Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The Pandemic's effect on Undocumented Immigrants and local policy responses in the US


As the pandemic is now in its 8th month in the US, the inequities of the job loss and mortality rates due to COVID have been dramatic. The rate of new infections does not appear to be stabilizing as the number of new cases reach record highs daily. In particular, the hardships have fallen on those least able to handle them -- namely minority groups, single women, those with chronic illnesses and some immigrant groups. Undocumented immigrants, in particular, may have been especially hard hit as this group often lives in close quarters, works in the service industry, agriculture and some labor-intensive manufacturing and they are less likely to have adequate health care coverage.  Furthermore, this group often lives in the shadows and may not immediately seek medical help.

What are the Current Statistics for Different Racial and Ethnic Groups?

The New England Journal of Medicine recently published an article discussing the effects 

of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on the undocumented Latinx Community (October 7, 2020).  Specifically, it finds that Latinx patients in the Baltimore community (where the authors work and live) have reflected especially higher positive Covid test results in comparison to other groups’ testing outcomes. For example, over 40% of the Latinx population tested positive between March 11, 2020, and May 25, 2020 compared to the national average of 8.2%. According to the Boston Center for Antiracist Research, their COVID tracker shows higher national rates of Covid among people of color where deaths per 100,000 are nearly 50 percent higher for Hispanic or Latino individuals compared to white individuals and over 100 percent (or 2 times as likely) for Black individuals. 

In Baltimore, where the local Latinx population is 5.5% and growing, the pandemic’s effect on immigrant Latinx patients has revealed demonstrable and immediate consequences. Whereas before the pandemic immigrant Latinx patients reflected a small proportion of Johns Hopkins admissions, following Covid-19 42.6% of Johns Hopkins Latinx patients tested for SARS-CoV-2 had positive results, in comparison with 17.6% of non-Hispanic Black patients and 8.8% of non-Hispanic White patients. This situation seems to be similar in other areas across the country as well. New data shows similar disproportionate ratios in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, and 20 of 45 states reflect cases among Latinx people being double that of expectations based on population, and 11 of 45 states reflect cases being more than three times expected numbers.

Source: The COVID Racial Data Tracker

Why are undocumented immigrants possibly more likely to contract the COVID 19 virus? What reasons could be driving the racial disparities that exist between the undocumented Latinx population and other groups in the United States? 

These higher rates may be indicative of underlying systemic issues affecting undocumented Latinx residents, such as tenuous housing arrangements and unstable economic situations, inability to travel and other factors making them a particularly vulnerable population.   

A look at the current living situation that many Latinx migrant workers are facing right now gives some insight into the way these circumstances have come to exist. Difficult housing arrangements have helped accelerate rates of transmission between undocumented migrant workers, with many workers living together in densely crowded barrack-style homes. Residence sharing among low-income immigrant families is also common, and patients frequently mentioned living situations involving up to 10 workers within a two-bedroom apartment or multiple families living in a single home. 

Between four to six migrant farmworkers live in housing like the one pictured above. Image by Areeba Shah. United States, 2020.

Source: Pulitzer Center

What local policy actions have been undertaken to try and combat these issues affecting the undocumented Latinx migrant community during the pandemic? 

Different local policy responses across the nation have attempted resolving these issues with varying rates of success. Several states and cities have taken matters into their own hands rather than waiting for major fed immigration legislation.  In Colorado, rental assistance and emergency medicaid have been offered to everyone without regard for citizenship status. Seattle has also launched a $9 million COVID-19 relief fund that gives grants to undocumented immigrants unable to access federal stimulus money, offering $1,000 to $3,000 grants per household for undocumented immigrants, and adding to the $40 million allocated by the state to assist undocumented workers. California has also made available a $125 million public-private fund for undocumented workers, and Minneapolis is offering $5 million in assistance to tenants and small businesses regardless of immigration status. 

What has been lacking? 

One notable aspect to some of these local responses is a dearth of mental health assistance resources for undocumented workers. As we enter into the 8th month of the pandemic, mental health needs have only increased for everyone, possibly more for the undocumented immigrant population. In addition, housing instability for the undocumented is proving to be a difficult situation for vulnerable families. In Texas, for example, undocumented immigrants have increasingly begun losing their apartments and homes due to rent lateness and a lack of state protection for their living situations. Going forward, the new administration will continue to be faced with addressing the COVID crisis and will need to consider all vulnerable populations, especially undocumented immigrants who may be suffering disproportionately.

