International Economic Assistance and Migration: The Case of Sub-Saharan Countries



Development aid is commonly advocated as one of the most effective instruments to reduce international migration. Nevertheless, empirical evidence shows that push factors do not automatically result in massive migrations and that aid policies systematically fail to meet their stated objectives. Recently, several contributions have argued that an increase in sending countries’ wealth may lead to a rise in migration, rather than to a reduction, because it enables people to assume the costs and risks of migrating. However, despite the growing number of studies on this phenomenon, the role played by Official Development Assistance (ODA) has not received attention yet. This paper aims at providing empirical evidence on this specific issue. In particular, we investigate the relation between ODA and international migration rates of sub-Saharan countries. We argue that ODA may have a positive effect on migration decisions for two reasons. First, ODA improves workers’ ability to cover the costs of migration, by providing new job opportunities and in turn increasing incomes in the recipient country. Second, ODA, which is often associated with development programs in education, communication services, and business opportunities, may also stimulate mobility aspirations of potential migrants. We develop an econometric analysis in order to investigate this hypothesis. Specifically, we perform a three-stage least square estimation on a sample of 48 sub-Saharan countries. We build a two-equation model, so as to allow for endogeneity of ODA, and find that ODA has a positive and statistically significant effect on migration outflows. Thus, as our main contribution, we argue that development aids are not substitute for migration and that the traditional aid policies (such as those of the European Union), aimed at curbing migration by providing international financial aids, might need to be reconsidered.