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- Defining Immigration Policy
- Five Dimensions of Immigration Policy
- Labor Migration
- Political Asylum
- Immigration of Dependents
- Ethnic Immigration
- Integration of Immigrants
- Political Science and Immigration Policy
The migration of people from one territory to another is one of the oldest practices of mankind. However, immigration policy is a broad label encompassing a range of different and formally unrelated issues as diverse as the Viking settlement of Anglo-Saxon England following the Roman withdrawal in 410 CE; the triangular trade in slaves up to the 19th century; European immigration to the New World in the 19th and 20th centuries, and large-scale resettlements following conflicts such as World War II, the 1947 India-Pakistan War, and the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The first part of this contribution sets out what these issues are in the countries listed above before moving on to consider how they have been analyzed in political science.
Defining Immigration Policy
Conventionally, immigration policy is considered to refer primarily to the responses of governments in developed countries to migratory pressures from less developed countries post-1945. These essentially “rich” developed countries can be further subdivided into three broad categories. First, predominantly Anglo-Saxon immigration countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have traditions of accepting immigration that long predate 1945. Second, Western European countries have since 1945 been transformed from countries of emigration to countries of immigration. This transformation has not been uniform: Thus, France, the United Kingdom (UK), West Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Austria all experienced large-scale immigration during the 1950s and 1960s, while countries such as Spain, Italy, and Ireland have only become destinations for immigration since the end of the Cold War. Lastly, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe have themselves also become destinations for migration since the turn of the millennium and especially since becoming member states of the European Union (EU) in 2004 and 2007. Notably, the developed countries of Asia, particularly Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, have only experienced comparatively minimal levels of immigration.
Despite constituting just a relatively small element of human migrations both historically and contemporarily, immigration to developed countries has become one of the most sensitive, controversial, and therefore important domestic political issues. For this reason, the area has attracted increasing attention from scholars across a range of cognate disciplines, including economics, sociology, development studies, anthropology, geography, demography, history, education, psychology, and political science. Within political science, scholars of public policy, political theory, comparative politics, political economy, and international relations have all contributed to our understanding of this field.
At its most elementary level, immigration policy addresses the control of entry to a state’s territory. The physical control of borders, through passport controls, visa requirements, or quite simply a barrier, remains one of the key deliverables for any government and indeed constitutes one of the fundamental elements of state sovereignty. In this context, the EU’s policy in recent decades of removing border checks between its member states (the so-called Schengen Agreement) and replacing them with a closely guarded external border vis-avis third countries is particularly significant. However, and especially in the modern age of global travel, a high degree of control over frontiers, although frequently promised in election campaigns, is seldom easy to deliver, and borders, whether they are the U.S. border with Mexico, the Israeli border with Gaza, or the EU’s external borders in Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, are notoriously porous. In consequence, illegal immigration remains a major challenge, both from a humanitarian perspective of human trafficking and in the context of enforcement. Prevention and return have become a top priority in international diplomacy: Thus, the EU has signed readmission agreements with a range of countries, as well as seeking the cooperation of countries such as Libya in preventing boats from leaving for southern Italy in the first place.
Five Dimensions of Immigration Policy
When it comes to managing and shaping migration flows, as opposed to simply controlling their entry, it is possible to identify five principal constituent elements of this field: labor migration, the increased importance of political asylum, the growth of immigration of dependents, ethnic immigration, and issues related to the integration of immigrants into the host country.
First, labor migration has perhaps been the single most important element of immigration policy, and it underpins much of the migration that developed countries have received over the past 60-odd years. This is hardly surprising given the existing and indeed growing differences in wealth between developed countries and their neighbors. The desire to work is also a major driving force behind illegal immigration and residence. While the authorities in developed countries do formally seek to clamp down on such activities, for instance, by raiding building sites and farms where illegal immigrants are known to work, they are also often tacitly tolerated as a useful contribution to the economy. Several countries, such as Spain, Italy, and the United States, have also instituted amnesties, sometimes repeatedly, to regularize the status of illegal immigrants.