Note: an important consideration for this blog post is that there is a significant lack of concrete data regarding the undocumented community in the United States. Therefore, we had to use information about COVID contractions and mortality rates by race and ethnicity rather than citizenship status.  Nonetheless, the Pew Hispanic Center and other researchers have documented that immigrants from Latin American countries comprise a disproportionate share of the undocumented population.  

Authored by Jeffrey Justin Ashbeck (UCSB '18 (philosophy), JD (anticipated) '24) and Cynthia Bansak (Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence University) 

Email contacts: and 



Works Cited

Inslee announces COVID-19 Immigrant Relief Fund now open for applications, October 21, 2020.

The COVID Racial Data Tracker The COVID Tracking Project, last updated November, 2020.

Cohn, D’Vera & Passel, Jeffrey, Mexicans decline to less than half the U.S. unauthorized immigrant population for the first time Pew Research Center, June 12, 2019.

Dillard, Robert, The Pandemic Has Devastated the Underserved: COVID-19 and the Undocumented Latino Community DocWire News Urban Health Today Blog, October 9, 2020.


Flores-Miller, Alejandra & Page, Kathleen Lessons We’ve Learned — Covid-19 and the Undocumented Latinx Community The New England Journal of Medicine, October 7, 2020.

Garnham, Juan Pablo & Venkataramanan, Meena, Undocumented immigrants behind on their rent are self-evicting across Texas The Texas Tribune, July 22, 2020.


Ortega, May, Undocumented Immigrants Face Different Pandemic Struggles And A Complicated Web Of Resources Colorado Public Radio, October 15, 2020.


Shah, Areeba, Harvest During the Pandemic: In America's Rust Belt, an Essential but Vulnerable Workforce Is Left To Fend for Themselves Pulitzer Center, September 28, 2020.

Shapiro, Nina, Seattle starts COVID-19 relief fund helping undocumented immigrants The Seattle Times, October 16, 2020.

Friday, November 6, 2020

Policy briefs written by Colgate students

Colgate students taking Professor Annie Hines' Economics of Immigration class in Fall 2020 just wrote a set of policy briefs on topics ranging from the effects of Covid on immigration to H1-B visas. Their briefs can be found on the class blog site: Check it out!

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

The complicated picture of remittances and COVID-19: the confluence of time, policy, and state of the economy in sending and receiving countries

The UN International Organization for Migration recently published a report discussing the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on remittances. (Note: remittances are comprised of money sent by migrants to family or relatives in their country of origin and are the subject of chapter 11 of our textbook.)  Although the current reality of remittances across many countries has met prior projections of sizable declines, other countries have not experienced these dire  expectations. Besides just regaining lost remittance inflows, some countries have seen positive growth in remittances during the COVID-19 pandemic!

What was predicted?  

In a nutshell, the World Bank, not surprisingly predicted that remittances would decline in 2020 due to the effects of the pandemic cutting employment opportunities and income of migrant workers. As shown in the figure below, remittances were forecasted to decline to $566 billion in 2020 down from $707 billion in 2019. Thus, World Bank projections anticipated a 19.7% global decrease in remittances.

Global remittance volume set to plunge in 2020 - Business Insider - Business Insider
 Graph: World Bank projections for global remittance volume in response to COVID-19 

What has actually happened?

On the one hand, some nations have experienced decreases in remittances. Honduras, for example, showed a decrease in remittances between January and March by 1.1% from 2019, and a further more remarkable decrease between March and April 2020 of 43% from 2019. El Salvador also experienced a 9.8% decrease in remittances between January and April 2020 compared to 2019.  As 95.4% of its remittances originate from the United States, El Salvador was likely negatively impacted by the United States’ severe lockdown restrictions during those months.

On the other hand, some countries have remarkably shown some significant increases in remittances during this time. Guatemala, for example, demonstrated an increase in remittances during January and February of 2020 from 2019, with February’s increase being the greatest monthly increase since 1995, and a more significant increase of 9.2% in remittances in June 2020 from June 2019. Mexico has also shown a doubling in remittances during the month of March 2020 from February, the same month of the Mexico General Health Council’s declaration of COVID-19 as a national pandemic, and a near record-breaking increase in remittances in July 2020 to $3.53 billion, the third highest level of remittances on record for Mexico.


