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December 2001 Volume 8 Number 12

Immigration Control in Europe


This 10-chapter book explores the politics and mechanisms of immigration control in Europe. It will prove useful to those interested in a summary of immigration developments in selected European countries, especially the smaller countries that are often not included in treatments of comparative migration. The theme running through the wide-ranging essays on individual countries is that continued immigration has led to increased government expenditures on migrants and on efforts to "control immigration" by stepping up visa and border control policies to keep unwanted migrants out.

The contributors met four times to discuss their work, and they have produced a valuable compendium that generally supports the book's major control hypotheses (p23):

· Immigration controls will continue to be reinforced and diversified in Western Europe, with governments cooperating on external controls, for example, by requiring visas of nationals of countries that have high rates of overstay, and linking aid with the willingness of a country to facilitate the return of rejected asylum seekers. Such external controls minimize the disruptions to citizens and settled foreigners that occur with internal controls.
· There will be a gradual substitution of flow or country controls for individual procedures: European countries are likely to declare some countries safe and not accept asylum applications from nationals of those countries or allow applicants from those countries to remain while their applications are considered.
· There is more toleration for immigrants when the economy is good and when the public believes that immigration is under control.

The central question addressed in the book is why European governments expend quite different levels of effort to control immigration. The major variable that determines how much effort a country makes to control immigration is the state of the labor market: "the economy is the prime public argument against immigration in all the countries." (p299). This is followed by geographical considerations-Italy has a longer coastline, is closer to emigration areas (Albania), and has a large informal sector, and thus has more difficulty controlling immigration than Norway, which is further from emigration areas. Other factors that play a role in immigration and the need for immigration control include history. For example, Eastern Europeans of proven German ancestry have had automatic German citizenship and the right of residence.

The book divides government efforts to control immigration into two types of measures: external, which includes everything from visa policies to border controls to aid and trade measures aimed at deterring emigration, and internal controls, defined as work and residence permits and sanctions for violations, as well as regulations on asylum and access to welfare benefits. The introduction notes that "it is an empirical question whether external or internal control is more efficient, in general or under certain circumstances." (p 14). However, most authors support the hypothesis that European countries are shifting their emphasis toward external controls to minimize inconvenience to their citizens and settled foreigners.

Political scientist Dietrich Thraenhardt concludes that Germany represents a case of "a huge control apparatus implementing an ambiguous [immigration] policy." (p54). Thraenhardt begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9, 1989, emphasizing that unified Germany was born in the context of fear of internal migration- without rapid unification and currency union, more East Germans would probably have migrated west.

Thraenhardt reviews six migration episodes in postwar Germany:

· the return of ethnic Germans after World War II and again in the 1980s and 1990s;
· the recruitment of foreign guest workers between 1955 and 1973, followed by settlement and family unification;
· the individual right to asylum enshrined in Article 16 of the Basic Law which remained after the compromise of 1993 made access to the asylum system more difficult;
· the acceptance of persons fleeing war in ex-Yugoslavia outside the reformed asylum process, and the success of Germany in persuading most of them to return after fighting ended;
· the open door for Jews from the ex-USSR, while the movement of ethnic Germans was slowed;
· free movement within the EU, which led to charges of wage dumping when EU workers migrated to Berlin to participate in the construction boom of the 1990s, and fear that there would be massive east-west migration when the EU is enlarged.

Germany has about the same percentage of foreign-born residents as the US, 10 percent, but many German politicians continue to assert that Germany is not a country of immigration. Thraenhardt notes that "party positions [on immigration] are rather shaky and sometimes undergo erratic changes." (p34). For example, in 1996-97, a majority of the Bundestag reportedly supported easier naturalization for children born in Germany, but party discipline prevented young CDU members from voting against their party in support of laws to liberalize naturalization, and the legislation failed. But by 1999, German naturalization procedures were liberalized, and today Germany has an easier path to naturalization than France.

What Thraenhardt terms external controls were used to limit the arrival of ethnic Germans. The influx of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe is called "the largest single state-organized migration flow in the world." (p. 36). After 400,000 ethnic Germans arrived in 1990, Germany imposed a quota of 220,000 a year. Some 218,000 ethnic Germans arrived in 1995, and the Social Democratic Party (SPD) called for restrictions on the inflow, arguing that Germany should not encourage the return of ethnic Germans to Germany. The CDU-CSU argued that Germany had an historic obligation to accept those who suffered because of their German heritage, but nonetheless the CDU-CSU government in the mid-1990s quietly changed administrative procedures to make it much more difficult for ethnic Germans to move to Germany: about 100,000 a year are now arriving, and the flow is scheduled to cease in 2010.

In contrast, the flow of Jews from the ex-USSR is not limited by quotas, and the determination of who is Jewish as well as the public funds available to integrate Jewish immigrants are administered largely by Jewish organizations in Germany. Thraenhardt says that "the idea of control [over Jewish immigration] is illegitimate." (p. 40).

Internal controls- primarily the denial of the right to work- were used by Germany to return Bosnians and Kosovars. Germany granted temporary protection to about 350,000 Bosnians and 160,000 Kosovars fleeing fighting, and has been remarkably successful in persuading them to return. Generally, they were given houses and food in Germany, paid for by state and local governments, but not permitted to work, so that there was considerable pressure for their return. Germany was far less successful in getting Vietnamese who had been recruited to work in the former East Germany to return, despite "aid" payments to Vietnam.

