Understanding Decisions Made on Asylum Applications in Host Countries

Ismael Issifou

World Bank Policy Research Working Paper Series, WPS 9153, February 2020



This paper examines the political and economic factors explaining the processing of individual asylum applications and their outcomes. The author considers heterogeneity in terms of efficiency (if procedures for status recognition are fast or slow), generosity (the number of favorable decisions on asylum claims), and the type of protection granted (full refugee status or other forms of protection). The analysis is based on a panel data set constructed from UNHCR’s data on individual asylum claims and decisions from 2000 to 2017.

Key findings:

  • During election years in OECD countries, there is an increase in the number of applications processed (total decisions) together with an increase in the number of asylum claims rejected, i.e. more efficiency at the expense of favorable decisions on individual asylum applications.
  • Political polarization in OECD countries leads to fewer applications processed, decreases the number of applications rejected, and increases the complementary forms of protection granted to asylum seekers.
  • No evidence found of election years and political polarization having an effect on asylum claims in low and middle-income countries.
  • Applying for asylum in neighboring countries increases the number of favorable decisions of any kind made on asylum claims and reduces the number of applications rejected. Distance shows the opposite effect, being negatively and significantly associated with asylum applications approved.
  • The choice of destination of asylum applications based on the economic size of host countries appears to be inefficient because GDP in host countries is negatively and significantly associated with the number of applications processed and the number of favorable decisions, i.e. these countries are less efficient and less generous in their approval policies.
  • To a lesser extent, labor market conditions matter, sound fiscal policy is relevant (fiscal crises have no significant effect on the type of decisions made, but are negatively associated with the number of applications processed), and government expenditure over GDP does not favor full recognition of asylum applications.