Mass Migration

Every year, millions of people leave their homelands to start their lives somewhere else. Some seek to find a promising new job, strengthen family ties, or engage in new cultural opportunities. Some are seeking relief from crushing poverty or a lack of economic prospects. Others are fleeing war or persecution. Still others are escaping the effects of a long-term drought, a devastating hurricane, or some other kind of climate change–related disaster.

Although individuals’ reasons for wanting to resettle vary, steadily rising numbers of migrants over the past two decades suggest that migration management is becoming one of the most pressing issues of this century. And there are no signs that this trend is slowing. Thus, many host and home communities and countries are urgently revisiting or developing new migration policies.

The RAND Corporation has worked closely with national and international agencies, particularly in the United States, Europe, the Middle East, and Australia, to assess how host- and home-country governments, donor nations, and multilateral agencies can manage policies associated with today’s vast migrant flows.

RAND’s interdisciplinary work tackles three areas that represent some of the biggest migration policy issues over the next decade: migration resulting from conflict, migration resulting from climate change or natural hazards, and management of migration across the United States southern border.

Migration Resulting from Conflict

There are more people displaced by conflict and political upheaval today than at any point since World War II, and the global system for managing such flows is in crisis. RAND’s work in this area focuses on such issues as refugee education, economic opportunity, security, and displacement in urban environments.

Migration Resulting from Climate Change or Natural Hazards

Climate and geography play an enormous role in where people choose to live. As the earth’s average surface temperature has risen since the early 20th century, RAND has worked to better understand the impact that migration resulting from climate change or natural hazards has on all populations and on national security, as well as how to increase resilience in environmentally vulnerable locations.

Management of Migration Across the United States Southern Border

Few issues today are as polarizing as United States immigration policy. RAND’s work seeks to help policymakers measure, understand, and forecast migration populations; understand environmental, political, and security drivers of migration; develop and evaluate approaches to deterring and detecting unlawful migrant groups; and formulate and manage assistance programs for legal migrants.

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Big Questions for the Future

The increasing number of migrants around the world is posing some of the most-urgent challenges and opportunities for communities, regions, multilateral organizations, and nations. The RAND Corporation is continuing to assess and find answers to these and other challenges. Below we raise many of the questions that likely will guide migration-related research over the next decade.

Demographic Trends

How can population movements be better measured, explained, and forecast in the United States and globally? Where will global conflict and climate migrants go? How can we improve measures, estimates, and forecasts of cross-border migration flows into the United States in the near and medium terms?

Contributing Factors for Migration

What are the climate, security, and economic factors that prompt mass migration? What environmental changes prompt migration, including sudden shocks (such as hurricanes, flooding, and heatwaves) and slow-moving stressors (such as persistent drought and sea level-rise)? Which populations may be triggered to migrate? How can new methods and tools help analysts and policymakers understand key factors for migration into the United States, such as home-country economics, climate, and violence?

Meeting the Needs of Migrants, Their Host Communities, and the Communities Staying Behind

How can immediate emergency and humanitarian assistance be improved and coordinated with longer-term needs and planning? How can conditions in both refugee camps and urban host communities be improved? How can access to education, jobs, and health care be improved for both migrants and host communities? How can regions meet the needs of those who stay behind? What happens to local economies as people migrate away?

Security Implications

What are the characteristics of destabilizing migration risks around the world? What are the different security implications of climate stresses and climate shocks? How might these affect U.S. foreign military bases and international relations? What are the potential political reactions to migration in regions where migrants leave and where they relocate?

Law and Public Safety

How can the rule of law be maintained during mass migration? How can new migrants have access to justice, security, and legal protections?

Labor Markets and Local Economies

What happens to local economies as people migrate away? What are the economic implications of new migrants entering a labor force?


Where do people go, what is their health and well-being, and how are they received in host communities?

Border and Immigration Policy

What are the impacts of U.S. immigration enforcement policy choices on migration flows and on undocumented migrant populations? How do U.S. efforts to aid economic development, social stability, and the rule of law in migrant-sending countries affect migration from those countries? How are resources allocated across the many links in the immigration enforcement and processing chain, and can the allocation be improved? How do immigration enforcement policies affect the economic, social, and physical well-being of immigrant communities in the United States?