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Migration and Health


The COEMH’s research agenda will be cross-national, cross-regional, and cross-disciplinary. Affiliated researchers with expertise in demography, other social sciences, epidemiology, medicine, and health care systems in other countries will compare migrant health indicators, public health policies, and policy outcomes in California with those of other U.S. regions and foreign countries. Special attention will be devoted to the following four areas of research, in which the COEMH’s affiliated faculty have particularly deep expertise:

  • Behavioral and socio-economic determinants of health: Industries with high densities of migrant workers, like agriculture and construction, present special occupational health hazards. The COEMH will study the policy and socio-cultural factors that shape work-related behaviors, helping regulators and service providers reduce migrants’ high rates of occupational injuries and disease. Similarly, local communities in which migrants and refugees settle play an important role in shaping health status and access to care. For example, immigrant-dominated communities tend to have a higher incidence of environmental health risks and more limited availability of health care, including mental health services. Moreover, immigrant and refugee groups vary in their processes of social, economic, and cultural incorporation into destination societies, which can affect health behaviors and outcomes in both positive and negative ways. The COEMH will seek to explain these variations and develop appropriate intervention strategies that can be tested in various contexts.
  • Health outcomes in communities of origin and destination: Migration is a dynamic process including multiple stages (departure, border crossing, arrival, return) which impact both the communities of origin and destination in complex ways. The COEMH will study the transnational epidemiology of chronic and infectious diseases in immigrants’ places of origin and destination. Infectious diseases are not limited by national borders. Improving our understanding of the role of migration and poverty-related characteristics in the transmission of infections is key to developing policies that make both migrants’ communities of origin and destination healthier. The COEMH will study the impact of specific government interventions on international migration flows and disease transmission and treatment, with special emphasis on infectious diseases such as HIV, other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and tuberculosis. We will also study the impact of migration on chronic health conditions like diabetes, both in their country of origin and destination.
  • Child health: Well over half of California’s children are either immigrants or the children of immigrants — a much higher percentage than in the U.S. as a whole. In Los Angeles, for example, 62% of children have at least one foreign-born parent. Most children of immigrants are U.S. citizens by birth but may be at risk due to their parents’ immigration status and socioeconomic level. Many of these children (14%) have at least one unauthorized immigrant parent. Such “mixed-status” families pose special challenges for health care delivery, since unauthorized immigrant parents may be reluctant to approach U.S. health service providers. Children’s health can also be compromised by low family incomes, lack of education, poor nutrition and food insecurity (leading to premature obesity and higher risk of diabetes), and a lack of preventive care. We will devote special attention to this vulnerable subpopulation of immigrants and refugees.
  • Heath care delivery and policy: By increasing our understanding of the barriers migrants face in access and utilization of health services, we can reduce public health risks in entire communities. The COEMH will systematically address the impacts of migrant/refugee status, ethnicity and socioeconomic status on health service utilization, including patient-provider communication regarding sensitive issues. Numerous public health issues are transnational in character, including the market for medical coverage and the transmission of infectious agents. By deepening ties between migrant-sending countries and experts within California, the COEMH can generate data that facilitate development of policies whose effectiveness is unconstrained by national political and administrative barriers. The COEMH will demonstrate how health care policies and practices directed at immigrants can be improved through transnational research, health promotion activities, and program design and implementation.


Co-associate directors

David López-Carr

UC Santa Barbara

Xochitl Castañeda

UC Berkeley



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