Purpose This study aims to consider how migrants may act as channel of diffusion of knowledge which contributes to the dynamics of trade and comparative advantages of EU and MENA countries for the period 1990-2015. Design/methodology/approach Adopting an IV approach and a gravity framework to instrument for migration, the authors document how variations in stocks of migrants coming from (in) countries that are already competitive exporters of a given product impact on the probability that the destination (home) country starts to export competitively new products or succeed in exporting more intensively. Findings Controlling for potential confounding factors which can be correlated to knowledge flows and productivity shifts, the authors find trade-promoting effects via migration flows (mostly immigration) between the two areas, testing our hypotheses by different technology classes of products and different specifications. Originality/value The contribution of this work to the literature is threefold. First, by providing evidence on international knowledge diffusion induced by migration flows between MENA and EU regions, like no other work before, the authors document the effects of migration on trade and comparative advantages. Second, unlike standard literature on migration-trade link, the authors focus more on long-term structural changes in comparative advantages than on trade volumes. Third, we exploit how the effect of migration on margins of trade varies according to different types of goods, classified by technological level.