Migrant rights initiative

About us

About the Migrant Rights Initiative

The Migrant Rights Initiative conducts cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research on the human rights of migrants and fosters opportunities for innovative action that reshapes the way governments treat people who cross international borders.

At Cornell, the Migrant Rights Initiative contributes to the Law School’s Migration and Human Rights Program and the University’s Migrations Initiative.

Our Mission & History

The migration of human beings is older than the organization of political communities into nation-states or the articulation of legal norms protecting individual rights. However, the movement and the rights of people crossing borders are inadequately governed and incompletely protected by a fragmented patchwork of institutions and norms.

The mission of the Migrant Rights Initiative is to help ensure that the human rights of all international migrants are protected, regardless of the impetus for their migration. The Initiative was founded as the International Migrants’ Bill of Rights (IMBR) Initiative in 2011 and was based at Georgetown University Law Center from 2011-2019. Because norms and governance mutually reinforce one another, the Initiative’s projects use interdisciplinary research to make norms and governance more effective.

The International Migrants’ Bill of Rights (IMBR)

The first major research project of the Migrant Rights Initiative was to develop the International Migrants’ Bill of Rights (IMBR) — the most comprehensive compilation of how the human rights of all migrants are protected under international law. The research was published as a draft in a symposium in Volume 24, Numbers 3 and 4 (2010) of the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal and then revised and published in a second symposium in the Journal’s Volume 28, Number 1 (2013). This work was adapted by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in its Resolution 04/19, the Inter-American Principles on the Human Rights of All Migrants, Refugees, Stateless Persons, and Victims of Human Trafficking. Thanks to support from the Robert Bosch Stiftung, the Initiative is currently supporting a similar initiative by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights pursuant to its Resolution 481, Resolution on the Need for a Study on African Responses to Migration and the Protection of Migrants with a view to Developing Guidelines on the Human Rights of Migrants, Refugees and Asylum Seekers.

The Migrant Rights Database (MRD)

Another major research project of the Migrant Rights Initiative is the development of the Migrant Rights Database (MRD), the first global data source benchmarking the extent to which states fulfill international obligations in national law, as reflected in the IMBR, and how they implement these protections. The database applies a novel instrument that permits the objective, cross-national accounting of the laws protecting migrants’ rights enshrined in national legal frameworks. The indicators were initially developed through support of the Open Society Foundations and then piloted thanks to support from The World Bank’s KNOMAD partnership. Thanks to generous support from the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the MRD now includes 36 country cases accounting for nearly 70 percent of the world’s current migrant stock and will be expanded to include 45 country cases accounting for nearly 75 percent of the world's current migrant stock in the coming months.

MRD Methodology

The Migrant Rights Database is based on a set of questions inquiring about the extent to which states protect the rights of migrants in national legal frameworks. These 65 indicators are composed of several features in the interest of methodological rigor. Questions are:

  1. Binary, with answers ranging from 0 to 1;
  2. Standardized for aggregation on scales evaluating the protection of migrants’ rights by law;
  3. Consistently framed and measured across 17 categories of migrants’ rights;
  4. Versatile to accommodate any national context and period;
  5. Substantiated with citations of statute or case law, to establish objectivity, replicability, and transparency;
  6. Derived directly from the IMBR.

The measures permit various means of aggregation. In the analysis presented in this website, we weight each indicator equally across all 17 categories of rights. We then calculate an average score (between 0 and 1) for standardized observation across countries. This doubles as a percentage (a 0 to 100 scale) of rights that are covered by national law, whereby higher values reflect more complete legal protections.

Two or more highly qualified, independent (not government-affiliated) legal scholars and/or attorneys coded each of the case countries. The countries are a selection of major destination states spread across all six inhabited continents. To mitigate intercoder reliability bias, each attorney coded blindly and independently from the others. Any coding discrepancies were then resolved through intermediation. This approach enables the creation of comparable, reliable country reports and profiles, along with a broader database of migrants’ rights for use by governments, civil society, and individual observers. It is a unique tool for benchmarking and the spread of knowledge worldwide.

You can view the instrument used for the Initiative’s 2020 MRD data collection here.

Our team

Ian M. Kysel

Migrant Rights Initiative Director and Co-Principle Investigator of Migrant Rights Database Project. Assistant Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School.

Justin Gest

Migrant Rights Initiative Advisory Board Co-Chair and Co-Principle Investigator of Migrant Rights Database Project. Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University.

Neslihan McCorkel

Migrant Rights Initiative Migrant Rights Database Program Manager. PhD Candidate, George Mason University.

Luwam Dirar

Migrant Rights Initiative Consultant, African Guiding Principles Project. Assistant Professor of Law, Western New England University School of Law.

