Automating Decision-making in Migration Policy: A Navigation Guide

Report by Astrid Ziebarth and Jessica Bither: “Algorithmic-driven or automated decision-making models (ADM) and programs are increasingly used by public administrations to assist human decision-making processes in public policy—including migration and refugee policy. These systems are often presented as a neutral, technological fix to make policy and systems more efficient. However, migration policymakers and stakeholders often do not understand exactly how these systems operate. As a result, the implications of adopting ADM technology are still unclear, and sometimes not considered. In fact, automated decision-making systems are never neutral, nor is their employment inevitable. To make sense of their function and decide whether or how to use them in migration policy will require consideration of the specific context in which ADM systems are being employed.

Three concrete use cases at core nodes of migration policy in which automated decision-making is already either being developed or tested are examined: visa application processes, placement matching to improve integration outcomes, and forecasting models to assist for planning and preparedness related to human mobility or displacement. All cases raise the same categories of questions: from the data employed, to the motivation behind using a given system, to the action triggered by models. The nuances of each case demonstrate why it is crucial to understand these systems within a bigger socio-technological context and provide categories and questions that can help policymakers understand the most important implications of any new system, including both technical consideration (related to accuracy, data questions, or bias) as well as contextual questions (what are we optimizing for?).

Stakeholders working in the migration and refugee policy space must make more direct links to current discussions surrounding governance, regulation of AI, and digital rights more broadly. We suggest some first points of entry toward this goal. Specifically, for next steps stakeholders should:

  1. Bridge migration policy with developments in digital rights and tech regulation
  2. Adapt emerging policy tools on ADM to migration space
  3. Create new spaces for exchange between migration policymakers, tech regulators, technologists, and civil society
  4. Include discussion on the use of ADM systems in international migration fora
  5. Increase the number of technologists or bilinguals working in migration policy
  6. Link tech and migration policy to bigger questions of foreign policy and geopolitics…(More)”.