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