The Costs of Secondary Migration – Forthcoming in JIMI

Long-time readers of this blog will be familiar with my research on refugee resettlement stretching back to 2014. I was in my first year in gradate school and working as a research assistant on a grant from the United States Department of Agriculture. I am pleased to announce that my last research output from that time is finally published in the Journal of International Migration and Integration.

Here is the abstract of the paper, entitled: “The Costs of Secondary Migration: Perspectives from Local Voluntary Agencies in the USA“:

In recent years, as the need for global refugee assistance has increased, so have fears and concerns of the costs of refugee resettlement in Western nations. Now, seemingly more than ever, international security and regional development depend largely on the composition and distribution of the world population. In many Western nations, dispersal policies are specifically designed to manage the distribution of recently arrived refugees. Secondary migration presents a challenge to the goals of dispersal policies and raises questions regarding regional development, population pressures, job security, welfare dependency, and the future of global refugee assistance. We survey administrators and caseworkers in a series of qualitative interviews about their experiences with secondary migration. We conclude that the US refugee resettlement system is ill-equipped in handling the complications of secondary migration. These results lead us to reimagine a better strategy for achieving the goals of refugee resettlement.

Here are a few disjointed thoughts about this paper.

First, the methods of this paper are qualitative. I’ve spent so much time since I wrote the initial drafts learning state of the art quantitative and statistical methods, that this paper almost seems juvenile in some way. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, however. We had a rigorous interview protocol, that we had to get past the Michigan State University Institutional Review Board. I spent days combing through transcripts and notes from interviews trying to pull together some main points from this research. At the end of the day, I have more respect for qualitative researchers after working on this project, even though most of my current work is quantitative.

Second, the motivation for this paper came in 2014, well before the “Trump Movement” went mainstream in the United States. While reflecting on the amount of time it took to get this paper published, I think this research is actually more important now that Trump is our President. The reduction in the number of refugees accepted by the United States is driven, in part, by the perception that the costs of refugee resettlement exceed the benefits. One of the key points of our qualitative interviews was that secondary migration strains the current refugee resettlement system in the United Sates and perhaps adds to the perception of costs associated with resettling refugees. Perhaps, if this insight it taken seriously, the refugee resettlement system could be reimagined to minimize the “costs” of secondary migration. Then the United States could contribute more meaningfully to reducing human suffering around the world. (Of course another aspect to the backlash against refugee resettlement is almost certainly racism. Although this is important for us all to consider, this paper does not address this issue.)

Finally, the publication of this paper highlights the reality that there is a final resting place for almost any quality academic paper. Is this paper going to get me a job? No. Are their limitations to the implications of this research? Yes. But this paper might be helpful on the margin and the insights we are reporting may be useful someday. With the right framing and patience publishing academic papers, such as this, is possible. I am happy about the outcome.

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