Source: International Monetary Fund, remittance flows

Why has there been such a dichotomous response in remittances to the pandemic?

Possible explanations for these disparities are related to the differential levels and timing of COVID outbreaks in the sending countries and the response to the pandemic in the receiving country. Although declines in remittances can reasonably be attributed to decreases in income for migrant workers in industries (service and high contact sectors such as hospitality and tourism and some manufacturing plants) affected by COVID-19 lockdown protocols, the rebounds in remittances are more difficult to explain. 

With close inspection of the data currently available, some important insights can be identified. Notably, increases in remittances in countries affected by the pandemic appear correlated with the lifting of lockdown restrictions in other countries. 

Canada, for example, had Stage 3 reopenings grouped across its regions at relatively similar times. Ontario began its Stage 3 reopening in mid-July, Quebec enacted its Stages 3 - 5 reopening phases from May 20 to June 1, and British Columbia began its Stage 3 reopening on June 24. Most previously closed service and high contact sectors of industry, excluding certain high-risk exceptions, were given the ability to resume business following social distancing and sanitation precautions as advised by medical experts. This general cluster of reopening times shows some correspondence with some developing countries with migrant workers working in Canada.

Mexico’s increases in remittances, for example, have occurred in the months of June and July, corresponding with the beginning of Phase 3 reopening processes in countries such as the United States and Canada. Guatemala also showed increases in remittances in the months of June and July. The Philippines and Kenya have likewise experienced increases in remittances, 15% and 12%, respectively, from May into June.  In sum, these figures give some insight into the possibility that the easing of lockdown restrictions in countries across the globe has helped to improve migrant workers’ capacity to send money back to their families abroad. 

In addition, worsening economic situations in developing nations due to accelerating growth of COVID cases may result in a greater need for remittances, despite lower employment and income levels. These COVID trackers in the Philippines and Kenya provide evidence that the severity of cases in the receiving countries corresponded to increases in flows to these countries. It is possible that greater need for families back home may be encouraging migrant workers to draw from their savings to send additional money in order to compensate for these new needs, though such a situation could eventually prove unsustainable.

Is there a role for policymakers?

In order to curb intensified economic fallout from the COVID-19 global recession and to keep remittances stable, additional steps could be taken by both host (destination) and home (source) countries to help alleviate the new pressures of the pandemic economic situation on migrant workers and poor households. Host countries could ensure migrants’ access to basic health care, goods and services. In-need households in source countries, previously reliant on remittances, could be compensated by cash transfers and food aid. Sending countries could also aim to lower the cost of sending remittances. Increasing mobile payments and digital transfers while reducing the global average 6.75% cost of remittances could help in giving migrant workers a significant amount of money back that they would have paid in fees.  Collecting and assessing household level data to study the impact of COVID-19 on remittances, savings, and the method of transferring funds could shed additional light on the importance of this source of funds for the receiving countries and is a fertile area for future research.

Works Cited

Guest Contributor, How Are Remittances Being Affected by COVID-19? IOM UN Migration Blog, October 8 2020.

A Framework for Reopening our Province: Stage 3, July 17 2020.

International Development Association, International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (2020). Remittance Prices Worldwide Report (Issue No. 35) The World Bank. 

Kenya: the latest coronavirus counts, charts and maps, COVID-19 Tracker, last updated 7:59 PDT, October 27 2020.

Phase 3 - BC’s Restart Plan, last updated October 26 2020.

Philippines: the latest coronavirus counts, charts and maps, COVID-19 Tracker, last updated 9:23 PDT, October 27 2020.

Indeje, David, Kenya’s Diaspora Remittances Rise 12% to Ksh 31.1B in June,, July 24, 2020.

Keyes, Daniel, (Author). (2020). Forecast: Global Remittance Volume (Graph), Retrieved October 27 2020, from: 

Limpot, Kristel, BSP: Remittances recover in June after three-month drop, CNN Philippines, August 17, 2020.

Nathans, Lara, et al., Reopening Canada: A Guide for Non-Essential Retailers, McCarthy Tetrault LLP, July 30, 2020.

