Migrants´ Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making

Migrants´ Perspective: Migration Journeys and decision-making


For the fifth consecutive year IOM Missing Migrants Project reports that more than 4,000 people are believed to have died or gone missing on migratory routes across the globe. In 2018 alone, 393 deaths were registered on the US-Mexico border. Likewise, the US Border Patrol has reported that, from 1998 to 2016, over 6900 people have died trying to cross irregularly.

Media, NGOs and government initiatives, such as Mexico´s “Programa Frontera Sur”, have increased the visibility of dangerous and sometimes deadly migration journeys, yet there are still migrants attempting to cross rivers, deserts and other barriers through irregular pathways. 

In the face with these risks and considering that, apparently, the decision to migrate is affected both by external factors (economic, social, cultural), and personal factors (gender, wealth, social networks), how do migrants value migration options? How do they decide where to migrate, how to migrate, a possible return, or even not to migrate?

According to the World Migration Report 2018, all migration theories consider the migrants´ “self-agency” (I.e. migrants´ abilities to make and act upon independent choice or decisions) or a lack thereof in an attempt to understand migration patterns, processes and consequences.

The following consists of a summary of some the findings in recent research, migrant-centric, on migrant decision-making and experiences that should serve as guideline to understanding decisions, about risk and risk-taking migration journeys, including risk of death:



  • The main source of information for migrants is from close social connections. Families, friends and network sources (in social, not geographic terms) are more trusted than official sources.
  • Social media and telecommunications applications (such as Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube) have become an important source of information. These platforms are used to share information regarding routes, potential risks and rewards of certain transits, asylum practices, political and legislative situations, welfare benefits, destinations and contact information for potential smugglers and even travelling companions.



  • In the absence of accessible regular migration options migrants opt for irregular migration and/or high risk-journeys. On the off hand, people who are more restricted in their ability to migrate internationally (determined by nationality or otherwise), migrate to less desirable, but accessible countries. This is supported by current data on international migrants, for example, although United States is the preferred destination country in the world, it has been showed that a large share of international migration takes place between south-south regions and countries.
  • Migrants are aware of the risks posed by irregular migration journeys. Studies have shown that in the face of high-risk journeys migrants adopt several psychological strategies to lessen the pain.
  • International migration as a survival strategy. For other groups, such as those marginalized in origin countries, migration provides access to resources and safety. For some communities´ the potential reward even if for the next generation or kinship needs to be acknowledged. From migrants´ perspectives, irregular asylum migration can sometimes be the only option available, despite the risks involved, for some it is a safer option than what they are leaving behind. 



  • Migration decisions have increased in social significance and a “culture” of migration has increasingly emerged. Findings show there is an increasing reliance of remittances as key components of household incomes in the origin countries. However, in some communities the “migration cultures” has extended: from a survival strategy at the lack of economic opportunities, to a social competition in which those who decide to stay behind or who cannot move, are stigmatized.



  • When possible, migrants will choose to migrate through regular pathways on visas than irregularly. It is safer and travel options are far greater.
  • In the absence of accessible protection options people sought alternatives available to them, such as labour migration. In some cases, this kind of migration is considered as an alternative for people who could be refugees in a destination country, over asylum via irregular pathways. The preference to be law-abiding extends even to their migration status after arrival, since remaining within the law may have positive implications for return to the origin country, as well as for any future international migration plans that may eventuate.

These findings help us reach a better understanding of the extent to which a person consider taking high risks under the potential reward and opportunities of a better life (however defined). As stated by UN Secretary General António Guterres, on International Migrants Day, behind every migration number there is a person – a woman, a child, a man, with the same dreams as everyone: opportunity, dignity and a better life.

