Migration and Mobility

At a Glance Projects Publications Team


Assessing Migration Patterns in Latin America by Combining Traditional and Digital Trace Data Sources

Emilio Zagheni, Emanuele Del Fava, Victoria Prieto Rosas (MPIDR / Programa de Población, Universidad de la República, Uruguay); in Collaboration with Julieta Bengochea, Camila Montiel (both: Programa de Población, Universidad de la República, Uruguay), Gabriel Barasch (Neuronal, Argentina), Martín Pedemonte (University of the Republic, School of Engineering, Montevideo, Uruguay)

Detailed Description

Over the last several years, Latin America has experienced rapid increases in regional migration, mainly due to rising flows of Venezuelans, Haitians, Colombians, Cubans, and Central Americans. Census data provide information about historical trends. However, they are not suitable to capture new patterns of flows in a timely manner because censuses are run just every ten years. The emergence of new migration systems has thus been investigated mainly with household survey data and administrative data on residence permit or asylum applications.

This project seeks to shed new light on recent migration patterns, using all available data. Its main objectives are:

  1. To produce a new set of consistent migration flow estimates by sex and age; these are based on historical census data and provide a broad description of past international migration patterns within Latin America and the Caribbean in terms of the directionality and volume of migration flows and the demographic profiles of migrants.
  2. To quantify international migrants in Uruguay and their characteristics at different levels of granularity. We do so by complementing estimates obtained from surveys and administrative registers with those generated from digital traces, such as those made available via the advertisement platforms of major social media companies.
  3. To carry out online immigration surveys that involve recent immigrants in Uruguay, using the Facebook advertising platform as a recruitment tool to target what would be a hard-to-reach population of interest.

In one of our studies, we leveraged Facebook advertising data as a proxy for identifying immigration patterns in various countries in Latin America. Our findings have shown a high association of the number of Facebook users tagged as “expat” with the share of immigrants in the total population. Estimates from our multivariate regression analysis enabled us to quantify biases: Facebook data underestimates UN official stocks of migrants from Venezuela, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Paraguay, and Peru, and it overestimates UN data for older age groups and people of Brazilian and Guatemalan origin. We also conducted an online survey via Facebook to investigate the reliability of Facebook data when labeling users as expat from a certain country. Our results have shown that this match varies from 89% to 92%, with the best performance for respondents from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. This further demonstrates some of the benefits of leveraging Facebook data in migration research.

The project arises from formal collaboration between the Department of Digital and Computational Demography and the Population Program at the University of the Republic in Montevideo, where an ANII-MPG independent research group, headed by Victoria Prieto, has been established. The project is jointly funded by the MPIDR and the National Agency of Research and Innovation (2019-2024). This ANII-MPG agreement enables outstanding early-career scholars in Uruguay with several years of postdoctoral experience to establish their own research group in collaboration with researchers at a Max Planck institute. The project has also contributed to the formation of a local interdisciplinary research group on Digital and Computational Demography, funded by the Scientific Council of the University of the Republic (2023-2028).

Research Keywords:

Data and Surveys, International Migration, Ethnic Minorities, Migration

Region keywords:

America, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela


Prieto Rosas, V.; Bengochea Soria, J.:
In: The Routledge history of modern Latin American migration, 62–77. New York: Routledge. (2023)
Wang, Z.; Prieto Rosas, V.; Márquez Scotti, C.; Bengochea Soria, J.:
International Migration Review, 1–11. (2023)    
Bengochea Soria, J.; Del Fava, E.; Prieto Rosas, V.; Zagheni, E.:
MPIDR Working Paper WP-2021-019. (2021)    
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.