National Institutions - International Migration: Labour Markets, Welfare States and Immigration Policy

National Institutions - International Migration: Labour Markets, Welfare States and Immigration Policy

by Frida Borang


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This book offers a theoretically informed, and empirically rich, analysis of variation in immigration policy in the OECD countries from the 1980s to the 2000s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781786613073
Publisher: ECPR Press
Publication date: 04/18/2019
Pages: 206
Product dimensions: 6.03(w) x 8.65(h) x 0.60(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Frida Boräng is Assistant Professor at the Department of Political Science and Research Fellow at the Quality of Government Institute (QoG) at the University of Gothenburg.

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All advanced capitalist countries admit entry to some immigrants but refuse entry to others. Policies and practices range from active invitation or legal admission to mere tolerance or outright rejection of the people who wish to enter these countries. The reasons for individuals to seek entry also vary from the need to find a safe haven to the wish to reunite with one's family or to work in order to create a better future. Despite the fact that all advanced capitalist countries accept some, but not all, potential immigrants, the variation when it comes to the admission of foreigners – or immigration policy – is considerable. Not only does the overall scale of immigration vary considerably, but states also differ in the relative importance attached to the previously mentioned reasons for migration. Some states accept large numbers of labour migrants but small numbers of refugees, whereas the opposite is true for others. Moreover, immigration policies and patterns show variation over time.

The aim of this book is to shed light on this variation by developing and testing a novel explanation for immigration admission. It is argued that institutions in the areas of labour market policy and welfare policy can shape immigration policy to an important extent. The leaning of labour markets and welfare states – towards the more inclusive or the more exclusive – can be reflected in policies towards labour immigrants and forced immigrants, respectively, pushing them towards the more inclusive or the more exclusive. Apart from developing this argument theoretically, the book offers a rich empirical analysis of the connection between national institutions and international migration, using a variety of data and methods. Together these analyses provide support for the theoretical argument: this book shows that during the time period studied, immigration policy did not stand independent from labour market and welfare state institutions.

A central point of departure for this study is that in order to understand variation in immigration patterns, we need to pay attention to, and develop different explanations for, different types of immigration. Consequently, although at the most general level the institutional explanation contains one argument – that national institutions have an impact on the admission of international migrants – at a more specific level, two arguments are presented. These two arguments focus to different degrees on institutions' roles in providing incentives and in building norms and they apply to two different sorts of migration: labour immigration and forced immigration.

Building on a comprehensive literature of labour markets and immigration, it is first suggested that institutional arrangements in the area of labour market policy will influence the relative importance of labour immigration to a country. Whereas economic theory suggests a general need for foreign labour in any advanced capitalist state, this institutional argument suggests that the perceived need for foreign labour will depend on the institutional setting: labour immigration will be more important in economies with liberal labour market institutions than in more regulated labour markets. More specifically, it is suggested that decentralised bargaining, a weak position for unions and a lack of active labour market policies are likely to lead to higher levels of labour immigration. The suggested mechanisms behind this effect are that labour market institutions can lessen the demand for, and provide alternatives to, foreign labour and that they can provide advocates for and opponents to labour immigration with different chances of success.

Whereas this institutional (labour market) argument focuses on the role of institutions in promoting a specific incentive structure to which actors adjust, the second argument instead relies heavily on the norm-building aspects of institutions. Drawing on theories from the comparative welfare state literature, it is suggested that comprehensive welfare state institutions will have a positive effect on the admission of forced migrants – that is, refugees and asylum seekers. There are three features of comprehensive welfare state institutions that could steer policies towards forced migrants in a more open direction. First, these institutions have been shown to impact on the boundaries of social solidarity. Second, they enhance generalised trust. And third, they can impact on the citizens' view of what the state should and can do in terms of protecting individuals. It is argued that under the right circumstances such norms and expectations stemming from welfare state institutions can influence policies towards refugees and asylum seekers.

One could argue that it is counter-intuitive that welfare state institutions should have any impact at all on forced migration. Refugee conventions naturally do not take into account domestic institutional characteristics of receiving countries, and asylum applications should be assessed solely with regard to the merit of the application. Yet, as we shall see, the variation among countries when it comes to the admittance of forced migrants is substantial. This study sheds light on that variation.