Labor migration can be both high skilled and low skilled. For instance, much of the labor migration to Western Europe up to the early 1970s, which numbered millions of people, was low skilled, largely from Mediterranean countries such as Italy, Spain, Yugoslavia, and Turkey. In some countries, notably West Germany, such migration was explicitly expected to be temporary in nature, leading to the coining of the (pejorative) term Gastarbeiter (“guest worker”). Labor migration was radically cut back during the 1970s and 1980s, but high-skilled migration has witnessed a resurgence since the late 1990s, with a range of countries now introducing points-based immigration systems originally pioneered in Australia and Canada.
This resurgence has been linked to two key developments in Western societies: first, the twin phenomena of increasing life expectancy and falling birthrates has created a demographic imbalance and the prospect of falling populations in many countries, especially Germany, Italy, Spain, and Eastern European countries, and labor migration is one key option for redressing this. Thus, the UK’s decision not to close its labor market to the new member states of the EU in 2004 led to large-scale labor migration of up to 1 million persons, as a result of which the UK’s population is projected to increase rather than decrease over the coming decades. Similarly, the comparatively dynamic state of the U.S. population is also largely down to recent immigration. The second key development is skills shortages, which have emerged in a range of sectors, most notably information technology.
The second element of immigration policy has been the rise in importance of political asylum. Asylum is a humanitarian policy designed to afford protection to those persecuted for their political views in their home countries and its legal expression, the 1951 Geneva Convention, constitutes one of the best known cornerstones of international law. With low numbers of claimants globally until the end of the 1970s, the ability to seek political asylum was initially largely notional. However, since then, numbers have risen strongly, generally affecting those countries with an already existing sizeable immigrant population. Thus, West Germany was the principal destination for asylum seekers in Europe during the 1980s; since then, the UK, France, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and Belgium have also all emerged as major recipient countries. With rising numbers have come rising costs and not infrequently social tensions, which in turn have propelled asylum up the political agenda. In response, governments have introduced a range of measures to restrict the ability of refugees to lodge asylum claims, such as visa restrictions for major countries of origin, the principle of the “safe third country” (i.e., transit country), and the “safe country of origin” principle. Refugee organizations such as the UNHCR (the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) criticize that such measures undermine the spirit, if not the letter, of the Geneva Convention.
The annual numbers of asylum seekers have fluctuated widely over the years. The early and late 1990s were major periods of asylum migration, although, since the early 2000s, applications have dropped back. In the case of Germany, which had hitherto been the world’s most significant destinations for asylum seekers, these are now historically low levels. In processing asylum cases, government agencies have generally tended to take a restrictive view of claims, and initial recognition rates have generally been around 25%, although in some countries they are as low as 5%. Nonetheless, the tendency of rejected asylum seekers to appeal their decision through the courts, plus logistical difficulties in physically deporting such persons once legal avenues have been exhausted, has meant that many asylum claims take years to complete, which has in turn led to a considerable backlog of cases in many countries.
Immigration of Dependents
Third, most developed countries have since the 1970s experienced a rapid growth in the immigration of dependents. Such migration is considered “secondary” because it cannot take place without the immigration of a “primary” migrant—typically a labor migrant but also potentially a recognized refugee. The quantitative dimension of such secondary migration should not be underestimated, and dependent migration currently constitutes the largest form of legal migration to developed countries, exceeding both asylum and labor migration. Crucially, dependent migration is generally regarded as a human right and in consequence, many countries have not found it easy to impose restrictions on this form of migration. Nonetheless, the right to family reunification has certainly been circumscribed in recent years, with countries imposing conditions such as minimum living space, maximum ages for dependent children, and, most recently, the introduction by several European countries of pre-entry requirements such as the successful completion of language and integration courses.
