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Clandestine Migrants: Do the High-Skilled Return Home First?


  • Nicola Coniglio

    () (Norwegian School of Economics and Business Administration (NHH) and Dipartimento di Scienze Economiche, University of Bari)

  • Giuseppe De Arcangelis

    () (Department of Economic Theory and CIDEI - Sapienza University of Rome (Italy))

  • Laura Serlenga

    () (IZA and Department of Economic Science - University of Bari (Italy))


Undocumented migration is a pervasive and increasingly relevant phenomenon in modern societies. In this paper we shed some lights on the factors affecting the return plans of irregular migrants and in particular on the role of individual skills and abilities. We show that highly skilled clandestine migrants are more likely to return home than migrants with low or no skills; we argue that this result is due to constraints imposed by the irregular status on migrants' ability to fully employ human capital in the destination country ("skill waste"). We present this idea in a simple life-cycle framework where illegality is modeled as a tax on skills that reduces the opportunity cost of returning home, particularly for the highly skilled. This proposition is tested using individuallevel data on irregular migrants in two OECD countries Italy and the US. The two data sources offer two very distinct situations - in terms of densities of migrants networks, duration of the migration spell, country of origin and destinations etc. - on which to test the implications of the model. Empirical evidence confirms that the intention to return to the home country is more likely for highly skilled illegal immigrants. The effects are weaker when migration takes place within consolidated networks of already established migrants, as for the case of Mexicans in the US. In general the results of this paper suggest that when a large proportion of immigration flows takes places outside the legal system, the out-migration of irregular migrants is likely to reinforce the negative self-selection at entry (those with relatively higher skills are more likely to return in the home countries).

Suggested Citation

  • Nicola Coniglio & Giuseppe De Arcangelis & Laura Serlenga, 2010. "Clandestine Migrants: Do the High-Skilled Return Home First?," Working Papers 1/10, Sapienza University of Rome, DISS.
  • Handle: RePEc:saq:wpaper:1/10

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. 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;European Society for Population Economics, vol. 12(1), pages 91-116.
    2. Orrenius, Pia M. & Zavodny, Madeline, 2005. "Self-selection among undocumented immigrants from Mexico," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 78(1), pages 215-240, October.
    3. Maria Concetta Chiuri & Giuseppe De Arcangelis & Angela Maria D'Uggento & Giovanni Ferri, 2004. "Illegal Immigration into Italy: Evidence from a field survey," CSEF Working Papers 121, Centre for Studies in Economics and Finance (CSEF), University of Naples, Italy.
    4. Beine, Michel & Docquier, Frederic & Rapoport, Hillel, 2001. "Brain drain and economic growth: theory and evidence," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 64(1), pages 275-289, February.
    5. Sherrie A. Kossoudji & Deborah A. Cobb-Clark, 2002. "Coming out of the Shadows: Learning about Legal Status and Wages from the Legalized Population," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 20(3), pages 598-628, July.
    6. Bhagwati, Jagdish & Hamada, Koichi, 1974. "The brain drain, international integration of markets for professionals and unemployment : A theoretical analysis," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 1(1), pages 19-42, April.
    7. Maria Concetta Chiuri & Giuseppe De Arcangelis & Angela Maria D’Uggento & Giovanni Ferri, 2007. "FEATURES AND EXPECTATIONS OF ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS: results of a field survey in Italy," CHILD Working Papers wp01_07, CHILD - Centre for Household, Income, Labour and Demographic economics - ITALY.
    8. David McKenzie & Hillel Rapoport, 2006. "Can Migration Reduce Educational Attainments? Depressing Evidence from Mexico," CReAM Discussion Paper Series 0601, Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration (CReAM), Department of Economics, University College London.
    9. Barry Chiswick, 1999. "Are Immigrants Favorably Self-Selected?," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 89(2), pages 181-185, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Kupets Olga, 2011. "Brain Gain or Brain Waste? The Performance of Return Labor Migrants in the Ukrainian Labor Market," EERC Working Paper Series 11/06e, EERC Research Network, Russia and CIS.

    More about this item


    Illegal migration; labor skills; survey data; return migration.;

    JEL classification:

    • F22 - International Economics - - International Factor Movements and International Business - - - International Migration
    • C25 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Single Equation Models; Single Variables - - - Discrete Regression and Qualitative Choice Models; Discrete Regressors; Proportions; Probabilities


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