International Cooperation on Migration

Asylum seekers on a boat in Greece. October 11, 2015.  © 2015 Zalmaï for Human Rights Watch

Book: Migration Crises and the Structure of International Cooperation

with Jeannette Money. 2018. Migration Crises and the Structure of International Cooperation. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press.


This book addresses the nexus of international politics and domestic politics, as well as the political and economic. Migration deals with a unique type of economic flow: people. During the post-World War II era, cooperative institutions that manage other types of economic flows, such as trade and financial flows, have proliferated. But the degree of cooperation between states on managing migration has remained remarkably limited, although not completely absent. Why is international cooperation on migration so rare? When it does occur, what is the motivation? And what form can we expect migration cooperation to take in the future?


First, we explain how the unique patterns of migration in the contemporary era, from poorer, less stable countries to wealthier, more stable countries generate predominantly bilateral cooperation, when cooperation occurs. Second, we argue that cooperation is unlikely under most circumstances as wealthier and more stable countries of destination prefer the current system that privileges their sovereignty over migration flows. Finally, we posit that cooperation may arise under three circumstances: when the costs of the status quo increase, when countries of origin locate a venue where their numbers allow them to control the bargaining agenda, or where migrant flows tend toward reciprocity. Thus we are able to explain the puzzling patterns of cooperation that exist as well as provide policy prescriptions for the protection of migrant rights.


Migrant crises, which destabilize the status quo and change the incentives for cooperation, are an important factor motivating international cooperation on issues such as human trafficking and smuggling, labor mobility, readmission and control, and migrant rights. In each chapter, we start with an examination of the status quo ante, state preferences, and how a particular “migrant crisis” changed the status quo. We then use a bargaining framework that explains the emergence of cooperation as likely only when the “Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA) is no longer adequate to meet states’ needs. Within our model, each state makes a different calculation about what it is willing to sacrifice in order to reach an agreement, dependent on its migration profile, international circumstances, and domestic political and economic factors. Our investigation of readmission agreements, for example, reveals that regional developments, such as the establishment of free movement in Europe through the Schengen agreement, affect the propensity of member states to sign readmission agreements. At the same time, we also show that domestic factors, such as economic growth and electoral support for extreme right-wing parties within a country, also affect a state’s propensity to sign agreements. Using a bargaining framework unites these factors, along with an analysis of power dynamics, to explain the emergence of cooperative outcomes in some instances and the maintenance of unilateralism in other instances.

"Alienable Rights: Ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers & Their Families"

with Shaina Western and Jeannette Money. 2019. "Does Anyone Care About Migrant Rights? Analysis of Why Countries Enter the Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families." The International Journal of Human Rights.


Human rights are unique in international relations because they are one area in which states seemingly have given over to international law a fundamentally domestic interaction between individuals and the state. Some human rights treaties explicitly protect the rights of foreigners. Why states would make this decision is puzzling, but we argue that solving this puzzle provides important insights onto the ratification process more broadly. We argue that ratification broadly speaking follows a cost/benefit analysis where the costs involve changing policies but where the benefits involve strengthening the link between the state and its citizens. Thus the calculus for migrant rights international law depends on states balancing the costs of committing to immigrant rights domestically against the benefits of advancing emigrant rights abroad. We argue that the this cost/benefit calculation is positive only in a subset of states, predominantly those that are net migrant sending state and whose emigrants are relatively low-skilled. We perform a statistical analysis that supports our theoretical framework.

"The Structure of Migration Governance"

with Jeannette Money. 2018. "The Structure of Migration Governance." In the Europa Directory of International Organizations, 20th Edition. London: Routledge.


On 19 September 2016, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly adopted the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants. The Declaration launched a process that is intended to result in a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) and a Global Compact for Refugees. The New York Declaration was the UN’s response to recent migration crises that have challenged states’ abilities to manage borders, generated severe humanitarian crises, and blurred the distinction between refugee, migrant, and Internally Displaced Person (IDP). These crises, however, have not only motivated global action; they have also driven receiving states to pursue bilateral agreements with sending and transit states to control the flow of migrants and mobilized nationalist movements against migration more broadly. The pursuit of global migration governance is thus persistently haunted by a tension between the failure of unilateral state action to adequately address the challenges of international migration and the desire by states and their domestic publics to maintain sovereign control over who can enter the state and become a member of the society and polity.


This essay first explains why the issue area of migration remains resistant to international cooperation and global governance. Next, it provides an overview of the two main international bodies with a focus on migration: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). It traces their institutional development and the effect that these institutions have on the activities of these organizations. Additionally, these sections addresses the Global Forum on Migration and Development as well as the development of the Palermo Protocols, the two protocols to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (CTOC) dealing with migrant trafficking and smuggling. These sections conclude with a summary of bilateral and regional cooperation on migration issues including bilateral readmission agreements (BRAs), bilateral labor agreements (BLAs), and regional freedom of movement. The next section addresses the weaknesses of global migration governance through an examination of the early efforts of the International Labour Organization (ILO) to address migrant rights and the more recent International Convention on Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMRW). The essay concludes with a discussion of future challenges.

"The Paucity of International Protections: Global Migration Governance in the Contemporary Era"

with Jeannette Money. 2017. "The Paucity of International Protections: Global Governance in the Contemporary Era." Global Summitry 3 (1): 45-67.


The September 2016 UN New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants was welcomed with much enthusiasm, as the 193 UN Member States agreed to meet yet again to negotiate a Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. In the year that followed, the process of consultations and negotiations laid out in Annex II of the Declaration moved ahead at full steam (IOM 2017). What will be the substantive outcome of this process? To answer this question, we provide a theoretical framework to explain the structure of international cooperation on migration. The structure consists of five elements: the patterns of migration flows in the post-World War II period, which divide states into countries of origin and countries of destination; the status quo of customary international law that privileges countries of destination; exogenous shocks that trigger changes in the costs of the status quo; the institutionalization of the international system that permits countries of origin to project their preferences onto the international stage; and finally, the ability of countries of destination to ignore these preferences. Examples illustrate the application of the theoretical model. Will the Global Compact provide more and better interstate cooperation on migration? Or, will states largely ignore it, as they have ignored the three previous multilateral migration treaties? We argue that, unfortunately, the structure of international cooperation on migration, as just described, leads to the conclusion that this Declaration is likely to be ignored. Given the limited possibility of international cooperation, we recommend that mobilization for migrant rights should focus at the national and local level

Book Chapters:

with Jeannette Money and Shaina Western. 2016. “Why Migrant Rights are Different than Human Rights.” In Elgar Handbook on Migration and Social Policy, eds. Gary Freeman and Nikola Mirilovic. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar Publishers Ltd.


with Jeannette Money. 2011. "Migration Cooperation in Asia: The Trans-Tasman Travel Arrangement.” In Migration, Nation States, and International Cooperation, eds. Randall Hansen, Jobst Koehler, and Jeannette Money. New York: Routledge.