Fatma Raach

Migrant Rights Initiative Consultant, Assistant Professor, University of Jendouba, Faculté des sciences juridiques économiques et de gestion.

Advisory Board

The work of the Migrant Rights Initiative is guided by an Advisory Board comprised of experts in international migration and which includes a number of co-authors of the IMBR.

Advisory Board Co-Chairs

Justin Gest

Associate Professor, Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

Bianca Z. Santos

Co-Executive Director, Pangea Legal Services

Advisory Board Members

E. Tendayi Achiume

Alicia Miñana Professor of Law, Promise Institute for Human Rights, University of California Los Angeles

T. Alexander Aleinikoff

University Professor and Director, Zolberg Institute, New School for Social Research

Rebecca J. Balis

Social Sustainability and Human Rights Advisor, Elevate.

Álvaro De Jesus Botero-Navarro

Adjunct Professor of Law, American University Washington College of Law

Vincent Chetail

Professor of International Law, Director, Global Migration Center, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies

François Crépeau

Hans & Tamar Oppenheimer Chair in Public International Law, McGill University

B. Shaw Drake

Senior Policy Counsel, American Civil Liberties Union

Thomas Gammeltoft-Hansen

Professor with special responsibilities, University of Copenhagen and Professor II, Oslo University

Elizabeth Gibson

Managing Attorney for Capacity Building, National Immigrant Justice Center

Elspeth Guild

Jean Monnet Professor ad personam, Queen Mary University of London and Radboud University Nijmegen

Itamar Mann

Senior Lecturer in Law, University of Haifa

Susan F. Martin

Donald G. Herzberg Professor Emerita, Georgetown University

Juan E. Méndez

Professor of Human Rights Law in Residence, American University Washington College of Law

Andrew I. Schoenholtz

Professor from Practice, Director, Center for Applied Legal Studies, Director, Human Rights Institute, Georgetown University Law Center

Melissa Stewart

Research Fellow and Adjunct Professor of Law, Georgetown University Law School

Sanjula Weerasinghe

Global Migration & Displacement Coordinator, International Federal of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Independent consultant and Nonresident Fellow, Georgetown Institute for the Study of International Migration and Centre Affiliate, Andrew and Renata Center for International Refugee Studies

MRD Coding Team

The Migrant Rights Initiative would like to thank the 76 legal experts who have investigated how migrants’ rights are formally protected and implemented. The names of these experts as well as their titles (at the time of the coding) are as follows:


Pablo Ceriani: Professor of Law and Coordinator of the Migration and Human Rights Program, National University of Lanús.

Ignacio Odriozola: Lawyer for the Universidad de Buenos Aires and Magister in Migration and Mobility Studies for the University of Bristol.


Laurie Berg: Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Technology Sydney.

Daniel Ghezelbash: Associate Professor, Macquarie Law School.


Lukas Gahleitner-Gertz: Asylkordination Austria; Speaker and Asylum Law Expert.

Kevin Hinterberger: Legal Advisor, Austrian Federal Chamber of Labor.


Monjur Alam: Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

Cynthia Farid: Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

Shahdeen Malik: Advocate, Supreme Court of Bangladesh.


Sylvie Sarolea: Professor of Law, Universite Cathoique de Louvain.

Birte Schorpion: Teaching Assistant, Migration Law Research Group, Department of European, Public and International Law, Ghent University.


Charles P. Gomes: Senior Researcher at Fundação Casa de Rui Barbosa and Senior Fellow at Munk School of Global Affairs - University of Toronto.

Laura Madrid Sartoretto: Researcher and Consultant Lawyer, Unuversidade Fedral do Rio Grande do Sul.


Molly Joeck: PhD candidate, Faculty of Law, University of British Columbia.

Delphine Nakache: Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.


Tomas Pacqual: Professor | Migrant Legal Clinic | Universidad Alberto Hurtado.

Pablo Valenzuela Mella: Futuro Común.



Silvia Adamo: Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Copenhagen.

Peter Starup: Associate Professor, Department of Law, University of Southern Denmark.



Jetu Edosa Chewaka: Assistant Professor of Law, Addis Ababa University.

Tadesse Kassa Woldetsadik: Associate Professor, Center for Human Rights, Addis Ababa University.



David Boyle: French Asylum Lawyer, PhD in International Law, University of Paris.

Marianne Leloup: Lawyer and activist.


Winfried Kluth: Professor, Martin-Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg.

Oliver Wolf: International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law Master’s Program, Europe University Viadrina Frankfurt/Oder.


Eleni Pasia: Human Rights Lawyer.

Dimitrios Varadinis: Human Rights Lawyer.

Christina Velentza: Researcher in International Refugee Law and Human Rights; Attorney at Law; Research Fellow at Mirekoc; Koc University.



