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The effectiveness of migration policies has been widely contested in the face of their supposed failure to steer immigration and their hypothesized unintended, counter-productive effects. However, due to fundamental methodological and conceptual limitations, evidence has remained inconclusive. While the migration policy research is often descriptive and receiving-country biased, migration determinants research tends to be based on obsolete, theoretically void push-pull and gravity models which tend to omit crucial non-economic, sending-country and policy factors. More fundamentally, this state-of-the-art reveals a still limited understanding of the forces driving migration. Although there is consensus that macro-contextual economic and political factors and meso-level factors such as networks all play ‘some’ role, there is no agreement on their relative weight and mutual interaction. To start filling that gap, this paper outlines the contours of a conceptual framework for generating improved insights into the ways states and policies shape migration processes in their interaction with structural migration determinants in receiving and sending countries. First, it argues that the fragmented insights from different disciplinary theories can be integrated in one framework through conceptualizing virtually all forms of migration as a function of capabilities and aspirations. Second, to increase conceptual clarity it distinguishes the preponderant role of states in migration processes from the hypothetically more marginal role of specific immigration and emigration policies. Subsequently, it hypothesizes four different (spatial, categorical, inter-temporal, reverse flow) ‘substitution effects’ which can partly explain why polices fail to meet their objectives. This framework will serve as a conceptual guide for the DEMIG (The Determinants of International Migration) research project.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



migration, migration determinants, theory, structure, agency, migration policy,, states, effectiveness, substitution effects