The fourth aspect is ethnic immigration, which broadly speaking refers to privileged entry conditions sometimes granted by countries to persons of specific ethnic and/or cultural origins. For instance, Israel guarantees residence to Jews from all over the world, regardless of whether they have any active ties to Israel. Likewise, the origins of the Green Card Lottery in the United States (through which 50,000 permanent green cards are issued annually on the basis of computer-generated random selection) lie in a decision by Congress to privilege immigration from Ireland. But the single largest instance of this immigration has been to Germany, with more than 4 million ethnic Germans having immigrated since 1950. Initially, these came from Poland, Czechoslovakia, and Romania, but since the late 1980s these have come overwhelmingly from the countries of the former Soviet Union. Typically, such ethnic Germans had been living in these countries for centuries but had then experienced persecution at the hands of the communist authorities. Germany initially offered generous immigration conditions, including extensive financial assistance, but the very large numbers that arrived between 1989 and 1993 (more than 1.4 million) led to this being sharply curtailed. The relative weakness of the German economy since 2000 has caused ethnic German migration to fall back to much lower levels.
Integration of Immigrants
The final aspect of policy to be considered here is in fact one of the most difficult: the successful integration of immigrants into their new host societies. Strictly speaking, integration is not related to the process of immigration itself; however, because integration arises as a direct consequence of immigration, the two are conventionally viewed under the same rubric. The principal policy challenge here is that immigrants across the developed world broadly speaking show similar socioeconomic deficits compared with the indigenous population, including higher unemployment, lower educational outcomes, lower wages, and substandard housing. That said, there are significant differences in the socioeconomic profile of immigrant groups: For instance, in the UK, people of Indian origin are generally better integrated socio-economically than those of Bangladeshi origin.
The challenge of integration encompasses a particularly wide range of policy fields, including education, labor market, housing, health, and law and order. It includes not only residence policy but also citizenship and naturalization policy. What is more, integration is a highly symbolic area and touches on powerful mobilizers such as cultural identity and belonging. For instance, the question of Muslim head scarves in France, and especially in its schools, has polarized public opinion for more than 20 years and is considered by some to be challenging the Republican emphasis on secularism. Similarly, populist politicians such as Pim Fortuyn and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and Jorg Haider in Austria and the French Front National, have often politicized what they see as incompatibility between Islam and the respective indigenous culture. In this way, integration covers both substantive and symbolic issues, and in political debate, perhaps unsurprisingly, the two often get (deliberately) blurred.
Certainly, since 2000, governments across Europe have imposed new, largely symbolic restrictions on the acquisition of citizenship by foreigners. Thus, most countries now require applicants for naturalization to pass a citizenship test and to attend a citizenship ceremony, often involving an oath of allegiance as well. Such practices are of course well established in traditional countries of immigration such as the United States, Canada, and Australia, and indeed these countries’ experiences have explicitly served as a template for the introduction of these citizenship policies in Europe. At the same time, there has been a general liberalizing trend across Europe in the acquisition of citizenship at birth, with countries increasingly using ius soli (the territorial principle) as well as ius sanguinis (the principle of descent). In parallel, dual citizenship, which once was widely rejected in European citizenship policies, is increasingly accepted, if not formally then through far-reaching exemptions.
Political Science and Immigration Policy
Together, then, these five key dimensions illustrate the complexity and the multifaceted nature of this controversial policy field of immigration policy. Arguably, this explains why scholars have struggled so far to develop an integrated, multidisciplinary perspective on immigration that can address the holistic aspect of the field while still capturing the specificities of its individual constituent elements. Indeed, the dominant explanations for migration and integration have come from economics and sociology, respectively. For instance, economists argue that wage differentials between economies create incentives for labor migration from the lower wage (or poorer) country to the higher wage (or richer) country. Certainly, this is a powerful explanation and helps account for both formal and informal labor migration over the decades, including the guest worker migration to West Germany, illegal migration from Mexico to the United States, and Polish migration to the UK after its 2004 accession to the EU. But equally, straight economics encounters difficulties in fully accounting for why some countries receive more asylum seekers than others.
From the perspective of political science and its several subdisciplines, including public policy analysis, immigration policy is a relatively new object of study, and scholars have yet to bring its full analytical toolkit to bear on its various elements. To date, though, a number of key approaches can be identified in the literature. The first approach is grounded in political economy, regulation, and welfare, with Gary Freeman as its leading exponent. In his work, he emphasizes the role that organized interests, and especially business interests, play in structuring immigration policy, thereby creating a clear pressure toward liberalization. A second approach draws on the role universal human rights play in requiring states to accept “unwanted” immigration, including dependent migration. At the same time, as Christian Joppke (1999) points out, states have proved to be quite activist in responding to such challenges; for instance, Germany’s 1993 constitutional amendment to limit asylum can be seen as a prima facie example of a state wresting back control over a policy are.