Binod Khadria: Former Professor of Economics, Education and International Migration, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, India; ICCR Chair of Contemporary Indian Studies, Rutgers University.

Shikha Silliman Bhattacharjee: Research Fellow, Zolberg Institute of Migration and Mobilities, The New School for Social Research.


Chris Cason: Program Director, Institute for Migrant Rights.

Dodik Setiawan Nur Heriyanto: Department of International Law, Faculty of Law, Universitas Islam Indonesia.


Alan D. Desmond: Lecturer, Leicester Law School.

John Stanley: Barrister at Law; Deputy Chairperson of Ireland’s International Protection Appeals Tribunal.


Avinoam Cohen: Professor, Tel Aviv University and The College of Management Academic Studies.

Ruvi Ziegler: Associate Professor in International Refugee Law, University of Reading.


Chiara Favilli: Associate Professor of European Union Law, University of Florence.

Adele del Guercio: Researcher in International Law, University of Naples L'Orientale.




George Mucee: Practice Leader, Fragomen Kenya Limited.

Morintat Peter Oiboo: President and Partner, McKay Advocates.



Ziad Ghorly: Partner, Ghorly and Partners.

Layal Sakr: Lawyer and Founder of SEEDS for Legal Initiatives.


Jorge Armando Rios: Independent Researcher.

Monica Oehler Toca: Independent Researcher.


Karla McKanders: Clinical Professor of Law, Vanderbilt University Law School.

Anita Vukovic: University of California Los Angeles.


Eva Hilbrink: Lecturer, European and International Law, Department of Transnational Legal Studies, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Gerrie Lodder: Lecturer, Immigration Law, Europa Institute, Leiden University.

New Zealand

Francis L. Collins: Professor, National Institute of Demographic and Economic Analysis, University of Waikato.

Stewart Dalley: Barrister and Solicitor.


Linda Ekeator: Linda Ekeator and Associates, Legal Practitioners and Consultants.

Joseph Onele: Partner and Senior Team Lead, Primus Grace LP.


Isabel Berganza Satien: Academic Vice Chancellor, Universidad Antonio Ruiz de Montaya.

Cecile Blouin: Principal Researcher at the Institute for Democracy and Human Rights, Pontifical Catholic University of Peru (IDEHPCUCP).


Kirill Boychenko: Cotton Campaign Advisor, International Labor Rights Forum.

Saudi Arabia

Murtaza Khan: Managing Partner, Middle East and Africa, Fragomen FZ-LLC.

Haider Hussain: Partner, Fragomen FZ-LLC.



Eugene Kheng Boon Tan: Professor of Law and Lee Kong Chian Fellow, School of Law, Singapore Management University.

June Lim: Managing Director, Eden Law Corporation.

South Africa

Roni Amit: Assistant Professor of Law and Director, Immigration Law Clinic, University of Massachusetts School of Law

Jacob Van Garderen: Public Interest Practice.


Guadalupe Begazo: Constitutional Law Department, Universitat de Barcelona.

Laura Garcia Juan: Head of Research, Faculty of Law and Political Science, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana.

David Moya Malapeira: Professor, Coordinator of the Immigrants’ Rights Study Group, Universitat de Barcelona.



Anne Laurence-Graf: Law Faculty, University of Neuchâtel.

Stefan Schlegel: Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Bern.


Neva Ozturk: Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, Ankara University.

Ozan Turhan: Assistant Professor, Faculty of Law, MEF University.

United Arab Emirates

Murtaza Khan: Managing Partner, Middle East and Africa, Fragomen FZ-LLC.

Marcin Kubarek: Senior Manager, Fragomen FZ-LLC.

United Kingdom

Clara Della Croce: Senior Lecturer, SOAS, University of London and Knowledge Exchange Fellow at Oxford Brookes University.

Sonia Morano Foadi: Professor in European Law, Oxford Brookes University

Colin Yeo: Barrister at Garden Court Chambers.


Rebecca Balis: Social Sustainability and Human Rights Advisor, Elevate.

Elizabeth Gibson: Managing Attorney for Capacity Building, National Immigrant Justice Center

Our Donors

The Migrant Rights Initiative is grateful for the support of several philanthropies which have contributed to our research and the support of our current and former academic partners.

Roberto Bosch Stiftung
open society foundations
Cornell Law School
Cornell Migrations Initiative
Cornell migration and human rights
George Mason University
Georgetown HRI

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The Migrant Rights Initiative conducts cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research on the human rights of migrants and then fosters opportunities for innovative action that reshapes the way governments treat people who cross international borders. Our Migrant Rights Database (MRD) evaluates how countries protect and implement 17 categories of rights according to 65 standardized indicators, based on the Initiative’s International Migrants Bill of Rights (IMBR).

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