Journal of Population Economics

, Volume 29, Issue 3, pp 781–816 | Cite as

Illegal immigration, deportation policy, and the optimal timing of return

  • Alexandra VinogradovaEmail author
Original Paper


Countries with strict immigration policies often resort to deportation measures to reduce their stocks of illegal immigrants. Many of their undocumented foreign workers, however, are not deported but rather choose to return home voluntarily. This paper studies the optimizing behavior of undocumented immigrants who continuously face the risk of deportation, modeled by a stochastic process, and must decide how long to remain in the host country. It is found that the presence of uncertainty with respect to the length of stay abroad unambiguously reduces the desired migration duration and may trigger a voluntary return when a permanent stay would otherwise be optimal. Voluntary return is motivated by both economic and psychological factors. Calibration of the model to match the evidence on undocumented Thai migrants in Japan suggests that the psychological impact of being abroad as an illegal alien may be equivalent to as large as a 68 % cut in the consumption rate at the point of return.


Illegal immigration Deportation Optimal return Uncertainty 

JEL Classification

F22 J61 



I thank Slobodan Djajić and the three anonymous referees of this Journal for their valuable and insightful comments.

Compliance with ethical standards


This research has not benefited from any funding.

Conflict of interests

The author declares that she has no competing interests.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Center of Economic ResearchSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)ZurichSwitzerland

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