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Regular version of the site

Migrants Rely on Prior Experience

Personal experience is a critical factor in the choice of destination for labour migration. Being familiar with the local language and laws and having local contacts matter more for potential migrants than the current economic situation in the target region, according to Evgenia Chernina, Junior Research Fellow at the HSE Centre for Labour Market Studies.

In studying the choice of destination for labour migration, economists tend to consider two factors: the economic situation and the concentration of migrants in the host region. However, in deciding to seek employment in the same country once again, migrants tend to rely on personal experience rather than economic considerations.

In her study 'Selecting the Destination for Migration: the Role of Past Experience', Chernina looks at how one’s past migration history affects the choice of future destinations and whether economic factors play the same role for persons with and without prior migration experience.

Remittance-driven Economies

Chernina studied labour migration from Tajikistan to Russia between 2007 and 2009 – a time when Russia’s economy was being affected by an economic crisis similar to the current state; thus, her findings can be used to inform current migration policy.

She used the example of Tajikistan as the country of origin because during the period in question it was the second largest supplier of labour migrants to Russia – up to 16% of the entire foreign labour force. At that time, Tajikistan was extremely dependent on migrant remittances and ranked first in the world in terms of the share of remittances as part of its GDP: 45% in 2007, 49% in 2008, and 35% in 2009.

Most Tajik migrants in the study were young men coming from large rural households; in Russia, they were employed as unskilled workers in construction and other industries.

Most Tajik migrants came to work in Russia for a limited time: in 2007, they would spend an average of twelve months in Russia before returning home. Generally, they sought employment in big Russian cities, with up to 60% traveling to Moscow. During the 2008 and 2009 economic crisis, quotas for foreign labour were almost halved, yet the number of migrants with a valid work permit only dropped by 8% at the end of 2009.

Local Connections Helpful

Chernina used the data from the Tajik Living Standards Survey (TLSS) conducted by the State Statistics Committee of the Republic of Tajikistan jointly with the World Bank and UNICEF in 2007 and 2009.

They surveyed 4500 households and 32,000 individuals in 2007 and 1,503 households and 7,000 individuals in 2009, using a questionnaire which included questions about migration (such as the average monthly income earned by migrants abroad, and preferred migration destinations), as well as education, health, employment, and household members' incomes and expenses. The survey was conducted at a time when seasonal migrants were returning home, so in many cases the survey questions were answered by the migrants themselves or, for those still away, by the head of the household.

This survey data was combined with the 2008 and 2009 regional macroeconomic statistics provided by Rosstat. Chernina analysed the data on average wages, unemployment, gross regional product, regional population, and the number of Tajiks residents in the region; she used the information on migration quotas available from the Ministry of Health and Social Development.

The author classified all migrants into two categories:

  • migrant stock, i.e. those who were already in Russia during the study year; and
  • migrant flow, i.e. those who came to Russia during the study year.

She also looked separately at 'new' migrants who came to Russia for the first time, and 'repeat' migrants coming from households in which someone had spent time in Russia as a labour migrant in 2007. Unsurprisingly, repeat migrants spoke better Russian, had higher incomes, held better jobs and were more likely to have legal status, while being of the same age and gender and a slightly lower educational level compared to 'new' migrants.

According to Chernina, in choosing the destination, repeat migrants cared less about the economic situation in the region; instead, they took advantage of their pre-existing knowledge of the local language, laws and customs, and established connections with compatriots and local residents. "This type of assets are usually location-specific and rarely transferable; therefore, changing the destination of future migration comes at a cost," Chernina explains.

Comfort More Important Than Income

Chernina's assumption was that the migrants’ choice of destination was based on a cost-benefit analysis, as they weighed their expected revenues against costs such as the ticket price, rent, work permit fee, etc.

Thus, migrants tend to believe they have better chances of finding a job at a lower cost in a familiar place due to pre-existing knowledge and local connections; in fact, if they need to make the decision while in the host country – e.g. because their work contract has expired – they can also avoid the cost of relocation.

According to Chernina, the importance of the host region’s economic characteristics will further decline for migrants who are already in the country of destination as opposed to newcomers.

The author's findings from empirical research using conditional logistic regression confirm that the experience of migration reduces migrants' sensitivity to the host region's economic characteristics.

These findings suggest a degree of inertia in the choice of migration destination. Past choices based on higher earnings (e.g. the city of Moscow) and employment opportunities (e.g. the area around Moscow) largely predetermine all subsequent destinations. However, according to Chernina, the geographic patterns of migration to Russia may change over time as new migrants arrive who are highly sensitive to the host region's economy.


Author: Гринкевич Владислав Владимирович, November 10, 2015