New Publication: Decision-Making Under Uncertainty

I’m happy to announce a new publication, coming out of the Swiss Subsaharan African Migration Network. My direct contribution to this thematic issue was the introduction, where I examine common strands of the articles in the issue. As hinted at in the title, the focus is on decision-making under uncertainty — and migration decisions are the example to explore these issues.

When I write about ‘migrants’ here, let’s be clear that there is enormous heterogeneity in this ‘group’: different motivations, different aspirations, different capabilities, and different strategies to deal with the uncertainty inherent in migration decisions.

We do not observe naïve and gullible migrants ignorant of the risks and dangers of irregular migration, nor do we find masses of ‘victims’ tricked by fraudsters and smugglers. Instead, we observe individuals with aspirations, navigating a world characterized by limitations and boundaries. Information is patchy, but this has as much to do with the changing circumstances and opportunities—each risky to some extent. Under these circumstances, migrants show great flexibility to reach their goals, drawing on heuristics and narratives as is common in decision-making under limited information.


When thinking about migration decisions, it’s better to think about a chain of linked decisions — a chain where circumstances can and do change. In these circumstances, occasionally we also observe what I called “migration velleity” rather than ambition.

Ruedin, Didier. 2021. ‘Decision-Making Under Uncertainty: African Migrants in the Spotlight’. Social Inclusion 9 (1): 182–186. Open Access.

Call for Papers — Decision-Making under Uncertainty: African Migrants in the Spotlight

In the context of the Swiss-Subsaharan African Migration Network (S-SAM), we’re now looking for paper contributions for a thematic issue at the open access journal Social Inclusion. Feel free to contact me for information.

Submission of Abstracts: 1-15 May 2020
Submission of Full Papers: 15-30 September 2020
Publication of the Issue: March 2021

Information: The objective of this thematic issue is to better understand how migrants decide whether to migrate and where to migrate to by considering the limited information available to them. Existing work is informed by two distinct literatures. Migration studies developed two-step models distinguishing ambitions to migrate from the capability to migrate, while contributions in economics and psychology have sharpened our understanding that we often make decisions without perfect information.

Without communication between literatures, however, we do not understand well why immigrants try to reach countries in the Global North despite seemingly impossible odds. The articles should use mostly qualitative and mixed methods to study migration decisions in countries of origin and transit, to better understand how imperfect and contradictory information affects decisions. They highlight the role of narratives and expectations, and how human biases and bounded rationality matter for ambitions to migrate, and what migrants do to maximize the capability to migrate.

Articles will focus on the initial decision to leave countries of origin—why individuals take considerable risks and often take on debt in their endeavour to reach countries in the Global North, risks that seem disproportional to the likely gains, as most immigrants never reach their destination, and many are unable to fulfil their expectations. Articles will also focus on what happens during the journey where formal and informal migration may be mixed. They explore how different narratives influence the migration journey as individuals learn more about the risks and likely outcomes. Articles focusing on student migrants in particular, a migration channel experiencing a recent surge without much attention in academia, are especially welcome. With the increasingly difficult routes across the Mediterranean, some individuals formally sign up for studies in countries such as Northern Cyprus as an intermediate destination.

Instructions for Authors: Authors interested in submitting a paper for this issue are asked to consult the journal’s instructions for authors and send their abstracts in a Word file (about 250 words, with a tentative title and reference to the thematic issue) by email to the Editorial Office ( When submitting their abstracts, authors are also asked to confirm that they are aware that Social Inclusion is an open access journal with a publishing fee if the article is accepted for publication after peer-review (corresponding authors affiliated with our institutional members do not incur this fee).

Open Access:  The journal has an article publication fee to cover its costs and guarantee that the article can be accessed free of charge by any reader, anywhere in the world, regardless of affiliation. We defend that authors should not have to personally pay this fee and advise them to check with their institutions if funds are available to cover open access publication fees. Institutions can also join Cogitatio’s Membership Program at a very affordable rate and enable all affiliated authors to publish without incurring any fees. Further information about the journal’s open access charges and institutional members can be found here.

Guest Blog at Media Portrayals of Minorities Project

I am happy to announce a guest blog of mine over at the Media Portrayals of Minorities Project.

The blog post draws heavily on the SOM book and my paper in the Austrian Journal of Political Science. If that’s all old news, you should just check out the other posts from the project! If you’re interested in the role of left-wing parties in politicizing immigration, we’ve got you covered, too.

Carvalho, João, and Didier Ruedin. 2018. ‘The Positions Mainstream Left Parties Adopt on Immigration: A Crosscutting Cleavage?’ Party Politics.
Ruedin, Didier. 2017. ‘Citizenship Regimes and the Politicization of Immigrant Groups’. Austrian Journal of Political Sciences 46 (1): 7–19.
Van der Brug, Wouter, Gianni D’Amato, Joost Berkhout, and Didier Ruedin, eds. 2015. The Politicisation of Migration. Abingdon: Routledge.

Out now — Choosing to migrate illegally: Evidence from return migrants

I am happy to announce a paper written with Majlinda Nesturi — Choosing Unauthorized Migration: Evidence from Return Migrants. While we have much knowledge about the nature of unauthorized migration and why it can and does occur, there is surprisingly little on why some individuals choose unauthorized immigration and others do not. As far as we could determine, nobody has ever used actual unauthorized migration (as opposed to authorized migration) as the outcome variable in quantitative analysis. One reason for this is most certainly that unauthorized migrants are hard to capture, especially in the country of destination. We use data on return migrants in Albania to capture actual unauthorized (rather than intended) behaviour. What is more, we capture unauthorized immigration when the migrants do not have to fear any consequences for revealing their previous behaviour.

We show that being young and male is associated with the choice or unauthorized migration. Our interpretation is that these two variables capture risk-taking behaviour — something future research should verify with dedicated variables. We also show that individuals are more likely to choose unauthorized migration when they are free of social responsibilities like having a partner or children. At the same time, authorized and unauthorized migrants resemble each other in many other aspects. If you think about it, this implies that restrictive immigration policies may lead to selecting risk-taking individuals, not necessarily those most needed in the labour market.

Citizenship regimes and the politicization of immigrant groups

It’s been in the making for a long time, but it’s out now: a paper on citizenship regimes and the politicization of immigrant groups (Austrian Journal of Political Sciences, 46(1), open access. In the paper, I use my recombined MIPEX data and relate them to the politicization of immigrant groups — data from the SOM project. The paper explores how immigrants and their integration are debated across citizenship regimes. There is a special focus on asylum seekers, refugees, and irregular immigrants. Having an ethnic citizenship regime (as a tendency) is associated with more claims about asylum seekers, refugees, and irregular immigrants. At the same time, the association between immigrant group size and the extent to which immigrant groups are politicized is moderated by the citizenship regime.