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Get Out: How Authoritarian Governments Decide Who Emigrates

Eggers Hall , 341

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Most autocracies restrict emigration, yet still allow some citizens to voluntarily exit. How do these regimes decide who can leave? We argue that many autocracies strategically target anti-regime actors for emigration, thereby crafting a more loyal population without the drawbacks of persistent cooptation or repression. However, this generates problematic incentives for citizens to join opposition activity to secure exit. In response, autocracies simultaneously punish dissidents for attempting to emigrate, screening out all but the most determined opponents. To test our theory, we examine an original dataset coded from 20,000 pages of declassified emigration applications from East Germany's state archives. We find that active opposition promoted emigration approval, but also punishment for applying. Our results shed light on global migration's political sources and an overlooked strategy of autocratic resilience.

Margaret Peters is an Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science and the Chair of the Global Studies major at UCLA.  Her research focuses broadly on the international economy with a special focus on the politics of migration. Her award-winning book, "Trading Barriers: Immigration and the Remaking of Globalization," argues that the increased ability of firms to produce anywhere in the world combined with growing international competition due to lowered trade barriers has led to greater limits on immigration, as businesses no longer see a need to support open immigration at home.  She is now working on how dictators control emigration and how refugees make their decisions of when, where, and if to move from their home countries.  


Social Science and Public Policy





Open to



MAX-Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs


Juanita Horan


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