Migration and development: A symbiotic relationship

Categoria: Migration and Development
Autor: Guest Contributor


Do immigrants work competitively or do they take away jobs from nationals? Do they contribute to the economy or saturate services? Evaluations about the impact of migrants in another country, especially when it comes to a constant flow between two territories, are often based on perceptions, not data. Koen Voored, Doctor in Development Studies and researcher at the Institute of Social Research of the University of Costa Rica, highlights, in the specific case of the migration of Nicaraguans to Costa Rica, that numerous myths invade the feeling of respect of Costa Ricans towards the neighbors from the North, but, when contrasting it with real information, it is discovered not only that those who migrate from Nicaragua rarely do so in search of a welfarist state, but, in return, contribute more to the economy than they cost. How does the impact of migration reflect in other countries in the region?


Impact of migration in Developing countries

According to the Development Center of the OECD and the International Labor Organization, in its study "How Immigrants Contribute to Developing Countries' Economies", migration can have a positive impact on several economic aspects for the country of destination, in this case, a developing country. The study, which included 10 countries with medium and low incomes, highlights three areas in which migrants contribute to the economic development of their new home:

  1. Labor Markets, when they integrate better into the market, the more they manage to contribute in services and products. It is important to note, although the income of migrants usually increases from 3 to 6 times when they move to a country with a higher income than their place of origin (data from Moving for Prosperity: Global Migration and Labor Markets), in contrast, the work they access is usually under worse working conditions, which should worry us;
  2. Economic growth, the study noted that it is unlikely that migrants depress the GDP per capita of a country. On the contrary, in general, their contribution to economic value is usually higher than that of the native population;
  3. Public finances, data from OECD countries showed that the net fiscal contribution of migrants in the countries is usually positive, although limited.

The data retrieved from this Study is an average, it is recommended to study case by case as results can differ between countries in development. 

Likewise, in this study from the OECD and the ILO, five possible policies are listed so that States can increase the economic contribution of those who migrate, in the receiving communities:

  • Adapt migration policies to the needs of the labor market. When market spaces are identified, it is possible to find regular ways for labor migrants to supply them.
  • Improve the protection of the rights of those who migrate and fight against discrimination, as stated by the World Bank in another report, when migrants have better quality of life the higher their economic contribution is.
  • Invest in the integration of migrants; In the same line of the previous point, the lack of integration can influence the economic and social contribution that these people can potentially bring.
  • Take advantage of the effects of immigration on the economy, rethinking policies with employment networks, encouraging investment and supporting the growth of the formal labor sector, to allow greater economic contribution of migrants.
  • Optimize the monitoring of the economic effects of immigration, because although most countries currently collect information on migration flows, more and different indicators are required to be able to create a comprehensive analysis and act accordingly.


And what is the benefit for developed countries?

Not only can developing countries benefit from the arrival of foreigners. According to a report from The Hispanic Institute, despite the geographic and cultural differences of the States of Iowa and Nevada of the US, immigrants in both cities show an increasing purchasing power, a trend that seemingly will continue on the rise.

In the report, the economic and academic contributions of immigrants or descendants of immigrants in the northern country are identified. Among many other data, the first aspect highlights the rate of participation in the workforce of children of foreigners (66%), which slightly exceeds the participation of children of Americans (62.2%), as well as lower unemployment of children of foreigners (4.1%) compared to the children of nationals (4.4%).

It is striking that, similar to what was reported in the OECD and ILO study, the report of the THI indicates that the children of foreigners with a lesser degree than a bachelor, earn less money than nationals for the same the work: a call to strengthen policies, education and culture against discrimination.

On the other hand, in terms of academic achievements there are positive figures for immigrants in the US, although the academic level decreases when dealing with Mexican population. This fact, coupled with ethnic and racial prejudices, also influences the economic indicators of this group specifically. Even so, both in Iowa with agricultural work, and in Nevada in the hotel industry, entertainment and construction, the immigrant population has managed to contribute to the local economy, so far as to be accepted by nationals who indicate that these people are willing to accept job offers rejected by Americans. After all, even if immigration policies harden, the labor demand for jobs usually carried out by migrants does not diminish.

Migration for those who migrate and their families, potentially has a positive impact on their economic well-being, on their possibilities of increasing academic degrees and on reducing infant mortality. If migrants can favor the host country, why do we not also assist them? The economic scope is only a fraction of a complex group of implications and issues.