In the past twenty years, researchers have increasingly compared migration policies, particularly at the national level. This has led to the growth of indicators that capture and synthesise measurable information on these policies. Information is also aggregated into indexes, which helps readers to understand complex issues in an easier manner. Giacomo Solano, researcher at the Migration Policy Group, worked under CrossMigration on collecting and analysing migration policy indicators. He talks more about his research, why it matters and how it contributes to a better understanding of migration.
CrossMigration: What is the relevance of this project for increasing knowledge on migration?
Giacomo Solano: There is a lot of research out there that seeks to understand policy frameworks on migration and integration, but it is difficult to compare policies on migration in different countries and to understand their effect. Often, these projects deal with a limited number of cases, and on their own they are not enough to find the trend. Questions such as what the effect of opening or closing a border is on an actual policy goal, such as migrant integration, cannot be answered as effectively.
CM: And how did this fit into the CrossMigration project?
GS: CrossMigration seeks to take stock of current research and build on previous efforts. So that’s what our project brought to the table. We first took stock of these different efforts to quantitatively compare migration policies in different countries. And this also helped systematise the proliferation of indexes, because before it wasn’t very clear what the topics under analysis were and more importantly where the gaps were. As the field of migration research has reached maturity, it was time to understand the remaining gaps.
CM: Can you describe how you went about this?
GS: Through a two-step analysis. First, we took stock of all existing sets of indicator indexes at the national level, a total of 59, and more than 10 others at the subnational level. We created items for the Migration Research Hub, one for each of the 59.
Second, we analysed the geographical and temporal scope of the indexes and looked at the topic coverage they provided. This gave a good overview of the state of the art in the field. For example, there are many indexes and indicators on citizenship, but a lot fewer on emigration. So this makes it very important to understand the policy-making process, and what is happening at the policy level.
CM: And what would you say are the most remarkable results?
GS: We saw a few important trends. For example, there is redundancy when it comes to indexes on citizenship and admission policies, and integration to a lesser extent. But this is not the case for emigration, governance and return of migrants.
Another interesting result of this research is that there is a huge geographical bias, and data tends to be skewed towards EU/OECD countries. This is linked to the bias that exists towards immigration, rather than emigration.
Furthermore, between 2005 and 2014 there was a proliferation of indexes, which decreased in subsequent years. This means there is a lag in the temporal coverage.
By using a selected number of indicators from the Migrant Integration Policy Index (MIPEX), we created a set of indicators on integration and citizenship. We updated these indicators to 2019, with the aim of filling temporal gaps. You can read a short analysis of these indicators here. It should be noted that other projects, like Immigration Policies in Comparison (IMPIC) and Every Immigrant Is an Emigrant (IMISEM) are doing the same for admission policies and emigration policies respectively.
CM: What are the main uses for these indexes?
GS: There are two main points of application. First, indexes can be
diagnostic tools. By making data open access and available to all, we can create debate on the results. It's a way to tell governments which areas they are stronger in and where they are still creating barriers. So this type of work has fostered debate on policies in different areas, and it can be used by policymakers to reflect on the implementing policies.
Indexes also help to understand the effect of these policies from a macro perspective. It is difficult for policymakers to understand the consequences of policy implementation in the greater scheme of things. So the indicators can help other researchers answer this question. For admission policies, it may be whether or not less open policies lead to more irregular migrants or changes in the nature of the trends. For integration policy, the data may help to understand whether more open integration policies lead to more cohesive societies.
CM: What were the main challenges you faced and how did you address them?
GS: The biggest challenge and issue in the field is that by definition researchers and creators of indexes should publish everything in open access. For example, the way data is collected, indicators are defined, and scores are calculated can change the results. Publishing the data in open access means that other researchers can build upon and update the data. But this is not the case at the moment. CrossMigration helped in this sense, as it gathered a group of researchers who were available and willing to share results while fostering debate and transparency in data and creation of indexes.
CM: What do you think is the next step for this research?
GS: As I already mentioned, the field currently focuses on looking at immigration policies from developing countries and this perception informs the field. That is why developments or improvements to widen the geographical scope of the analysis will be beneficial.
Also, there is a temporal gap, so one suggestion going forward is to slow down or stop the creation of new sets of indicators, but to try to widen the temporal scope by updating or carrying out retrospective analysis.
A longitudinal approach is important to fill out these temporal gaps, but what we found was that indexes are often one-off projects and it's difficult to sustain and keep researchers and funding partners interested in maintaining and updating them. This has to do potentially with the current funding bias towards innovative projects, which can explain the proliferation of indexes, which has led to fragmented research. So indexes should continue to be updated, and their geographical and temporal coverage expanded.