Ong, Rebecca, World Bank Predicts Sharpest Decline of Remittances in Recent History World Bank, April 22 2020.

Quayyum, Saad Noor & Kpodar, Roland Kangni, Supporting Migrants and Remittances as COVID-19 Rages On IMFBlog, September 11 2020.

Authored by Jeffrey Justin Ashbeck (UCSB '18 (philosophy), JD (anticipated) '24) and Cynthia Bansak (Professor of Economics, St. Lawrence University, IZA Fellow) 

Email contacts: and 



October 27, 2020

Monday, August 17, 2020

A Different Kind of Model to Estimate Migration due to Climate Changes


 A recent New York Times report summarizes recent approaches in estimating the impacts of climate change on migration flows. Alan B. Krueger, a labor economist specializing in statistics, and Michael Oppenheimer, a leading climate geoscientist at Princeton, developed an econometrics model for climate migration in Mexico. They examined the statistical relationships of census data, crop yield, historical weather pattern, and other factors to get a better understanding of how farmers respond to drought. The model predicts a measure of farmers’ sensitivity to environmental change. The study found that Mexican migration to the United States “pulsed upward during periods of drought and projected that by 2080, climate change there could drive 6.7 million more people toward the Southern U.S. border.”

Oppenheimer’s approach to predict climate migration has sparked controversies. The model is built upon assumptions and cannot include all factors that influence human decision-making. However, there are no better publications for predicting climate migration, and econometrics has been commonly used for climate-related modeling. 

In one study, researchers have found that crop losses due to climate change “led to unemployment that stoked Arab Spring uprisings in Egypt and Libya.” In North Africa’s Sahel, droughts and extraordinary population growth have killed 100,000+ people due to water shortages and poverty. The United Nations predicted that “some 65 percent of farmable lands have already degraded.” The World Bank also projects that 17 to 36 million people will be uprooted from South Asia to the Persian Gulf and India’s Ganges Valley. Despite drought and crop losses, climate scientists have estimated that some 150 million people globally will flee due to rising sea levels. 

A two-year study published in 2018 included a gravity model, which assesses the relative attractiveness of destinations, to predict where migrants will go. In 2019, more environmental data were added[1] to the model to make it more sensitive to climate changes. Existing data sets on political stability, agricultural productivity, food stress, water availability, social connections, and weather [were added] to approximate the kaleidoscopic complexity of human decision-making.” However, even with more layers of data added, individual decisions and consequences are difficult to predict since those data do not exist. The model instead uses decision-making patterns of entire populations and apply them on various scenarios (different levels of growth, trade, border control, etc). More than 10 billion data points were included. Tests were done with past cause and effect events to see if results match. The model is so large that it took a supercomputer four days to calculate its estimated migration from Central America and Mexico. However, the results were built upon assumptions about complex relationships. Although some relationships, such as how drought and political stability relate to each other, can change over time, the model assumes that the relationship is linear. With these data limitations, the model is far from definitive. 

Post by Isabel Wang, Colgate Class of 2021.

Source: Lustgarten, Abrahm. “The Great Climate Migration,” The New York Times, 23 July, 2020.

[1] This study was done by the Times Magazine, and ProPublica, with support from the Pulitzer Center, hired an author of the World Bank report, Bryan Jones.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

The Great Climate Migration

The world is undergoing tremendous climate changes, effecting global migration patterns. Partnering with ProPublica and the Pulitzer Center, the New York Times Magazine estimates future climate migration across borders using migration modeling based on econometrics.

The human consequences of climate changes are “between flight or death,” and is likely to lead to “the greatest wave of global migration the world has seen.” A simple cost and benefit analysis would lead to migration. “According to a path-breaking recent study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the planet could see a greater temperature increase in the next 50 years than it did in the last 6,000 years combined.” As the planet warms, the climate band where people live shifts north. Extreme hot zones are covering more and more land and forcing people out of the climate niche where they thrived for thousands of years. As a result, more than 8 million people from Southeast Asia moved toward the Middle East, Europe, and North America. Refugees continue to flee from Central America to the United States and from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. These extreme weather patterns will “amount to a vast remapping of the world’s populations.”

