Can employment and training policies and programmes influence migration decision-making in low- and middle-income countries?

This literature review considers the evidence linking employment and training policies and migration decision-making in low- and middle-income countries. These are some of the policies and programmes considered within the MIDEQ research on migration decision-making, alongside social protection programming (see Himmelstine et al., forthcoming).

The policy interest in this area is high. Europe alone has spent billions of Euros on the ‘development’ of origin and transit countries, for instance through the European Trust Fund for Africa (Raty and Shilhav, 2020), funding education, skills and employment programming on the assumption that this will reduce migration to Europe. Policy-makers in low- and middle-income countries might be interested in the additional financial support to government programming this entails. The wider migration literature shows that migration decision-making is oftentimes linked to employment and education/ skills. For example, the search for better employment opportunities is proposed as a key driver of migration (Carling et al., 2020; Hagen-Zanker and Mallett, 2016; Van Hear et al., 2018), unemployment is associated with high levels of aspirations to migrate (Aslany et al., 2021; Migali and Scipioni, 2019) and higher education levels are associated with higher levels of migration aspirations (Aslany et al., 2021; OECD, 2017a).

It may be reasonable for policy-makers to assume that promoting education and employment amongst aspiring or returnee migrants can change migration decisions. But do these assumptions actually hold true for specific employment and training policies and programmes, including those with specific objectives to impact on migration (mostly an objective to reduce migration)? Does the same relationship hold for internal, regional and international migration? What is the influence of design and implementation, context and other mediating factors?

This literature review sheds light on these questions and summarises the evidence on the influence of employment and training programming on decisions to migrate. It draws on 52 empirical studies that consider the impact of 65 employment and training policies and programmes in low- and middle-income countries on the propensity to migrate internally and internationally, including onward or secondary migration, return and remigration. Employment programmes tend to aim at creating work opportunities (e.g. public works programmes or business support) and training programmes considered in this review often have the objective to boost employability (e.g. vocational training).

This review will first detail the literature review methodology and an overview of the evidence base (section 2). The next section presents a descriptive overview of key findings, first by type of migration outcome, then by type of policy or programme (section 3). Section 4 considers the myriad of factors – design, implementation and individual and contextual – that mediate the impacts of policies and programmes on migration. Lastly, section 5 concludes, drawing out policy implications and suggesting areas for future research.