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Predicting international migratory movements using Google searches

Marcus H. Böhme, German Federal Ministry of Finance; André Gröger, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB), Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE), and Markets, Organizations and Votes in Economics (MOVE); Tobias Heidland (né Stöhr),, Universidad de Kiel, Institut für Weltwirtschaft (IfW) e IZA Institute of Labor Economics;

Internet searches in a specific country for keywords semantically related to migration and the name of the destination country can be used to measure bilateral migration flows. The analysis of search volumes from the Google search engine across a hundred countries of origin correlates positively with the flows of people who have moved, over a 12-year-period, towards 35 destination countries. The results show that this approach outperforms traditional migration flow models substantially in terms of predictive power. It may serve to monitor migratory movements in near real time and thus enable policymakers and practitioners to manage migration more effectively.
Key points
  • 1
       Those aspiring to migrate typically acquire information about migration opportunities online, in their countries of origin, prior to departure. These data can be used to make short-term predictions about numbers of migrants, which may be very useful in situations such as humanitarian crises.
  • 2
       Google search data, which represent searches by over 1 billion people worldwide, are free of charge for small queries. Using the data to study international migration can be helpful, especially in developing countries because, to date, information on migration and people’s migration intention is scarce or exclusively available to paying users.
  • 3
       This approach tends to work better when focusing on countries where internet is more widely used and the Google search engine is more widespread, and where more people speak the languages for which search data are studied.
Google searches can help anticipate future migratory flows
Google searches can help anticipate future migratory flows

The solid line in the graph represents real arrivals of migrants to Spain originating from Venezuela between 2004 and 2015, according to the International Migration Database compiled by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The dashed line corresponds to the predictions based on the benchmark model including GDP and population dynamics at both origin and destination as explanatory variables. The dotted line is the result of the previous estimation, augmented with the data from Google searches in Venezuela. The graph shows a sharp increase in immigration since 2012, presumably due to the socio-political and economic crisis in Venezuela. The keywords searched for on Google help predicting this upward tendency more accurately.

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