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Data offers refugees economic freedom

Researchers in America have developed an algorithm that could transform the employment opportunities of refugees.

The team led by Stanford University’s Immigration Policy Lab, examined historic data from America and Switzerland using a machine learning algorithm. The group discovered that if the data had been applied – in both scenarios – it would have significantly improved the economic opportunities for the refugees, while also easing the pressure on the host countries.

The Stanford scholars say this technology could be put in place at little cost, to help governments around the world tackle the challenge of finding homes for tens of millions of displaced people. It is a huge task, as there are more people in need of resettlement today than there were after World War II.

In the American example, the algorithm was created using data gathered on 30,000 refugees, aged between 18 to 64, who had been resettled in the States from 2011 to 2016. It also included the employment they eventually gained.

Using the data, the algorithm suggested optimal locations, and employment prospects, for refugees who came to America in late 2016. It found that by applying the algorithm the employment rate among this group of refugees would have been boosted by 41% compared to the actual outcome.

“The employment gains that we’re projecting are quite substantial, and these are gains that could be achieved with almost no additional cost to the governments or resettlement agencies,” explained Kirk Bansak, a lead author of the study and a political science PhD student. “By improving an existing process using existing data, our algorithm avoids many of the financial and administrative hurdles that can often impede other policy innovations.”

In the case of Switzerland, the team harnessed data on asylum seekers resettled in the country from 1999 to 2013. If the refugees arriving in 2013 had been resettled using the algorithm, the employment rate for them would have been 73% higher.

“The fact that we are able to generate such significant gains because of a simple change to the resettlement process is a demonstration of just how important it is to bring data-driven insights to policy-making processes,” added Jeremy Weinstein, a professor of political science at Stanford and a co-author of the study.

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