the family route is closed, because it is the most easily accessible out of those considered.

"When restricting immigration policy, governments need to consider that they are also reducing aspiring migrants' already limited options for legal migration."

The study found that under a baseline policy scenario in which anyone could migrate as long as they met minimal visa eligibility requirements, only 44 per cent of aspiring migrants moved abroad through legal channels.

When further restrictions are added, such as limiting work allowances for student migrants or increasing sponsorship burdens on families abroad, legal migration becomes increasingly difficult.

Restricting low-skilled worker or family migration reduced immigration by 21 and 32 per cent respectively from baseline levels, but also increased unauthorised immigration by 14 per cent and 24 per cent, respectively.

Results also show that enforcement of unauthorised migration is generally not an efficient solution as more than 80 per cent of unauthorised migrants would need to be apprehended to offset the effects of legal restrictions.

Researchers used a data-driven, agent-based computational model (ABM) to examine migration for one corridor—i.e. individuals moving from one origin country to one destination country—to examine the effects of immigration policy restrictions on common channels such as family reunification, student, low-skilled work and high-skilled work across major destination countries.

The findings have been suggested previously but are difficult to prove due to the complex nature of migration.

Co-author Dr. Cassilde Schwartz (Royal Holloway, University of London, Department of Politics and International Relations), said: "It's extremely difficult to measure unauthorised migration in reality, as it is often clandestine and unobservable. Our empirical results indicate that most people who wish to move abroad are not willing to consider migrating illegally. Using experimental survey techniques, we found that fewer than 20% of aspiring migrants are willing to consider illegal channels. Of course, when visa policies become too restrictive, they are left with few options."

The study looked at a single migration route, originating from Jamaica. Jamaica represents an origin country with a high number of aspiring voluntary migrants, who are more likely to migrate for severe economic pressures, rather than war or conflict. The results could be applied to countries with a similar economic situation although the percentages are specific to this route. The paper does not model migration into a particular destination, instead it is an abstract destination defined by popular migration policies from across the world.

The research was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, and was awarded to UCL Department of Security & Crime Science. The research was carried out in collaboration with Royal Holloway University of London Department of Politics & International Relations and University of Birmingham Department of International Development.

Co-author David Hudson, Professor of Politics and Development at the University of Birmingham, said: "Due to the data and methodology used, this research presents an important step in generating credible estimates of the impact of policy change on migration flows.

"Our research clearly demonstrates that, while restrictions on immigration do decrease legal , this has unintentionally led to an increase in illegal immigration flows which results in a costly and unsustainable need for greater border enforcement.

"Looking to the future, more research is necessary to collect data on world-wide immigration, while also assessing the impact of policy on other countries."

Explore further: Arizona work law found to affect US-Mexico migration

More information: Miranda Simon el al., "A data-driven computational model on the effects of immigration policies," PNAS (2018).

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5 / 5 (3) Aug 06, 2018
are you saying lower speed limits cause more speeding tickets?
3 / 5 (2) Aug 06, 2018
restricting family and low-skilled visas appears to reduce overall migration, but also diverts a significant portion of aspiring migrants to unauthorised channels

Missing the important caveat that when you enforce immigration law and deport those who are "diverted" to unauthorised channels, illegal immigration also goes down.
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2018
How about that you both are correct. Europe is being invaded by a foreign army and does not even realize it because invaders are not carrying guns. Soon the Europeans will be trying to migrate to the US again because they will have lost their countries.
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2018
How about that you both are correct. Europe is being invaded by a foreign army and does not even realize it because invaders are not carrying guns. Soon the Europeans will be trying to migrate to the US again because they will have lost their countries.

Damn right. I left Europe to come to the US (am now an American citizen, legally). I couldn't take all the nonsense that super-liberal fool politicians were doing to native Europeans while stealing from their native citizens to provide for illegal aliens. Yes, I said it - ILLEGAL ALIENS.
You could not pay me enough to move back there again with all that sh*t going on. The men have mostly turned into wusses - too afraid to make a stand against the invading force from the M.E. and Africa. The women and children are being raped and the men stand by like lambs ready for slaughter. It is appalling what has happened to GB and Europe. And the Democrat Party want it to happen here too.
3 / 5 (2) Aug 07, 2018
Now that's a shocker! Who would have guessed. Lets argue about it.
3 / 5 (4) Aug 07, 2018
Increase in illegal immigration but decrease in total immigration. So the policy still works. Also, the study was about Jamaica - US migration path. US has a very weak policy against illegal migration (no national ID, porous borders, birthright citizenship, illegals widely tolerated). In countries with more sensible policies, illegal immigration is simply not an option, or a very risky and short term one. Hence increase in illegal migration does not apply to them. and the study simply shows that visa is effective to regulate migration.

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