Daniel Auer, Max Schaub
Returning from greener pastures? How exposure to returnees affects migration plans

World Development, 2023: 169, (article no. 106291), pp. 1-13
ISSN: 0305-750X

Information and networks have long been hypothesized to be crucial elements of the formation of emigration intentions. Returnees are a prime source of information about life as a migrant. In this study, we contribute to an emerging literature on the influence of returnees on the formation of migration decisions using representative geolocated data from 5,000 respondents and more than 47,000 family members and relatives from Senegal and The Gambia, two countries with high emigration rates in the past. We demonstrate that the presence of return migrants in a respondent’s vicinity is exogenously conditional on the current number of emigrants. This allows us to circumvent the endogeneity of personal networks and to estimate the effect of returnees on individual emigration intentions. Migration intentions are substantially lower when emigrants who returned from Europe are present in the area. This does not apply to returnees from another African country. Further analyses reveal that migrants who returned from another African country improve the economic situation of families, while non-family returnees from Europe have no lasting economic impact but instead salter people’s negative perceptions of migration. We infer that exposure to returnees depresses emigration plans because potential migrants become more aware of the risks of the migration journey and the stigma attached to returning unsuccessfully.