Journal Article

Stop, in the name of COVID! Using social media data to estimate the effects of COVID-19-related travel restrictions on migration

Klein, J. D., Weber, I. G., Zagheni, E.
Demography, 1–19 (2024)
Open Access


In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Organization for Migration has postulated that international migrant stocks fell short of their pre-pandemic projections by nearly 2 million as a result of travel restrictions. However, this decline is not testable with migration data from traditional sources. Key migration stakeholders have called for using data from alternative sources, including social media, to fill these gaps. Building on previous work using social media data to analyze migration responses to external shocks, we test the hypothesis that COVID-related travel restrictions reduced migrant stock relative to expected migration without such restrictions using estimates of migrants drawn from Facebook's advertising platform and dynamic panel models. We focus on four key origin countries in North and West Africa (Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria, Morocco, and Senegal) and on their 23 key destination countries. Between February and June 2020, we estimate that a destination country implementing a month-long total entry ban on arrivals from Côte d'Ivoire, Algeria, Morocco, or Senegal might have expected a 3.39% reduction in migrant stock from the restricted country compared with the counterfactual in which no travel restrictions were implemented. However, when broader societal disruptions of the pandemic are accounted for, we estimate that countries implementing travel restrictions might paradoxically have expected an increase in migrant stock. In this context, travel restrictions do not appear to have effectively curbed migration and could have resulted in outcomes opposite their intended effects.

The Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (MPIDR) in Rostock is one of the leading demographic research centers in the world. It's part of the Max Planck Society, the internationally renowned German research society.