Scientific Objectives:

The overarching goal of this project is to integrate meso-level insights into the policy debate on labour migration in Europe. In other words, it aims to analyse the role of migrant networks in mediating the impact of migration policy interventions on patterns of mobility and stay. This broader goal can be sub-divided into three more specific scientific and policy-related objectives:

Theoretical: To develop a conceptual framework and methodological tools for better analysing the relationship between policy and meso-mediated outcomes, and to investigate possibilities for modelling these dynamics in order to better inform policy.
Empirical: To use these methodologies to expand knowledge on the impact of policy intervention on mobility and integration, through our own empirical research.
Policy-related: To analyse patterns of transfer of meso-level knowledge to policy communities in Europe, and the sources of resistance to such transfer.

Broadly corresponding to these three objectives, the project will be divided into three main sections. Below, we outline the three projects (A., B. and C.), detailing methodological approaches and the implementation plan for each.

A. Elaboration of theoretical, conceptual and methodological framework for research
  1. The team will review state-of-the-art models and methodologies for research on meso-level dynamics. This will involve, inter alia, exploring ways of applying US experimental economics to model these relationships. To this end, the team will conduct a small pilot project to test the feasibility of applying experimental interview techniques through a small sample of foreign students in Hamburg. This initial phase will also involve setting up a Virtual Laboratory on Migration to harmonise available data sets and experimental interview results.
  2. The team will refine hypotheses for the two empirical sub-projects (see below), drawing on literature from social geography, sociology, anthropology, economics, and existing micro and macro data on migration. We shall also consult literature on previous relevant cases, especially on the guest worker era in Europe and Mexican-US migration. We expect the hypotheses to be based on three aspects of the meso-level as an intervening variable: (a) the role of migrant networks in disseminating (mis-)information about policy change; (b) the impact of changes in the size, concentration, resources or stability of the network on mobility and integration; (c) the emergence of cultures of migration in places of origin and their impact on mobility.
  3. The team will develop detailed methodology and work plans for the sub-projects. We shall select two case studies for each of the two empirical sub-projects, based on pre-defined criteria (see below). Methodology for both will include a combination of: (i) available data sets; (ii) qualitative interviews in migrant and/or sending communities; (iii) experimental interview techniques.



B. Implementation of the empirical research

1. Sub-project one: Patterns of Mobility

The central research question of this sub-project is how far and in what ways meso-level dynamics influence the impact of expanded labour migration programmes on international mobility. It will focus in particular on "unexpected" irregular flows outside of the legal programme. The hypotheses will posit how the three meso-dimensions listed in A.2 may increase the propensity for emigration outside of the programme. The relevant variables and their relationship can be summarised as follows:

Policy Intervention
Expected Outcome
Intervening Meso Variable
Unexpected Outcome
Expanded / new legal
migration programme
Increased regular
immigration within

Dissemination of
information on policy
change through network

Creation of culture of

Increased resources /
stability of migrant
community in country of


Long-term or
permanent settlement
of immigrations

We plan to test the hypotheses on two cases, where the following features are present: (a) a specified policy intervention expanded opportunities for legal migration; (b) this mobility occurred within a clearly definable transnational space; (c) there is available data on mobility (at least for the regular flows); (d) a sufficient sample is accessible for interviews; and (e) the two cases provide adequate scope for comparison and contrast of variations in the intervening and dependent variables.(*)

2. Sub-project two: Settlement

The second sub-project examines the conditions under which migrants participating in temporary labour programmes may be influenced through meso-level dynamics to switch to longer-term or permanent settlement. The central hypotheses will revolve around how the size, concentration, resources and stability of migrant networks may increase the propensity of (initially temporary) migrants to settle. We shall also consider the hypotheses that weaker social ties to places of origin increase the propensity for permanent migration; and that low-skilled migrants are more influenced by networks than high-skilled ones in their decisions to settle. We shall also investigate the ways in which these network dynamics differentially affect the decision-making of female and male migrants. The hypotheses will be tested on two case studies, which should display the following features: (a) a specified policy intervention expanded opportunities for temporary migration; (b) a proportion of those under the scheme subsequently opted to settle; (c) there is scope for comparing two similar groups of immigrants (in terms of source country, reasons for migration and length of stay), one located in an area with a concentrated and well-resourced migrant community, the other not.(**)

Policy Intervention
Expected Outcome
Intervening Meso
Unexpected Outcome
Temporary migration
Temporary stay of

Size, concentration,
resources and
stability of
migrant community in
country of destination

