Research ideas

A number of possibilities for research projects are listed below. The list is regularly updated with links to relevant Open Borders posts and pages as well as external sources. Keep the following in mind:

  • You can use these research ideas for research projects at many different levels of complexity. You might be able to get a topic for a high school or college project, a masters thesis, a doctoral thesis, a research article for a think tank, or an academic journal article.
  • In some cases, Open Borders bloggers have done more research on the topic than has been made publicly available so far. In addition, we may have contact with others who are doing, or have access to, related research that is not yet public. Therefore, we strongly advise that, prior to beginning a research project based on an idea here, you contact us at with your plans, particularly if your project involves more than 3-5 hours of effort.
  • We would also be happy to provide feedback on drafts of papers or projects and help point out possible references or angles you may have missed. Feel free to contact with requests for feedback.
  • Finally, once your research has been done, we’ll be happy to publicize it on the website assuming it is of sufficiently high quality. If you would like, we can host a copy of your final research paper or article on our website. We’ll also add links from the relevant site pages. In some cases, we may do a blog post on your research, and in other cases, we might invite you to write a guest post for the site describing your research. Note that it is not necessary for your research to be “pro-open borders” in order for us to feature it. We’re happy to list and discuss well-written and well-researched work regardless of whether it seems to bolster or oppose the case for open borders.

Broad overview of the angles and what’s missing in existing research

Broadly, there are four angles to the study of the “impact” of migration:

  • Impact on migrants.
  • Impact on the residents of immigrant-receiving countries.
  • Impact on the residents of immigrant-sending countries.
  • Impact on the world at large, through channels such as innovation, trade, and global economic growth.

Much of the research on immigration is carried out by social scientists in the US and other OECD countries, and tends to come from a citizenist or territorialist perspective. Thus, the research is narrowly focused in the following ways:

  • It focuses largely on immigration to the US and other OECD countries. Other popular destinations for migration (often temporary) such as the UAE and Malaysia are poorly understood.
  • Even within the study of migration to OECD countries, the focus is largely on the impact that migration has on the existing residents of immigrant-receiving countries, and also on how migrants compare to these existing residents. Proper research of the impact on migrants would compare them to what they might achieve in the counterfactual (staying in their home country, or migrating to yet another country). While such research exists, it is relatively less developed. Similarly, research on the impact of migrants on their sending countries is also less well developed, although the international development community has done some work on this issue.
  • International perspectives and comparisons in migration are relatively rare. Much existing research on migration focuses on a specific country and a specific historical time period (usually, the present).
  • Many discussions of the social factors that affect migration give short shrift to the role that restrictive immigration policies play in curtailing migration flows.
  • Much of the research on migration is focused on the status quo and minor variations thereof rather than on considering the possible impact of true open borders, or of steps that may form a path to true open borders.
  • Research in various fields related to migration tends to be compartmentalized, so for instance, research on immigration law is carried out completely separately from research on the economic effects of migration, and both are often carried out separately from discussions of the normative ethics of migration restrictions in moral philosophy. There are opportunities for cross-disciplinary synthesis.

Below, we list a few specific strands of research that could benefit from considerable expansion.

Keyhole solutions research

One broad category of approaches that allow for substantially freer migration while addressing real or perceived problems with it is keyhole solutions. Prior to beginning research on this topic, we advise reading the following three pages:

  1. The keyhole solutions page on the website, that describes keyhole solutions from a variety of perspectives, and includes some broad classes of keyhole solutions. Please also skim through the linked pages.
  2. The blog post Keyhole solutions: permissibility, desirability, feasibility, and stability by Vipul Naik, August 16, 2013. This blog post lays out a potential agenda for the analysis of any specific keyhole solution.
  3. The blog post Six possible positions on a specific keyhole solution by Vipul Naik, November 1, 2012. This blog post considers rank-order preferences for open borders without the keyhole solution, open borders with the keyhole solution, and closed borders.

Possible research ideas:

  • Study any particular class of keyhole solutions using the agenda laid out in item (2) above, or a variation thereof.
  • Study the dynamics of coalitions that would be formed between people with different rank-order preferences for a specific keyhole solution, using the framework laid out in item (3) above, or a variation thereof.

Political externalities research

On the economic side, there seems to be a consensus in favor of freer migration (see here and here). The most plausible (though not the only) channel through which freer migration could have negative consequences appears to be political externalities. In particular, political externalities is one of the main mechanisms via which open borders might be argued to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Research on political externalities would focus on present and historical patterns of voting exhibited by migrants of various types. Such research may split broadly into two types:

  • Research on what’s happening under the present political system, and what might happen if the present political system were modified to allow more migration with no other major changes to citizenship and voting laws. The most relevant research of this type is listed at the political externalities page.
  • Research on the moral permissibility, desirability, feasibility, and stability of keyhole solutions that allow for freer migration without putting migrants on a path to citizenship. We have blogged about this (see here for instance) and we intend to blog more about this.

"The Efficient, Egalitarian, Libertarian, Utilitarian Way to Double World GDP" — Bryan Caplan