The climate migration study found that 5 percent of total migrants are driven primarily by climate change. A model that focused on Central America shows that although migration increases yearly regardless of climate, it also rises substantially with climate change. One model scenario with relatively open borders projected annual migrants to rise from about 700,000 a year in 2025 to 1.5 million arriving from Central America and Mexico by 2050. Another scenario where people turned back shows slower economic growth and urbanization, rising birthrate, growing poverty, and hunger – “[leaving] tens of millions of people desperate and with fewer options… Misery reigns and large populations become trapped.”

Post by Isabel Wang, Colgate Class of 2021.

Source: Lustgarten, Abrahm. “The Great Climate Migration,” The New York Times, 23 July, 2020.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

As The Pandemic Recedes, Let Migrants Move Again

The coronavirus has led to immense global immobility. Borders are closed. Trips are canceled. Jobs are cut. Dreams are deferred. Although the pandemic is starting to recover and countries are gradually starting to open up again, some nations are unwilling to open their doors to migrants, according to a recent article in The Economist.

There is a fear of a second wave of the pandemic. And even if a vaccine develops and COVID-19 suppresses, countries might still not accept foreigners. Suspicion of foreigners has led to harassment toward people who look Chinese in many countries. Also, mass unemployment caused by the pandemic makes voters believe that migrants take jobs from the natives, an argument that many politicians such as Mr. Trump explicitly make. Along with his executive order in June suspending most work visas aiming at “aliens who present a risk to the U.S. labor market,” immigration will likely be inhibited even after travel restrictions loosens up.

These fears, however, are poorly-founded. The virus does not take note of nationality. Migrants make up a small portion of travelers compared to tourists and business travelers, so borders should be open to migrants if they are short-term travelers. More migrants mean fewer jobs is an economic fallacy because “migrants bring a greater diversity of skills to the workforce” and facilitate the labor market in the long run. Policymakers can adjust to recent market changes and tailor admission criteria for migrants to meet local needs. Moreover, migrants are over-represented among those who make workplace safety and productivity possible—they are harvesting food, delivering groceries, and helping to save lives in hospitals.

Trump’s “nail-the-door-shut” approach where he locked out skilled workers, internal company transfers, and international students can bring long term damage to the nation’s wellbeing. The current policies would make domestic firms lose talents, slow technological innovation (e.g. vaccine development), and push smart students out to study in Canada instead.

Besides the U.S., some countries have seen tighter immigration policies as well as ones that are willing to be more open after the pandemic than before. Italy is alarmed at Africans crossing the Mediterranean while Malaysia has pushed boatloads of Rohingya refugees back into international waters. On the other hand, Japan is allowing foreign “trainees” (migrant workers) to switch jobs, and the U.K. just offered residency to 3 million people from Hong Kong. 

Post by Isabel Wang. Colgate Class of 2021.

Source: “As The Pandemic Recedes, Let Migrants Move Again,” The Economist. August 1, 2020.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Vloggers Show How To Migrate Illegally On A Jet Ski

North African vlogger and YouTuber Zouhir Bounou (who calls himself Zizou) is not your typical illegal migrant. While he has traveled illegally to ten different countries, he has recorded his illicit journeys into vlogs as a form of entertainment. Many people like Zizou are painting a vivid picture of what life is like outside of North Africa through social media, as recently reported in The Economist.

A large portion of vloggers and their viewers are an educated and employed middle-class in their mid-20s. Murad Mzouri, a popular Moroccan vlogger, shares that he helps his audience “break the fear barrier and fulfill their dream of reaching the West” while earning 2,000 dollars a year through advertising. Despite exposing his irregular migrant status on social media, Zizou has also gained considerable financial support to evade legal sanctions. Zizou’s followers once crowdfunded his bail when he landed in jail. Although Zizou tells his viewers not to follow his path, these enticing vlogs are a tremendous pull factor and are encouraging thousands of North Africans to embark on haraga (illegal migration).

While you can sometimes find phone numbers of smugglers in the comment section, these creative vloggers suggested new ways of illegal entries, such as using a Jetski to travel from Morocco to Spain. 

Interestingly, the North Africans have a unique advantage to not get caught by Western officials because their dialects used on social media are harder to translate.

Post by Isabel Wang. Colgate Class of 2021.

Source: “Vloggers Show How To Migrate Illegally On A Jet Ski,” The Economist. July 22, 2020.