Seeking greener shores? Emigration aspirations in Morocco and Nigeria during the COVID-19 pandemic

19 Jan 2024

Amir Abdul Reda and Omololá Olárìndé present some early findings of their DYNAMIG research on the impact of health crises on migration aspirations in Atlantic countries of the Global South, analysing social media data.

This short paper was originally published in the 2023 edition of The Atlantic Currents, a Policy Center for the New South flagship report on the Wider Atlantic which was launched at the Atlantic Dialogues conference in Marrakesh. Minor edits were made to this online version to adhere to the DYNAMIG style guide. A longer paper on the topic will soon be published on dynamig.org. 

Introduction

What is the impact of health crises on migration aspirations in Atlantic countries of the Global South? In this short paper, we present some early findings from the DYNAMIG project, funded by the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme. Using data from Meta, formerly known as Facebook, we show that interest levels in issues related to emigration, visa and document services all spiked on public groups of migrants and would-be migrants from Morocco and Nigeria during the COVID-19 crisis. We also outline potential mechanisms at play warranting further empirical tests, with a particular focus on the three-way relationship between health crises, economic downturns and migration aspirations.

Migration aspirations and COVID-19

There is keen interest in migration and its drivers today. European and North American countries gain from the stream of educated or educable youths that come to bolster an ageing yet human capital-driven economy, while African and Latin American countries avail of benefits, such as remittances, tourism, the facilitation of connections between diasporas and foreign investment (Akanle et al., 2021; Clemens et al., 2019; Kerr, 2017). Yet migration is also complex, given the irregularity of many forms of migration today, especially to North America and Mediterranean countries in Europe. As a result, much of the research has focused on the drivers of migration in general, and irregular migration in particular. In this short paper, we focus on the aspirations for documented migration – whether for study, work or family reunification. We surmise that a better understanding of the dynamics leading to the desire to migrate may improve outcomes for all types of migration – not just irregular migration.

Key findings

To measure migration aspirations, we use data from public groups on Meta (1). In Figures 1 and 2, we present a timeline of the evolution of migration aspirations in Moroccan and Nigerian public groups of migrants and would-be migrants in relation to seven general topics. The topics were categorised by our topic modelling algorithms and cross-checked by our team of researchers. In both figures, we can clearly see two trends. Firstly, the frequency of posts in these groups jumps substantially as of 2021. Secondly, the frequency of posts relating to emigration, visa, and document services – represented by the black curve – also rises considerably in 2021. In both figures, this topic is more popular than almost any other topic in 2021, with some notable exceptions for Morocco.

Post-related-Categories-Trends-Morocco-DYNAMIG-Figure-1.png
Figure 1: Post-related categories trends in Morocco (DYNAMIG)
Post-related-Categories-Trends-Nigeria-DYNAMIG-Figure-2.png
Figure 2: Post-related categories trends in Nigeria (DYNAMIG)

Discussion and conclusion

Why is interest in emigration, visa and document services rising in Moroccan and Nigerian migrants’ Meta groups? More importantly, what does this tell us about the sudden increased interest in legal emigration procedures amongst Moroccans and Nigerians? We focus on answering these questions in our forthcoming DYNAMIG paper, soon available on the DYNAMIG website. 

Our main hypothesis is that the COVID-19 health crisis caused this sudden rise in emigration aspirations following on from some other variable, which we suspect to be the economic downturn. The reason we suspect that the pandemic is not the only causal factor here is because interest in emigration, visa, and document services only rises in 2021. By 2021, the impact of COVID-19 on our economies was already being felt, and we suspect that this is the main driver for the large waves of interest in legal emigration amongst Moroccan and Nigerian migrants in Meta groups at this time. However, it is also possible that there was a time lag in the effects of the pandemic on migration aspirations. In other words, the pandemic alone is the main culprit, and with or without the substantial economic downturn in 2021, the individual and societal toll of COVID-19 would have caused interest levels in legal emigration to spike.

References

Akanle, O., Fayehun, O. A.; Oyelakin, S. (2021). The Information Communication Technology, Social Media, International Migration and Migrants’ Relations with Kin in Nigeria. Journal of Asian and African Studies, 56(6), 1212–1225. https://doi.org/10.1177/0021909620960148

Clemens, M., Dempster, H.,; Gough, K. (2019). Center for Global Development. In A Roadmap for the New European Leadership: Building an EU-Africa Partnership of Equals. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-349-59541-9_120

Kerr, W. R. (2017). Heterogeneous Technology Diffusion and Ricardian Trade Patterns. The World Bank Economic Review, 1–20. https://doi.org/10.1093/wber/lhx002

Endnotes

(1) For more information on data made available to researchers by Meta, especially through the CrowdTangle API which we used to collect the data presented here, please consult the following: 
- Lauren Fraser, “What Data Is CrowdTangle Tracking?,” 2021, http://help.crowdtangle.com/en/articles/1140930-what-data-is-crowdtangle-tracking 
- Mariana Musa, “Common Misconceptions About CrowdTangle Data,” 2021, http://help.crowdtangle.com/en/articles/4480909-common-misconceptions-about-crowdtangle-data 
- Naomi Shiffman, “Understanding and Citing CrowdTangle Data,” 2021, http://help.crowdtangle.com/en/articles/4558716-understanding-and-citing-crowdtangle-data.

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Views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s) only and do not necessarily reflect those of the European Union or the European Research Executive Agency (REA). Neither the European Union nor the REA can be held responsible for them.