Low level of loyalty to
country of origin


Long-term or
permanent settlement
of immigrations


3. Sub-project three: Macro-meso links

The third sub-project will situate the meso-level findings of the empirical sub-projects in a broader framework that can better inform migration policy interventions. This will involve two main steps. First, based on the theoretical analysis in section A.1, we shall explore the potential for modelling these meso-level findings. Second, we shall integrate the meso-findings into a broader framework that incorporates macro-level variables. This will require delineating the macro factors that influence both the intervening variable (establishment and functioning of networks), and the dependent variable (decisions on mobility and settlement). While we cannot aim to provide a holistic model that encompasses all possible macro-variables, we can nonetheless list the most significant ones. In both cases (i.e. networks and decision-making), we would expect macro-economic indicators, legal rights, social policy and institutional structures to be of especial importance. The analyses will encompass relevant conditions in both sending and receiving countries, which may act as “push” or “pull” factors or may provide conditions for the emergence or consolidation and extension of migrant networks. The main source for this section will be the extensive literature from economics, sociology and political science on the determinants of migration and conditions for the emergence and functioning of migrant networks.
The sub-project will produce two conceptual frameworks categorising the meso- and macro-level variables which mediate the impact of expanded labour migration programmes on, respectively, mobility and settlement. The frameworks will provide a basis for capturing national-specific or longitudinal variations which influence the role of networks in different contexts. It will also help to broaden the range of policy options available for avoiding unexpected outcomes (i.e. possibilities for policies that impact the relevant macro-variables affecting mobility and settlement).




C. Incorporating meso-knowledge into policy

The final section will analyse how this knowledge on migration may be transferred to inform policy at national and EU level. As described in B1.1, two sets of impediments to incorporating meso-level insights into policy-making are especially relevant: scientific and socio-political. We will have already addressed a number of the scientific impediments through research in sections A. and B. Section C. will draw on theories of knowledge transfer between epistemic and policy communities, and investigate patterns and sources of path-dependency that impede efficient transfer.

This analysis must be located in a model of the specific institutional and political constraints faced in the field of migration. This requires analysing how mobilised interests, political institutions, party political dynamics and international constraints shape policy choices in European states. An important aspect of this analysis will be how migration policy-making may be shaped by unrealistic or domestic policy motivated assumptions, which can produce sub-optimal policy choices, contrary to the “first choice” policy options of executives. Only within this broader framework can we make sense of the barriers to incorporating new knowledge into the migration policy community. This framework will be applied to examine the migration policy community in the UK, Germany and the European Commission. The cases provide good scope for comparison and contrast, displaying diverse institutional structures, party political and electoral pressures, interest group incorporation and patterns of knowledge transfer.


In terms of expected impact, we hope to (1) make an innovative contribution to theoretical and empirical research in this area, and (2) provide a valuable input into the policy debate on migration in European countries and at EU level.

(1) Innovation. The project will promote innovation in four senses. First, the multidisciplinary approach applied in the research will be highly original. To be sure, there have been a number of attempts to apply a range of multidisciplinary approaches to the analysis of migration, but most have involved synthesising the research results of these approaches to produce common insights. This project will integrate interdisciplinary theories and concepts from the outset, in our design of the methodology for the empirical research.

A second important innovation will be the application and development of recent US approaches to modelling meso-level variables. This will include theoretical approaches to modelling identity-based aspects of migrant decision-making, as well as cutting-edge methodological approaches (e.g. experimental interviews).

Third, the empirical research component will provide an original contribution to knowledge on the impact of policy intervention on migration. There is already extensive research on the impact of migrant networks on mobility and integration, and a number of more general historical works on the consequences of policy interventions in the guest worker era. However, to our knowledge there has been no systematic interview-based research on how networks influence mobility or settlement patterns of specified migrant networks, following the expansion of legal migration programmes in Europe.

Fourth, the project will offer innovative analysis of the political and sociological context of knowledge transfer in migration policy. While there have been a number of contributions on the institutional context of EU policy making on immigration, none has addressed the specific question of patterns and constraints to the transfer of scientific knowledge, as has been done for other areas of European policy.

(2) Policy input. A number of demographic, global economic, and domestic socio-economic trends suggest that labour and skills shortages will become increasingly acute in the coming years and decades. Many EU countries, and the European Commission DG Justice and Home Affairs, have already responded by developing legislation or proposals for expanded labour migration programmes. However, current and future policy-making and public debates could benefit from a wider knowledge base on the possible (often unintended) consequences of expanded labour migration programmes. We hope that one impact of our project will be to contribute to this debate, through filling knowledge gaps, promoting knowledge transfer to European policy-makers, and generating more policy recommendations for minimising the unintended consequences of labour migration policies. This will be achieved, inter alia, through our series of policy briefs, internet dissemination, and international conference on the theme.






(*) Possible cases fitting these criteria are the examples of CIS, Polish or Romanian migration to Germany, as impacted by Aussiedler immigration since 1988; Polish migration to Germany, as affected by the expansion of the German seasonal agriculture programme in 1991; or Slovakian or Romanian migration as affected by the introduction of the Green Card programme in Germany in 2000.
(**) A possible case would be Bosnians hosted by Germany under the temporary protection programme in the early to mid-1990s, located in two different areas of Germany.