Study: Some Visa Restrictions Counter-Productive

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Published Aug 6, 2018 7:35 PM by The Maritime Executive

A study by University College London has highlighted that government-imposed restrictions on immigration can reduce overall migration, but can force more would-be migrants into unauthorized channels.

The study, conducted with Royal Holloway and University of Birmingham, aimed to estimate the “substitution effect” whereby migrants move to unauthorized channels due to changes in immigration policy. It focused on migrants on a range of visas including student, high and low skilled visas and family visas and found that some government-imposed restrictions on migrants can deter total migration, but others are ineffective. Relative to a system of free movement, the minimal eligibility conditions required to classify migrants into visa categories alone make migration inaccessible for many, state the researchers.

Restricting students and those eligible for high-skilled visas does little to change the overall volume or composition of incoming migrants. However, restricting family and low-skilled visas diverts a significant portion of aspiring migrants to unauthorized channels. Restrictions on family reunification, in particular, were found to be problematic, with about a quarter of all those who would have migrated legally, instead moving abroad through illegal channels.

When restrictions are added, such as limiting work allowances for student migrants or increasing sponsorship burdens on families abroad, legal migration becomes increasingly difficult. The researchers estimate that restricting low-skilled worker or family migration reduced immigration by 21 and 32 percent respectively from baseline levels, but it also increased unauthorized immigration by 14 percent and 24 percent respectively.

The results also showed that enforcement of unauthorized migration is generally inefficient, as more than 80 percent of unauthorized migrants would need to be apprehended to offset the effects of legal restrictions.

The researchers used a data-driven, agent-based computational model calibrated using original survey and experimental data for their research. 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 researchers believe the results could be applied to countries with a similar economic situation.

Dr. Cassilde Schwartz, from Royal Holloway, University of London, Department of Politics and International Relations, said: "It's extremely difficult to measure unauthorized 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 percent of aspiring migrants are willing to consider illegal channels. Of course, when visa policies become too restrictive, they are left with few options."