Joppke’s analysis is particularly germane to the issue of state sovereignty, which in turn has underpinned the contribution of international relations to our understanding of immigration policy. Here, the question of control and the ability of states to exercise it have traditionally been dominant. However, more recently, other aspects have come to the fore, in particular globalization, as Saskia Sassen points out, and increasingly security, as Barry Buzan, Ole Wtever, and Japp de Wilde have described. Indeed, Samuel Huntington took the latter argument several steps further in an (in) famous article mapping out a “clash of civilizations” between Christianity and Islam—a relationship that of course lies at the heart of much of the debate, at least in Europe, about integration.
Beyond international relations and political economy, a number of seminal contributions have been grounded in political theory, reflecting the fact that asylum and citizenship are two issues that directly intersect with notions of equality, justice, ethics, and pluralism. As well as discussions of asylum from this perspective (e.g., Matthew Gibney, 2004), multiculturalism has emerged from the pluralist stable as an influential model for immigrant integration (Bhikhu Parekh, 2005). However, although multiculturalism remains popular in the New World and especially Canada and Australia, it has found fewer devotees in Europe: On the contrary, recent debates in the Netherlands and Germany have reemphasized the more assimilatory nature of integration.
Elsewhere in the study of citizenship and integration, Adrian Favell’s exploration of the philosophies of integration in the UK and France remains an indispensable point of reference, as does Yasemi n Soysal’s provocative discussion of “personhood” and its implications for the “hollowing out” of national citizenships in Western Europe. Other authors, such as Randall Hansen (2000) and Simon Green (2004), emphasize the importance of history and path dependence in understanding the evolution and operation of citizenship policy in France, Germany, and the UK.
Last but not the least, a thriving subfield has sprung up in recent years examining the development and role of the EU in immigration policy. The creation of the Schengen area plus the importance of some common labor market policies has made immigration within the EU a more important concern. As well as important overviews of this field, especially that of Andrew Geddes (2008), security has been the focus of extensive attention.
Although a brief overview such as this cannot hope to do full justice either to the complexities of the field of immigration policy or to the rich variety of the scholarly canon dealing with this policy, this research paper has sought to do two things. First, it has sketched out in broad terms the nature and challenges of immigration policy as well as political actors’ and institutions’ responses to it in comparative perspective. Second, it has introduced the principal scholarly contributions of political science to our understanding of immigration policy in all its forms. There is no doubt that collectively these contributions have served to emphasize the centrality of the discipline to the purpose of understanding this vital policy field more broadly. At the same time, much remains to be done. Leaving aside the perhaps rather lofty aspiration of developing an integrated, cross-disciplinary model of immigration, the challenge for political scientists in this field is to provide further insights at all levels, to include the roots of party political positions on immigration, psephological aspects of immigrant voters, the formulation processes of government policy, the development of cross-national migration responses, the evolution and formalization of citizenship and integration policy, and the process of administration of these policies.
- Buzan, B., Wsever, O., & de Wilde, J. (1998). Security: A new framework for analysis. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
- Favell, A. (2001). Philosophies of integration (2nd ed.). London: Palgrave.
- Geddes, A. (2008). Immigration and European integration (2nd ed.). Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
- Gibney, M. (2004). The politics and ethics of asylum:Liberal democracy and the response to refugees. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Green, S. (2004). The politics of exclusion: Institutionsand immigration policy in contemporary Germany. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press.
- Hansen, R. (2000). Citizenship and immigration in postwar Britain. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Huntington, S. P. (1993). The clash of civilizations? Foreign Affairs, 72, 22-49.
- Joppke, C. (1999). Immigration and the nation-state: The United States, Germany and Great Britain. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
- Messina, A. (2007). The logics and politics of post-WWII migration to Western Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
- Parekh, B. (2005). Rethinking multiculturalism (2nd ed.). London: Palgrave.
- Sassen, S. (1996). Losing control? Sovereignty in an age of globalization. New York: Columbia University Press.