Notably, the expectation that comprehensive welfare state institutions will lead to more open policies towards forced migrants runs counter to what is often suggested in the migration literature, from which one easily gets the impression that the relation between welfare state institutions and migration is one fraught with conflict, a situation often captured in the term 'welfare chauvinism' (Andersen and Bjørklund 1990). This study challenges a specific claim from the welfare chauvinism theory – namely, that generous welfare state institutions will lead to more restrictive immigration policies – both theoretically and empirically. Theoretically, it points to how comprehensive welfare state institutions, through their effects on norms of solidarity, trust and perceptions of state capabilities, can work to the benefit of forced migrants rather than the other way around. Empirically, it shows that, contrary to what the welfare chauvinism thesis makes us expect, comprehensive welfare state institutions do not have a negative, but instead a significant positive, effect on the intake of forced migrants to a country.


As mentioned earlier, a central point of departure for this investigation is that when studying immigration policy we should distinguish between different types of immigration. Another is that we should make more active use of theory in our empirical investigations, since this has been identified as a weak spot in empirical research on immigration. For example, Eytan Meyers argues that 'the greatest weakness of most literature on immigration control policy is that it does not relate to any theoretical approach' (Meyers 2004: 9; see also Massey et al. 1998).

Scholars who have aimed at making an inventory of the theories that do exist are not in agreement about which the important ones are (Freeman and Kessler 2008: 656–57). Still, it seems fair to say that two major approaches have explained immigration and/or immigration policy either from an economic perspective, according to which it is expected to be a response to economic incentives, or from a 'cultural' or historical framework, according to which old paths are still followed by new migrants (Bartram 2005; Castles and Miller 2003; Hollifield 2008; Hooghe et al. 2008).

The economic (or sometimes neoclassical) theories of immigration is built on the early work of Ravenstein (1885, 1889), who argued that the major reason for migration was the 'desire inherent in most men to "better" themselves in material respects' (Ravenstein 1889: 286). The economic strand of theory essentially sees immigration as a scarce resource (labour) that is allocated across international boundaries (Borjas 1989; Chiswick 2008). It focuses on relative labour market demand, wage differences or other economic incentives as explanations for immigration patterns. Migrants will go where labour shortages occur or wages are higher. This line of thought about international migration has been criticised for being economistic and simplistic and for neglecting the social aspects of migration (Bartram 2005; Castles and Miller 2003).

A quite different set of theories stresses the unique historical experiences in a country as the main determinants of immigration policy (Meyers 2000: 1251). Of particular importance, according to this view, is the experience of settler countries or 'immigrant nations' in which immigration can be placed within a positive national immigration mythology (Lynch and Simon 2003).

Having been built by immigrants, their 'institutionalized politics favors expansionary policies and is relatively immune to sharp swings in direction' (Freeman 1995: 881), and consequently they continue to accept large-scale immigration (Meyers 2000: 1253–54).

Like settler experience, a colonial history is often highlighted within the historical approach to immigration theory. This factor is stressed particularly within the 'world systems theory' approach, a historical-structural line of thought building on the work of Wallerstein (1974) and according to which immigration will occur between 'peripheral' and 'core' nations (Massey et al. 1998; Morawska 1990; Portes and Walton 1981; Sassen 1988). Whereas a settler history is expected to lead to generally more open immigration policies, a colonial history is thought to be particularly important in explaining which countries of origin will dominate the influxes to particular countries, since immigration will be likely to occur in particular between past colonial powers and their former colonies (Massey et al. 1998: 41).

Both the economic and the historical perspective on immigration can claim some merit (Hooghe et al. 2008), and they have certainly added to our understanding of migration patterns. However, while the economic perspective is strong when it comes to explaining fluctuations over business cycles, it is often less suited to explaining variation between countries (Bartram 2005). And although the historical perspective is strong in terms of explaining longstanding differences between some countries, it is less useful in explaining developments over time, failing to explain why many countries without settler experience or a colonial history have over the years become major immigrant recipients.

Another approach, one that could potentially explain variation both across countries and over time, concerns the impact of political parties on immigration. A large part of this research concerns the presence and impact of radical right parties, whereas, even more recently, the impact of mainstream parties – which have been surprisingly neglected in immigration research – has been highlighted (see e.g. Gudbrandsen 2010).

While acknowledging the role played by political parties, this study focuses on the institutional setting in which parties – and other policy actors in society – develop their policy positions and act to reach their policy goals. This institutional framework focuses more on stability than the purely economic framework but is more open to change than the historical framework.

