Migration Dynamics during the Refugee Influx in Jordan

Jackline Wahba and Bilal Malaeb

Economic Research Forum Working Paper Series, No. 1190 (2018)



This paper examines migration dynamics in Jordan between 2010 and 2016, a period in which Jordan experienced large influxes of Syrian refugees. The analysis is based on data from the Jordan Labor Market Panel Surveys (JLMPS) of 2010 and 2016. Refugees are defined broadly as individuals in household where at least one member (a) has arrived after 2011 and (b) has fled violence and conflict or is registered as a refugee. The authors find:

  • Around two-thirds of current emigrants living abroad in 2016 emigrated from Jordan in the previous five years, while approximately half of emigrants in 2010 had migrated in the five years leading up to 2010. The authors speculate that the substantial increase in emigration from Jordan after 2010 could be correlated with the Syrian refugee influx.
  • Between 2010 and 2016, there was a substantial increase in the proportion of immigrants (excluding refugees) in the total population of Jordan, in particular an increase in the proportion of Egyptian and non-Arab immigrants, while the proportion of other Arab immigrants decreased. The increase in immigration is counterintuitive given the large increase in the number of Syrian refugees during this period, which one would expect might make Jordan less attractive to immigrants.
  • Data reveal a change in immigrants’ geographical distribution (residence and work location) in 2016 compared to 2010. There are increases in immigrants’ work locations in areas of lower refugee concentration (e.g. Balqa, Madaba, and Aqaba) and a decrease in Amman, which hosts the largest of refugees both in residence and place of work. Interestingly, there is an increase in immigrants’ work in Mafraq despite a decrease in immigrants’ residence in this governorate.
  • Immigrants and refugees have a similar distribution of occupations (concentrated in services and sales, and craft and related trade work), but starkly different distributions across economic sectors. Between 2010 and 2016, immigrants have increased their engagement in informal work, and the share of immigrants in the manufacturing sector and ‘elementary’ occupations (including construction workers) has declined. Overall, there is some suggestive evidence of competition with refugees, who are concentrated in the manufacturing and construction sectors.
  • The fact that the majority of Syrian refugees were women and young children, rather than working-aged men, may have dampened any potential negative effects on immigrants at least in the short run.