E.g., 02/28/2024
E.g., 02/28/2024
Pay-to-Go Schemes and Other Noncoercive Return Programs: Is Scale Possible?
April 2011

Pay-to-Go Schemes and Other Noncoercive Return Programs: Is Scale Possible?

Certain immigrant-receiving countries have for decades employed policies to encourage unauthorized immigrants to return to their home countries without the cost, legal barriers, and political obstacles of removals or forced returns. Noncoercive, pay-to-go, voluntary, assisted voluntary, and nonforced returns generally can offer paid travel and/or other financial incentive to encourage unauthorized immigrants to cooperate with immigration officials and leave host countries. There are three key rationales for governments to choose pay-to-go and other returns: it is cost effective, it does not require bilateral cooperation between states, and it offers a more humane alternative to forced return.

Despite these programs’ strong theoretical appeal, they have a history of failure. Large-scale pay-to-go programs are rare, and the “sustainability” of returns (whether migrants successfully remain in their home countries) is unclear. Policymakers crafting pay-to-go return programs must overcome powerful barriers to persuade immigrants to leave. Furthermore, pay-to-go returns are usually only attractive to potential participants when backed up with the threat of removal. 

Despite inherent difficulties, the advantages of these programs are sufficient to make them an important part of the policy toolkit to reduce illegal immigration. However, persistent experimentation and evaluation will be needed to overturn barriers to successful implementation and effective use of such return policies.


Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The Appeal of Pay-to-Go Return

A. Cost Effectiveness

B. Smooth Cooperation between States

C. Moral and Political Arguments

D. Sustainable Return and Development Gains

III. History and Data


IV. Strategies to Improve Pay-to-Go Return

A. Disincentives and Credible Threats

B. Financial Incentives and Reintegration Assistance

C. Program Design

D. Migrant Networks and Community Engagement

V. Conclusions