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Smuggling Humans: A Theory of Debt-Financed Migration

  • Friebel, Guido


    (Goethe University Frankfurt)

  • Guriev, Sergei


    (New Economic School, Moscow)

We introduce financial constraints in a theoretical analysis of illegal immigration. Intermediaries finance the migration costs of wealth-constrained migrants, who enter temporary servitude contracts to pay back the debt. These debt/labor contracts are more easily enforceable in the illegal than in the legal sector of the host country. Hence, when moving from the illegal to the legal sector becomes more costly, for instance, because of stricter deportation policies, fewer immigrants default on debt. This reduces the risks for intermediaries, who are then more willing to finance illegal migration. Stricter deportation policies may thus increase rather than decrease the ex ante flow of illegal migrants. We also show that stricter deportation policies worsen the skill composition of immigrants. While stricter border controls decrease overall immigration, they may also result in an increase of debt-financed migration.

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Paper provided by Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA) in its series IZA Discussion Papers with number 1025.

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Length: 30 pages
Date of creation: Feb 2004
Date of revision:
Publication status: published in: Journal of the European Economic Association, 2006, 4 (6), 1085-1111
Handle: RePEc:iza:izadps:dp1025
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  1. Epstein, Gil S & Hillman, Arye L. & Weiss, Avi, 1998. "Creating Illegal Immigrants," CEPR Discussion Papers 1796, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Tirole, Jean, 2001. "Corporate Governance," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 69(1), pages 1-35, January.
  3. Epstein, Gil S & Weiss, Avi, 2001. "A Theory of Immigration Amnesties," CEPR Discussion Papers 2830, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
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  5. Katharine Donato & Jorge Durand & Douglas Massey, 1992. "Stemming the tide? Assessing the deterrent effects of the immigration reform and control act," Demography, Springer, vol. 29(2), pages 139-157, May.
  6. Francisco L. Rivera-Batiz, 1999. "Undocumented workers in the labor market: An analysis of the earnings of legal and illegal Mexican immigrants in the United States," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 91-116.
  7. Klaus F. Zimmermann, 1995. "Tackling the European Migration Problems," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 9(2), pages 45-62, Spring.
  8. Chiswick, Barry R. & Hatton, Timothy J., 2002. "International Migration and the Integration of Labor Markets," IZA Discussion Papers 559, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  9. Kevin H. O'Rourke & Jeffrey G. Williamson, 2001. "Globalization and History: The Evolution of a Nineteenth-Century Atlantic Economy," MIT Press Books, The MIT Press, edition 1, volume 1, number 0262650592, June.
  10. Kossoudji, S.A. & Cobb-Clark, D.A., 1996. "Coming Out of the Shadows: Learning About Legal Status and Wages from the Legalized Population," CEPR Discussion Papers 347, Centre for Economic Policy Research, Research School of Economics, Australian National University.
  11. Genicot, Garance, 2002. "Bonded labor and serfdom: a paradox of voluntary choice," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 67(1), pages 101-127, February.
  12. Gordon H. Hanson & Raymond Robertson & Antonio Spilimbergo, 1999. "Does Border Enforcement Protect U.S. Workers from Illegal Immigration?," NBER Working Papers 7054, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  13. Chau, Nancy H, 2001. "Strategic Amnesty and Credible Immigration Reform," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 19(3), pages 604-34, July.
  14. Galenson, David W., 1984. "The Rise and Fall of Indentured Servitude in the Americas: An Economic Analysis," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 44(01), pages 1-26, March.
  15. repec:reg:rpubli:282 is not listed on IDEAS
  16. Viscusi, W Kip & Aldy, Joseph E, 2003. " The Value of a Statistical Life: A Critical Review of Market Estimates throughout the World," Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, Springer, vol. 27(1), pages 5-76, August.
  17. Piketty, Thomas, 2000. "Theories of persistent inequality and intergenerational mobility," Handbook of Income Distribution, in: A.B. Atkinson & F. Bourguignon (ed.), Handbook of Income Distribution, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 8, pages 429-476 Elsevier.
  18. Slobodan Djajic, 1999. "Dynamics of immigration control," Journal of Population Economics, Springer, vol. 12(1), pages 45-61.
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