At the most basic level, institutions are a structural feature of society which transcend individuals and show stability over time. Their importance in shaping political life is often highlighted by social scientists, and the role of institutions in explaining immigration policy has now been highlighted in several studies (see e.g. Bommes and Geddes 2000; Bucken-Knapp 2009; Cerna 2016a; Geddes 2003; Hollifield 1992; Money 1999; Togman 2002). Examples of institutionalist accounts include studies of how courts have a liberalising effect on immigration (Joppke 1998b, 2001), how electoral arrangements interact with economic conditions (Money 1999) and how the view on international migration (as an asset or a burden) is influenced by the perspective of domestic institutions such as those of the welfare state (Geddes 2003). In a well-known study, Soysal (1994) highlights the norm-building aspect of institutions and suggests that norms stemming from the international human rights regime have changed the meaning of citizenship in immigrant-receiving states.

The institutions of principal interest to this study – labour market and welfare state institutions – are central to comparative political economy and comparative welfare state research, respectively. In both of these fields, institutional theory has gained almost hegemonic status: in the field of political economy through the 'Varieties of Capitalism' (VoC) literature (Hall and Soskice 2001), and in the field of welfare state research through the work on welfare regimes (Esping-Andersen 1990; Korpi and Palme 1998).

For reasons which will be elaborated in the next chapter, both of these fields are likely to have a bearing on immigration policy. Still, 'Neither the "varieties of capitalism" literature nor welfare-state typologies have systematically considered the implications of their models for responses of firms or states to international migration' (Freeman and Kessler 2008: 668; but see Bucken-Knapp 2009; Cerna 2016a; Menz 2009). Although this book in many ways deviates from the focus on regimes that is so strong in these two lines of research, its focus on institutions in the areas of labour market and welfare state policy intends to offer a contribution to the fields of comparative political economy and welfare state research, where dependent variables other than immigration policy are normally highlighted.

Another contribution of this book is an account of how institutions can have very different effects on different kinds of immigration policies depending on the nature of the policy areas involved. It might sound like a truism that policies towards different kinds of migration require different explanations and that an undifferentiated notion of 'immigration' is problematic. Still, in the migration literature, there is sometimes a tendency to fail to explicitly differentiate between different kinds of immigration, or (especially when it comes to economic explanations) to assume that 'immigration' equals labour immigration. This is unfortunate, since the type of immigration is likely to determine the relative influence of different factors on immigration policy (see Meyers 2004). Arguably, the procedure for handling 'immigration' as a single phenomenon – which obscures important variations between receiving countries – can have consequences for our understanding of immigration policies in the advanced industrial democracies. As we shall see, studying different sorts of immigration at the same time makes it clear that it is often overly simplistic to speak of 'liberal' and 'restrictive' immigration countries generally (see Beine et al. 2016 for a similar observation). The relative strictness often depends on the type of immigration in focus.

Although there is a multitude of reasons for people to move between countries, it is common to distinguish between three main types of migration: labour migration, forced migration (asylum seekers and refugees) and family migration (Gudbrandsen 2012; Sasse and Thielemann 2005). More recently, migration under free movement agreements, such as within the European Union (EU), has emerged as a major new category of migration which includes people with different motivations for migrating.

This study deals with labour immigration and forced immigration. These categories have been chosen for two reasons. First, they have during the past decades been the two major types of primary immigration where states control entry. Whereas family migration results from different sorts of primary migration, immigration under free movement regimes is by definition a category over which governments have less influence since it results from previously made international agreements. Second, they are the two categories that are most interesting from the point of view of the theoretical framework. The argument focuses on both the incentive-creating and the norm-building aspects of institutions, and it focuses on institutions in the labour market and the welfare state area. Of the different kinds of immigration, labour immigration is the type that is most likely to be influenced by the incentive structure that different labour market institutions provide. Forced migration, on the other hand, is the kind of immigration that is most likely to evoke a norm-based institutional response.


Excerpted from "National Institutions — International Migration"
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Copyright © 2018 Frida Borang.
Excerpted by permission of Rowman & Littlefield International, Ltd..
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Table of Contents

1. National Institutions, International Migration / 2. Immigration Policy Through the Lens of Comparative Political Economy and Comparative Welfare State Research/ 3. Patterns of Immigration / 4. Labour Market Institutions and the Labour Market Orientation of Immigration / 5. Welfare State Institutions and Openness Towards Forced Immigrants / 6. Conclusions

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