Harnessing big data to track migration flows
Joint Programme “Evidence-based migration policy, planning and discourse in North Macedonia”
As part of the Joint Programme “Evidence-based migration policy, planning and discourse in North Macedonia” (designed and managed by IOM, UNHCR and UNFPA, and the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator (RCO)), UNFPA’s component tackles upon the current growing outward migration tendencies. In focus is the growing migration stocks of North Macedonian migrants abroad, estimated, at the end of 2019, at 658 000 people or 32 percent of total domestic population. The approach taken is innovative and it entails support to migration policy development through harnessing the potential of Big Data, as a new, non-traditional and largely untapped source for estimation of migration stocks and flows in North Macedonia. Although the national institutions have insights in the general migration related statistics, there aren’t any integrated data sources where these numbers can be thoroughly analyzed. Hence, the available traditional migration data sources such as census data, population based sample surveys (such as HBS, SILC, LFS and others) and administrative sources including the national management information systems (MIS) at sector level, are often not enough and the information that they provide is not sufficient.
The ongoing activities under the UNFPA component aim to capitalize on the wealth of existing but yet fragmented and uneasy accessible information at all levels which require analysis and triangulation aimed at calculating migration estimates and anticipating migration and population trends in North Macedonia, by
- addressing the potential use of Big data, such as geo-spatial data, mobile phone data, social network data, etc., with potential to provide nearly real-time estimates regarding the migration stocks and flows, and by
- exploring potential of foreign currency remittances data mainly representing private financial transfers received from temporary or permanent residents abroad as a growing source of external financing of national economy with clear link to migration and potentially valuable source for compiling migration statistics.
The estimates of migration will initially be produced by using mirror statistics – by implementing a statistical framework based on several aggregate sources of information, either official statistics on migration reported by both origin and destination countries or by a combination of different official and other sources for a single country. The expected outcome is producing migration estimates with their measures of error. This will be followed by a next stage which will expand the remit to include the non-traditional data sources – the Big data.
Potential use of the Big data analytics for indirect migration estimates and for addressing the gap between the traditional sources of data and the actual outmigration flows, is explored by activities aimed at compilation of alternative sources of data. The process includes multistep methodology leading to indirect migration estimates.
The ongoing activities aimed at exploring the foreign currency remittances as the most tangible link between migration and development include (1) a landscape and comparative analysis of remittances from migrant workers within their complex socioeconomic perspective, which provides overall perspective of these personal transfers and their macroeconomic importance for North Macedonia. Remittances, comprised of personal transfers between resident and non-resident households, including workers compensations and other transfers from abroad, are stable financial inflow registered through the International Transactions Reporting System (ITRS) at the National Bank of the RNM. They contribute to maintaining the macroeconomic stability of the Balance of Payments system but also to supporting the growth of the country both through consumption, but also through investments. The analysis outlines the current system of data collection and options for developing data collection program for remittances by discussing /selecting the main approaches to obtaining the migration data. Ongoing activities also include (2) designing a methodology for surveying remittance inflows through informal channels, designing the survey instruments and hiring a survey agency to conduct the survey of remittance receiving households in North Macedonia. A fraction of remittances that are officially registered through the financial operators in North Macedonia and these statistics are publicly available on the NBRNM website. However, due to the phenomenon that many migrant workers do not use formal financial channels and transfer money physically, statistics on the overall volume of remittances inflow in the country is significantly underestimated. This ongoing work is expected to offer some actionable recommendations as to how to resolve the dichotomy of the official data on private transfers regularly published by the NBRNM, which are several times higher than the workers remittances that are officially reported though financial entities. The latter represents a sizable financial inflow which covers to large extent the trade deficit in the country.
There are many positive socio-economic and macroeconomic aspects of the importance of remittances, hence the importance of the analysis of the nature, magnitude, and evolution of the remittance flows. Not least, their potentially important role in supporting the development efforts of the country.