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Selectivity and internal migration: A study of refugees’ dispersal policy in Sweden

Conference contribution
Authors Debora Pricila Birgier
Yitchak Haberfeld
Christer Lundh
Erik Elldér
Published in 18th Nordic Migration Conference – “Migration and social inequality: Global perspectives – new boundaries”. 11-12 August 2016 Oslo, Norway
Publication year 2016
Published at Department of Economy and Society, Unit for Human Geography
Department of Economy and Society, Economic History
Language en
Subject categories Social and Economic Geography, Sociology


Following the intensified waves of refugees to Europe, dispersal policies of newly arrived immigrants are proposed for speeding up their integration in the hosting societies and for distributing the financial burden associated with it across the EU countries. However, the economic theory of migration suggests that economic immigrants are self-selected to destinations based on their abilities. Highly skilled people tend to migrate to labor markets with a broader opportunities structure, while less capable individuals choose markets that are more sheltered. Therefore, if refugees also show some patterns of selectivity when making their destination choice, the effectiveness of such policy depends on the extent to which refugees tend to stay in their initial location and their degree of selectivity. We used a quasi-experiment to examine whether the economic theory of migration applies not only to economic immigrants, but to refugees as well. We focus on refugee cohorts who came to Sweden during a period when a "Whole-Sweden" policy was applied. This policy was designed to reduce the concentration of refugees in mainly large cities by randomly deploying asylum seekers in almost all municipalities within Sweden. A few years after their initial assigned location, those refugees were given a choice whether to stay in their assigned location, or to move to another place within Sweden. This allows us to examine refugees’ self-selection patterns within Sweden and their effect on their subsequent economic assimilation. We use individual register data from Statistics Sweden to study refugees who arrived in Sweden during 1990-1993 and we follow them during a 6-year period from the time they received residency. We use discreet time survival analysis in order to assess the effect of abilities on destination choice of refugees, and lagged dependent models to assess their wage and income growth. The results suggest that refugees affected by that policy are more likely to move within Sweden relative to immigrants that were not affected by it. Furthermore, refugees’ education levels are found to be related to major differences in their destination choices. Highly skilled refugees are more likely to migrate to labor markets with wide structured opportunities and with high levels of inequality relative to less skilled ones. However, it seems that destination choices have implications on disposable income but not on wages. These findings may indicate that the choice of internal migration is mainly influenced by welfare maximization rather than wage maximization.

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