Migration Partnerships: A Step towards the Global Governance of International Migration?

What are the factors that shape the institutional design of recently adopted migration partnerships at a international, national and regional level?

Project Summary

The regulation of international migration flows forms an exception in the general trend towards the internationalisation of public policy. In contrast to the flows of goods, services and capital, no strong international institutions have been set up as yet to regulate the flows of people. In the 1990s nation states became more aware of the global problem of migration and the notion of “migration partnerships” has emerged as a win-win solution in the political management of migration flows, both at the international (e.g. Global Commission on International Migration, UN High Level Dialogue), regional (e.g. EU) and national (e.g. Switzerland) levels.

As a concept, migration partnerships have in common that they link migration issues with other policy areas such as development, trade, finance or security. Examining four cases of migration partnerships (EU-third countries, Mexico-USA, Mexican Government-Mexican Migrants, Switzerland-Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina) the team has investigated the factors shaping their institutional design.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Partnerships in international migration governance: the missing link?

Which is the place of these informal governance arrangements in the broader framework of international migration governance? Which understanding of international cooperation is conveyed through the notion of “partnership”, which institutional form do these arrangement take and what is their contribution in terms of regulating states’ approach to population flows? Situating our analysis in the literature on the role of soft modes of coordination in global governance on the one hand, and the broader debates on the “partnership turn” in international cooperation we seek to understand the potential, limits and possible implications of these new forms of cooperation. Special attention is thereby paid to the role that such new patterns of cooperation play in the broader architecture of international migration governance. Our analysis of migration partnerships focuses on three dimensions: the discursive framing, relating to the representation of the underlying problem and of states’ interrelations; the institutional set-up, depicting the structures of interaction; and the power implications, analyzing patterns of dominance among participating actors and potential transformatory effects implied by these cooperation frameworks.

Executive Summary

Since the turn of the millennium, new forms of migration governance have been devised under the label of ‘migration partnerships’ at the bilateral level between countries of origin and destination. The objective of this research project was to examine the role of migration partnerships in international migration governance, specify the importance of these bilateral structures in the broader architecture of migration cooperation, and analyse how ‘partnership’ in the sense of ‘win-winwin’ solutions is deployed in discourse and realised in practice in the field of migration governance, in the context of EU, Swiss and US migration policies. The overall finding is that the discursive shift towards ‘partnership’ has gone along with widening of the migration cooperation agenda towards other fields like development and security. The comparative advantage of bilateralism is that such issue-linkages are facilitated, at the same time, they are used to maximise leverage towards sending countries inciting their participation in fighting irregular migration. As institutionalised transgovernmental networks, migration partnerships also act to socialise sending countries into managing migration in order to take their share of the responsibility to better manage migration. At the same time, they may, over time, also turn into platforms for the sending countries to voice their genuine priorities in migration policy.

Research Team

Sandra Lavenex
University of Lucerne

Christin Achermann
Principal Member
Université de Neuchâtel


Rahel Kunz
Principal Member
University of Lucerne

Frank Laczko
Principal Member
International Organisation for Migration


Erika Laubacher-Kubat
Principal Member







Host Institution