Universiteit Leiden

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Towards evidence-based migration policymaking?

From March 2023, political scientist Katharina Natter (Leiden University) will lead part of an ambitious project called PACES, funded by Horizon Europe and coordinated by Simona Vezzoli (ISS). PACES is an innovative, inter-disciplinary and multi-level research project that offers a groundbreaking approach to studying and understanding people’s decisions to migrate. Furthermore, it explores how this knowledge can better inform migration policies.

Bridging migration decision-making and migration policy-making

How do changes in society, individual life experiences and migration policy shape decisions to stay or to migrate over time and across countries? And how can this knowledge inform future migration policies and governance? These are the central questions that PACES seeks to answer.

The project will focus on two parallel research components: On the one hand, it will examine the interplay between societal change, individual life experiences and migration policies in shaping decisions to stay or migrate in origin communities and in places of transit and destination. On the other hand, the project will study the mechanisms that underpin migration policies and explore alternative approaches to migration policies that better account for the realities of migrants’ decision-making processes.

Migration as a political challenge

In the last few decades migration has been framed as a challenge for the EU and its Member States. EU and national migration policymakers have become preoccupied with predicting and controlling migration to the continent, leading to the proliferation of financial instruments, strategies and initiatives. This reactive approach fails to consider a set of emerging social changes, and the need for migration policies to be forward-looking rather than reactive.

‘Simplifications reinforce the belief that only control and surveillance measures can effectively control migration.’

Moreover, even when migrants flee violence and conflict, their motives are questioned because they also seek to improve socioeconomic conditions for themselves and their families. Such simplifications reinforce the belief that only control and surveillance measures can effectively control migration. In reality, however, decisions to migrate are driven by factors such as labour demand, origin country development and network dynamics.

Concentrating empirically on African migration to Europe, the focus of many EU and national migration policy interventions, PACES innovates academic and policy debates by studying migration and migration policy decision-making as interlinked rather than separate processes.

Katharina Natter (Leiden University Institute of Political Science)

The role of evidence in migration policymaking

While social science research has greatly advanced insights in the nature, causes and impacts of migration processes over the last decades, much of this knowledge remains fragmented or is not used in migration policymaking.

To fill this gap, Natter will lead a work package within PACES that addresses evidence-based migration policymaking. Based on policy analysis and semi-structured interviews, she will identify to what extent and how policy-makers use existing scientific evidence on migration processes in their decision-making processes: What scientific evidence makes it (or does not make it) into the policymaking process? Are certain aspects of migration governance more open to evidence than others? And has the role of evidence in migration policy increased or decreased over time?

During Policy Innovation Labs involving PACES colleagues, think tanks and policy-makers, Natter will harness such new and existing knowledge on migration and migration policy-making to develop more evidence-based – and hence effective – policies to address migration amidst growing political, economic, environmental and global health changes and uncertainties.

Besides the PACES project, Katharina Natter will also present her newest book “The Politics of Immigration Beyond Liberal States”  during a launch event on March 30th.

Horizon Europe

Horizon Europe is the EU’s main funding programme (2021-2027) for research and innovation with a total budget of €95.5 billion. The programme is built around three main pillars: excellent science, global challenges and industrial competitiveness, and innovative Europe. Furthermore, the programme facilitates collaboration and strengthens the impact of research and innovation in developing, supporting and implementing EU policies while tackling global challenges.


Photo: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2019 – Source: EP

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