Policy preferences in response to large forced migration inflows

William L. Allen, Isabel Ruiz, and Carlos Vargas-Silva

World Development, Volume 174 (2024), Article 106462 



This article examines public preferences for immigration policies in Colombia, and the extent to which humanitarian concerns matter for those preferences. Colombia hosts an estimated 2.5 million Venezuelan migrants, approximately 40 percent of the total number of Venezuelan migrants who were displaced between 2014 and 2023. Venezuelan migrants and Colombian natives share similar histories, as well as ethnolinguistic, social, and cultural features. 

The analysis is based on a randomized choice-based conjoint experiment undertaken in Colombia in March 2021, with over 2,500 participants selected from a larger online panel of over 140,000 respondents. The sample aimed to capture representativeness across key demographics including age, gender, region, and socioeconomic strata. 

Participants were presented with five pairs of hypothetical policy packages incorporating six policy dimensions: labor market access, location restrictions, access to public healthcare, family reunification, numerical limits, and length of residency. Within each policy dimension, participants were presented with one randomly selected “level” of restrictiveness. Participants were asked which policy package they preferred, and to rate each package on a 1-7 scale. To establish the strength of their humanitarian values, participants were asked to rate the extent to which they agreed with statements that prioritized the welfare of people over economic growth. 

Main findings: 

  • Colombians preferred more open policy options that place some or no restrictions on Venezuelan migrants’ labor market access or freedom to choose where they live within Colombia. Respondents preferred some labor market restrictions rather than no restrictions but rejected the complete prohibition of Venezuelans from employment. There was also slight opposition to restricting Venezuelans’ ability to relocate within Colombia. 
  • Colombians preferred more open policy options that place some or no restrictions on ability to bring family members, or access to public healthcare. Respondents preferred granting Venezuelans access to public health services compared to not granting access. However, there was substantial preference for allowing family reunification with economic criteria over either of the alternatives of allowing reunification without restrictions or completely prohibiting reunification. 
  • There was some support for restrictions on the overall number of Venezuelans allowed to settle in the country, and the length of time that Venezuelans are allowed to stay in Colombia. 
  • Respondents holding stronger humanitarian values preferred less restrictive policies relative to those who prioritize economic concerns, particularly in areas addressing core needs of health, family reunification, and employment. However, regardless of their values, respondents preferred policies that placed financial criteria on family reunification and occupational restrictions on Venezuelans’ access to the labor market. Neither did they display different preferences with respect to imposing annual limits on inflows or restrictions on forced migrants’ lengths of residency. 
  • Younger respondents (those aged below 40), those who identify on the left in terms of their political ideology, and those who reported higher contact with migrants were less likely to prefer restricting work compared to those that were older, identify with the right, or reported lower contact. However, the groups express similar responses with respect to the other policy dimensions. 

 The authors conclude that Colombians tend to support policy options that place some or no restrictions on Venezuelans’ access to the labor market and subsidized healthcare, as well as their ability to bring dependents and relocate where they wish within the country. However, Colombians support the use of numerical caps on inflows and time-limited residency permits. Respondents who hold stronger material values tend to support policies that are more restrictive relative to respondents who hold humanitarian values—particularly on family reunification, healthcare access, and employment rules.