World Bank 8th International Migration and Development Conference (II)

This post highlights several pieces of research that I think are original and important.

1. Zach Ward (Australian National University): Return migration, Self-Selection, and Immigration Quotas (slides, paper).

The author collected data of migrants that entered in the US on Ellis Island with their skills and plans to return. The imposition of migration quotas, an important policy change in the US in 1920, is found to have resulted in fewer returns but more unexpected stays of low-skilled individuals.

Ran Abramitzky (who does amazing work in migration and economic history) offered a few suggestions on the interpretation of the results:

1) How do we tell apart the failure in US labor market from other explanations? Do the higher skilled have higher returns to experience? Do immigrants from new source countries have less support?

2) Return immigrants became more selected after quotas. Do the quotas affect the perceived difficulty of re-entering into the US? If so, this can make staying in the US an optimal strategy. Expectations matter.

3) Look at Russian return migration (Jews versus non-Jews) on “intentions to return”.

4) Occupations are transitory. Are there more permanent measures of skill?

2. William Kerr (Harvard Business School): Heterogeneous Technology Diffusion and Ricardian Trade Patterns (slides, paper).

If technology transfer exists, there should be exhibitions in trade patterns. The author uses migration patterns as an instrumental variable for trade and assesses the level of technology diffusion resulted from trade flows.

3. Francesco Lissoni (GREThA, Bordeaux): Foreign Inventors in the US: testing for diaspora and brain gain effects (slides, paper). 

The KEINS database on academic inventors is interesting, and publicly available.


Unfortunately, I could not attend the second day of the conference because of a mistake in scheduling my flight back to China. Actually, I had to drive in heavy rain for four hours (8pm-midnight) from DC to Durham! It was quite an experience, although I probably won’t let myself end up in something like that again.

World Bank 8th International Migration and Development Conference (I)

A little over a month ago, I drove up to Washington D.C. to attend the 8th International Migration and Development Conference. I had the honor to meet some of the top researchers and rising stars in the fields of migration and development. Their ideas and methodologies pushed me to think further about what economists can contribute to policy makers in a world where migration is such an integral and necessary part of development. I hope to share my take on the conference to you.

The keynote speech delivered by Dani Rodrik was deeply intriguing. Titled “Migration and Inequality: Is the Nation State the Enemy of Global Equality?”, it explores the role of the state in a globalized world.

Rodrik first asks the question of whether we should restrict labor from flowing freely. If we think of the state as an opinion-aggregating machine where everyone is given a share of vote, rejecting mobility requires an external weight for foreign-borns to be less than 22%, lower than the 25% that rejecting foreign aid requires. Labor mobility also has an advantage over trade in that it fosters distributional justice by raising the standards of labor regulations.

A much harder question is, then, how much mobility should we allow? Open borders might undermine the efficacy of domestic institutions by creating unmanageable population flows and aggravating domestic inequality. Too much cultural diversity can also make it more difficult to establish trust and homogeneity, which are essential for the provision of public goods.

These questions do not have definitive answers. Researchers and policy makers have been and still are exploring the best mechanism to channel populations throughout the world.