WP3 – Determinants of migration
Work package 3 identifies the role of policy changes in driving migration patterns, putting particular emphasis on the role of access to, and generosity of, welfare benefits, the minimum wage and transitional restrictions on labour market access (i.e. in the context of accession to the EU).
In recent years there has been increasing attention on the role of generous welfare states in attracting migrants (the ‘welfare magnet hypothesis’). While there has been extensive media coverage of the possibility of ‘benefit tourism’, the evidence suggests that migrants tend to have high employment rates and a low uptake of out-of-work (e.g. unemployment) benefits. Yet, it is still possible that the generosity of the welfare state (including in-work benefits) plays a key role in the migration decisions of many individuals who move for employment reasons, particularly for those earning low salaries. This is a key issue as some of the current proposals to amend EU mobility are predicated on the idea that welfare access/generosity is a key driver of migration.
Another aspect of the host economy that can be attractive to migrants is the minimum wage. There are important variations in the minimum wage across EU countries, including variations across eligible age groups in different countries. It is often argued that by increasing the minimum wage, countries become more attractive to low-skilled migrant workers as many will receive a higher salary. Others argue instead that an increase in the minimum wage reduces the number of low-pay jobs available in the country and increases the number of native workers available. However, we have little evidence on how changes in the minimum wage affect migration patterns in EU countries.
Migration of EU citizens is protected by the right to free mobility. However, there are some exceptions. The entry of new countries to the EU has been accompanied by the possibility of pre-existing members imposing limitations on access to their labor markets for up to seven years. In such cases in which transitory restrictions have been imposed the end of the restrictions has often turned into a key point of attention and substantial speculation on migrant numbers. However, there is limited evidence about the degree to which these restrictions actually limit migration or, instead, have other unintended consequences for migrants and host countries (e.g. higher number of mobile EU citizens who are not properly registered).
This work package combines quantitative and qualitative approaches. The quantitative component is conducted in three steps:
- First, we will identify all relevant policy changes regarding migrant access to the welfare system, minimum wage, transitory restrictions in the context of accession and restrictions for non-EU migration for the 2000-2015 period in Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
- Second, we will use national labour market data to describe the characteristics and labour market dynamics of migrants before and after the change in policies to determine whether the period after the change in policies appears as a large deviation from the previous trend.
- Third, we will conduct a series of econometric exercises to quantify the degree to which the policy changes affected migration patterns.
The qualitative component will investigate the relative importance of different factors and how they interact. Particular attention will be placed on the key decision-making factors analysed in the quantitative work, including attitudes to welfare access and transitional restrictions. The analysis will be based on focus group interviews with migrants in the five destination countries also examined for the quantitative work.