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The Economics of International Refugee Law


  • Ryan Bubb
  • Michael Kremer
  • David I. Levine


We model the evolution of international refugee law and analyze reform proposals. We show that the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees can be understood as an agreement among states to supply the global public good of refugee protection but that the increase in economic migration has led states to shade on their obligations under the convention. Furthermore, one state shading on its obligations strengthens incentives for other states to shade, potentially creating multiple equilibria. Under the open-ended nonrefoulement norm of the convention, reforms that make a state less attractive for potential immigrants, such as taxes or north-to-south transfer systems, would create negative externalities for third countries. In contrast, reforms in which wealthy states pay poor states to resettle refugees from other poor states would create positive externalities on third countries. Subsidizing such transfers would be more efficient than current policies used to reduce the social costs caused by concentrations of refugees in certain southern host states.

Suggested Citation

  • Ryan Bubb & Michael Kremer & David I. Levine, 2011. "The Economics of International Refugee Law," The Journal of Legal Studies, University of Chicago Press, vol. 40(2), pages 367-404.
  • Handle: RePEc:ucp:jlstud:doi:10.1086/661185
    DOI: 10.1086/661185

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Timothy J. Hatton, 2009. "The Rise and Fall of Asylum: What Happened and Why?," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 119(535), pages 183-213, February.
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    Cited by:

    1. Giordani, Paolo E. & Ruta, Michele, 2013. "Coordination failures in immigration policy," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 89(1), pages 55-67.
    2. Azarnert, Leonid V., 2018. "Refugee resettlement, redistribution and growth," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 54(C), pages 89-98.
    3. David de la Croix & Frederic Docquier, 2015. "An Incentive Mechanism to Break the Low-skill Immigration Deadlock," Review of Economic Dynamics, Elsevier for the Society for Economic Dynamics, vol. 18(3), pages 593-618, July.
    4. Fernández-Huertas Moraga, Jesús & Rapoport, Hillel, 2014. "Tradable immigration quotas," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 115(C), pages 94-108.
    5. Devictor, Xavier & Do, Quy-Toan & Levchenko, Andrei A., 2021. "The globalization of refugee flows," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 150(C).
    6. Djajić, Slobodan, 2014. "Asylum seeking and irregular migration," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 39(C), pages 83-95.
    7. Monheim-Helstroffer, Jenny & Obidzinski, Marie, 2010. "Optimal discretion in asylum lawmaking," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 30(1), pages 86-97, March.
    8. Veshi Denard, 2020. "The EU Regulatory Competition in Asylum Law," Central European Journal of Public Policy, Sciendo, vol. 14(1), pages 19-30, June.
    9. Yuji Tamura, 2017. "Asylum providers: Hawks or Doves?," CEPR Discussion Papers 699, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.

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