Mapping the field: International Migration Review

In this blog series written by the students on the MA in Migration Studies at the University of Birmingham and edited by Nando Sigona, we examine the key themes and geographical foci in some of the key academic journals in migration studies.

The second contribution in the series is by Emily Edge (MA in Migration Studies, 2020-21, @emilysedge) and will focus on the journal International Migration Review. The analysis is focused the 2019 Volume.

Founded in 1964, the International Migration Review (IMR) is a prominent journal in the field of migration studies, currently publishing four issues per year. Published by the Center for Migration Studies in New York, IMR is distributed online and worldwide, with an impact factor of 1.944 and a readership of over 168,000 in 2020 (SAGE Journals, n.d.). In 2019, IMR published 42 research articles across four issues.

In 2014, the journal celebrated its 50th Anniversary with a landmark Special Issue entitled “The International Migration Review at 50: Reflecting on Half a Century of International Migration Research and Looking Ahead” which examined the IMR within the migration studies field. The authors assessed “changes in the geographical distribution of authorship” (2014, p.S3) of articles in the journal. They also commented on “the study of migration patterns” (2014, S4), stating that while at its founding, the focus was primarily on migration to America from Europe, research attention is now given to a much wider range of migration patterns.

In this blog post, we will analyse the articles published by IMR throughout 2019, making some comparisons to the analysis carried out in the 2014 Special Issue. We will primarily focus on four aspects: the most used words in both titles and abstracts, the country of affiliation of authors, and the geographical focus of articles. We will use NVivo-generated wordclouds to visualise these data.


Unsurprisingly, the most common words in 2019 article titles are ‘immigration’, ‘migration’ and their derivatives appearing in total 34 times. In the Top 10 words we also find ‘health’, ‘education’ and ‘labor’. Furthermore, confirming a trend mentioned in IMR 2014 Special Issue concerning attention being given to “the prospects of the children of immigrants”, ‘children’ also features in the Top 10 words.

Noteworthy, the first geographical descriptor in the list is ‘Mexican’, appearing 3 times. The centrality of Mexican immigration in IMR coverage is further confirmed below when we look more closely to the geographical foci of published articles.


The words used most frequently in the abstracts do bear similarity to those in the titles, and are once again related to the words ‘migration’ and ‘immigration’, overall cited 184 times. Noteworthy, while the preferred term for referring to mobility in the articles is by far ‘migration’ (55 times), with ‘immigration’ appearing only 11 times, ‘immigrant’ is prevalent when it comes to how those who migrate are identified – 51 times vs 43 times for ‘migrant’. While the word ’emigration’ and derivatives feature overall 10 times, ‘diaspora/s’ appears 16 times.

As the analysis of geographical foci below shows, even when the term ‘migrants’ is used, it mostly refers to immigrant populations from a destination country perspective. Looking at the keywords indicating thematic focus, we find words related to welfare or policy areas, such as ‘labor’ (18 times), ‘policy’(18 times), ‘health’ (17 times), ‘state’ (17 times), ‘education’ (10 times) and ‘integration’ (11 times). In discussing unauthorised migration, the preferred term is ‘undocumented’ cited 11 times. 11 mentions also go to ‘gender’.

Author’s country of affiliation and geographical focus

The country of affiliation and geographical focus of articles will be addressed together. Whilst there are some articles written by authors affiliated with institutions in Asia, the overwhelming majority of articles are written by authors affiliated with institutions in Europe or North America, with the most common being the USA. These data resonate with the analysis presented by the IMR’s Special Issue. It is stated that the USA was the most common author affiliation, at 63.2% in the first ten years of the journal, declining to 60% in 2005-2014 but remaining firmly the most common. As can be seen from the word cloud below, this is similar to the findings of this analysis.

Countries of affiliation of 2019 IMR authors

The analysis of the geographical coverage has a dual focus: the country/ies in which the analysis is carried out, and the country/ies where the migrants covered by the analysis come from. As far as the migrant communities explicitly covered by the articles, 6 out of 42 articles focus on Mexican migrants, other nationalities including China, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Somalia only appear once. When it comes to the geographical focus on the analysis, the USA is the most popular location in this category with 8 articles focused on migration-related issues there. Yet, unlike the affiliation of authors, there is greater variety in coverage, with the majority of articles with a geographical focus on the EU and EU member states. Interestingly, one country which appears regularly as both a country of focus and of origin for migrant communities such as Mexico, has no articles authored by researchers affiliated at a Mexican institution. Again, this represents a wider theme of knowledge production taking place outside of the country of focus.

Geographical focus of analysis, IMR 2019

To conclude, from the analysis it can be seen that topics of concern for authors commonly relate to welfare or social policy in the countries of immigration, with 28 out of 42 exclusively focused on destination countries and 4 with a transnational perspective encompassing both immigration and emigration countries. It is also clear from this brief analysis that the range of countries of affiliation for authors is far narrower than the range of countries of research focus. This indicates further scope to establish discrepancies between authorship affiliation and geographical focus, and certainly raises questions about locations of knowledge production.


Lee, J., Carling, J. and Orrenius, P., 2014. The International Migration Review at 50: Reflecting on Half a Century of International Migration Research and Looking Ahead. International Migration Review, 48(S1), pp.3-36.

SAGE Journals. n.d. International Migration Review. [online] Available at: <; [Accessed 10 March 2021].

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