Understanding Willingness to Migrate Illegally: Evidence from a Lab in the Field Experiment
Illegal migration to Europe through the sea, though risky, remains one of the most popular migration options for many Sub-Saharan Africans. This study aims at improving our understanding of the determinants of the willingness to migrate illegally from West Africa to Europe. We implemented an incentivized lab-in-the field experiment in rural Gambia, the country with the highest rate of illegal migration to Europe in the region. Sampled male youths aged 15 to 25 were given hypothetical scenarios regarding the probability of dying en route to Europe, and of obtaining asylum or legal residence status after successful arrival. According to our data, potential migrants overestimate both the risk of dying en route to Europe, and the probability of obtaining legal residency status. The experimental results suggest that the willingness to migrate illegally is affected by information on the chances of dying en route and of obtaining a legal residence permit. Our estimates show that providing potential migrants with official numbers on the probability of obtaining a legal residence permit decreases their likelihood of migration by 2.88 percentage points (pp), while information on the risk of migrating increases their likelihood of migration by 2.29pp – although the official risk information provided may be regarded as a lower bound to actual mortality. Follow up data collected one year after the experiment show that the migration decisions reported in the lab experiment correlate well with actual migration decisions and intentions. Overall, our study indicates that the migration decisions of potential migrants are likely to actively respond to relevant information.