22 January 2024

Labour Migration and Child Labour: Evidence from Kerala and Kosovo

In this interview, Donika Limani talks about her doctoral research in Development Economics and its possible policy relevance. A refugee and an immigrant herself, she is particularly interested in migration economics, especially motivations for temporary migration and remittance behaviour, and investigated why Keralite families send workers to the Gulf. In addition, during her studies she worked for the International Labour Organization and gained a keen interest in labour and education economics, leading her to analyse the impact of child labour on education in Kosovo.

Why did you decide to focus your economics research on migration, labour and education?

My research interest came from a personal place – I have been a refugee and immigrant myself. It is no surprise that I gravitated toward migration economics, especially the reasons for temporary moves and their impact on one’s home. In the 1980s and 1990s, my relatives were part of Switzerland’s guest worker schemes, further fuelling my interest in understanding the effects of labour migration, particularly on those left behind. 

The starting point for my research was my supervisor, Jean-Louis Arcand, introducing me to the Kerala Migration Survey dataset, focusing on Keralites’ temporary migration to Gulf countries through the Kafala (sponsorship) system. This introduced a new context, driving the first two research papers of my thesis. Alongside my studies, collaboration with the International Labour Organization (ILO) exposed me to labour and education economics, inspiring the third paper on the impact of child labour on education. Overall, it's a blend of personal experience, academic exploration, and professional engagements that led me to delve into migration, labour, and education economics.

Can you describe your three PhD papers?

The first paper, co-authored with Jean-Louis Arcand and Martina Viarengo, is entitled “Selection into Migration and Motivations to Remit: Evidence from 20 Years of Remittance Behaviour of Keralite Migrants”. It dives into the reasons why people choose to migrate temporarily and what drives them to send money back home. The paper uses a 20-year dataset from Kerala, India (known as the Kerala Migration Survey) and it applies several econometric techniques to deal with hidden differences among people and why they decide to migrate. We find that in that specific context migration is considered as a strategic investment of families remaining behind, while remittances are the reaps of this investment. 

The second paper, entitled “Impact of Migration and Remittances on Consumption and Inequality in Kerala”, uses the same data, tools and context, but this time to analyse how origin households in Kerala use the remittances and what that implies for poverty and inequality in that state. I find that they use the remittances to boost their consumption, particularly through durable items (i.e. not food and perishables). My counterfactual analysis also shows that remittances reduce poverty as well as decrease inequality in the communities where migrants come from. 

The final paper is entitled “Child Labour and Educational Performance: An Empirical Analysis of the Case of Kosovo”. In this case, I decided to use the knowledge gained by working with the ILO and focus on my origins, Kosovo. The paper explores how working affects children’s learning in Kosovo. Using the Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) survey by UNICEF and rigorous econometric techniques, I find that child labour hurts particularly children’s mathematical skills and to some extent their reading abilities as well. This study is especially interesting because there are few empirical analyses of the impact of child labour on educational outcomes, particularly concerning Kosovo, the region, or similar contexts.

What could be the social and political implications of these papers?

In current times, many developed European countries are grappling with labour shortages and pension system pressures, mainly due to demographic changes and an aging population. As a result, the significance of guest worker schemes has never been more pronounced, especially considering that many more countries may turn to this solution in the near future. Policymakers can use these insights to craft policies that consider both the push and pull factors driving temporary migration, fostering discussions on creating better support structures for migrants as well as their families. In terms of economic development, recognising migration as an investment for households could inspire governments to establish avenues for more effective use of remittances, potentially fostering economic growth in migrants’ home communities. 

While guest worker schemes can address labour shortages in host countries, policies in this area could also benefit sending countries if the findings of the second paper apply in other contexts. These schemes can contribute to alleviating poverty and inequality in origin countries, with the rising inequality concerns in Kerala making this research particularly relevant for that region. For anyone who might be interested in this work, some of it has already been published as an article co-authored with Prof. Jean-Louis Arcand in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies

Turning to my work on child labour in Kosovo, its significance is paramount for the country. Recent PISA rankings place Kosovo among the lowest-performing countries in mathematics and reading. Given these concerning results, urgent efforts are needed to understand the factors driving poor performance so that concrete policies can be implemented. My paper demonstrates that child labour does impact children’s skills in reading and mathematics, though it is likely not the sole factor. In a broader context, the research on child labour’s impact on educational outcomes could prompt policymakers to reassess child labour laws and educational policies. This understanding may lead to initiatives ensuring children have special access to educational resources, potentially mitigating the negative effects of child labour on their learning. The long-term goal of improving children’s education is worth pursuing for its transformative impact on future generations. While the paper has not been published yet, those interested may look at a related, less technical, report I prepared for the ILO

What are you doing in your post-PhD life?

I am currently working as a statistician at the Statistics Department of ILO in Geneva. I focus on labour market indicators and child labour. I am also quite active in the research and development practitioners’ community back home in Kosovo and always eager to embark on new projects. 

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Donika with her school backpack in front of the Graduate Institute

“It’s finally time to retire this school backpack which followed me from primary school in Albania, Kosovo, the UK, Hungary and finally all the way to Switzerland.”
Donika Limani successfully defended her PhD thesis in Development Economics on 20 October 2023. Professor Martina Viarengo presided over the committee, which included Professor Jean-Louis Arcand, Thesis Supervisor, Professor Ugo Panizza, Professor Nathan Sussman and Professor Simone Bertoli, Centre d’études et de recherches sur le développement international (CERDI), Université Clermont Auvergne, France.

Citation of the PhD thesis: 
Limani, Donika. “Essays in Labour Migration and Child Labour: Evidence from Kerala, India and Kosovo.” PhD thesis, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, Geneva, 2023.
Members of the Geneva Graduate Institute can access the thesis via this page of the repository. Others can contact Donika Limani at

Interview by Nathalie Tanner, Research Office, Geneva Graduate Institute.
Banner image by Sebastian Castelier/