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Why do states establish and empower diaspora engagement institutions? Origin-state institutions dedicated to emigrants and their descendants have been largely overlooked in mainstream political studies, perhaps because they fall in the grey area between domestic politics and international relations. Now, diaspora institutions are found in over half of all United Nations member states, yet we have little theory and broad-sample statistical evidence to guide our understanding about when they are more likely to emerge and increase in importance. In response, we identify and then investigate empirical support for three theoretically-grounded perspectives on diaspora institution emergence and importance: instrumentally rational states tapping resources of emigrants and their descendants; value-rational states embracing lost members of the nation-state; institutionally-converging states governing diasporas consistent with global norms. We document support for these alternative perspectives in regression and related analyses modelling diaspora institution emergence and importance in 144 states observed from 1990-2010. Tapping perspective estimations exhibit better overall model fit compared to estimations based on other perspectives. Estimations combining perspectives exhibit the best model fit. Individual terms exhibiting signs contrary to prediction suggest new directions for theoretical and empirical research from different perspectives. We advance international relations research by identifying, distinguishing and testing alternative perspectives explaining diaspora institution emergence and importance. We also advance international relations practice and policy with evidence-guided insight on near-term trends in institution emergence and importance.



Working paper


International Migration Institute

Publication Date




Total pages



emigrants; origin state-diaspora relations; diaspora engagement; institutions; global governance