External controls helped to defuse the German asylum crisis, which arose in 1992 after 438,000 foreigners applied for asylum, and there were arson and other attacks on foreigners. A compromise that protected the constitutional right of an individual to apply for asylum was preserved, but foreigners were obliged to apply for asylum in the first safe country they reached. If a foreigner passed through Poland or Austria en route to Germany and applied for asylum in Germany, he was returned to Poland or Austria to apply there. As a result, the number of asylum applications has stabilized at about 100,000 a year, still the highest number for any European country, but lower per capita than Sweden or Switzerland.

The increased reliance on external controls resulted in a Europeanization of many external control features, such as common visa policies and a common database that border control authorities can use to check entrants. However, Europeanization also facilitated wage dumping, as when multinational construction companies brought workers from the UK and Portugal to Berlin, where they worked at lower wages than German workers, allegedly increasing unemployment among Germans. Germany solved this problem with an internal control, requiring that all workers on German construction sites receive at least the minimum wage they receive in German union contracts, and mounted a massive campaign to enforce this law.

EU courts have placed important constraints on national immigration control policies. EU courts have, for example, given Turks up to age 21 the right to join their parents settled in Germany, even though German law puts the upper age for family unification at 16. EU courts have also held that Turkish students who work legally while they study can stay in Germany if they wish when their studies end. (p. 52).

Germany has found it much easier to deal with immigration crises that could be resolved by changing national policies than with those that required European cooperation (p. 55). For example, Germany acted swiftly and quietly to deal with the influx of ethnic Germans, but found it much harder to deal with the asylum crisis and wage dumping.

Germany is reluctantly accepting its status as a country of immigration, while France is shifting from openness to restriction, primarily by using internal controls, in this case, restricting the rights of immigrants. Political scientist James Hollifield explains that France is usually considered the European country with the longest history of immigration, and that republican values of equality facilitated integration, especially of children born in France to foreign parents. Like Germany, France stopped the recruitment of foreign workers in 1973-74, and sought unsuccessfully to encourage the return of unemployed guest workers and to discourage family unification.

Most of Hollifield's chapter is devoted to an explanation of the zig-zag French policies of the 1980s and 1990s, in which alternating socialist and conservative governments used immigration as a political football to try to bolster their own standing with voters, even if the result was increased support for the anti-immigrant National Front. Throughout this period, immigration remained at 100,000 to 200,000 a year, and illegal foreigners became a cause celebre for many French intellectuals, who supported sit-ins in churches where migrants demanded legal status.

In the early 1980s, a Socialist government combined an amnesty for some foreigners in France with stepped-up external and internal controls that did not, however, stop family unification or illegal migration. This bargain did not resolve the immigration issue in France. Instead, the National Front won its first elections in 1984 in part by promising to stop all immigration. Hollifield concludes that "the rise of the Front National contributed heavily to a sense of crisis in French politics and public policy, with immigrants at the center of the maelstrom." (p. 67).

Hollifield explains how the ruling Socialists changed the electoral system in a manner that weakened both the conservatives and the Communists, but strengthened the National Front. When the conservatives came back to power, their interior minister seemed to compete for National Front votes by taking a tough line on immigration, and by reinforcing police in the suburbs where many immigrants lived, leading to inevitable clashes between immigrant youth and the police.

In 1997, the Socialists returned to power, and began to roll back the conservative approach of using restricted rights and other internal controls to limit immigration. The Socialists aimed to facilitate integration by, inter alia, another amnesty, while increasing border controls and extracting promises from emigration countries to help prevent illegal emigration and to accept the return of deported persons. The goal was to get the troublesome issue of immigration out of the way early in the new government with laws that permitted children born in France to foreign parents to become French nationals by age 18 if they had lived at least five years in France, and to facilitate family unification for settled foreigners in France. Immigration is expected to remain at about 100,000 a year.

Mechanisms of Immigration Control includes chapters on countries that are ordinarily not covered in books on comparative migration, including Sweden, Norway, and Austria. Political scientist Thomas Hammar explains that Sweden has been reasonably successful in using both internal and external controls to control the upsurge in immigration in the 1990s; he credits "know-how and trained people as well as well-established aliens legislation." (p169). About 13 percent of the nine million Swedish residents are immigrants or the children of immigrants.

There has been freedom of movement within the Nordic countries since 1954, and much of the labor migration that occurred until the late 1960s was of Finns moving to Sweden. Guest-worker migration from southern Europe began in the late 1960s, later than in France or Germany, and with an important legal difference-after 1965, non-Nordic foreigners needed a work permit before they arrived in Sweden. Guest-worker migration was concentrated in three years -1969-1971- and was stopped by the unions in 1972 (p. 174).

Many important migration policy decisions were made administratively rather than being debated in Parliament. Swedish labor unions supported the government's policy of permitting guest workers to become permanent residents after one or two years' employment at the same wages as Swedes- and so most guest workers soon became settled immigrants. Their children could generally obtain jobs in Sweden without difficulty, that is, Sweden did not attempt to discourage family unification by requiring newly arrived family members to wait several years for work permits. Unlike Germany, there was never a widespread expectation that guest workers would rotate, leaving their jobs after one or two years to be replaced by a newly arrived foreigner. Since settlement was the norm, if Sweden wanted to slow the growth of the foreign population, it had to restrict the entry of foreigners.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was an immigration crisis in Sweden. The number of asylum seekers increased, and the share of Nordics among newcomers fell from two-thirds to one-third. High unemployment and the fiscal burdens on local governments which were obliged to integrate refugees, and the refusal of the city of Sjobo to accept refugees in 1987, led to the adoption of a combined immigration and integration system in the Aliens Act of 1989. This act streamlined asylum processing, eliminated some categories of persons eligible for temporary protection, but liberalized the interpretation of the Geneva Convention of 1951, which gave some foreigners refugee status rather than temporary protection.

Sweden has had few problems with illegal foreign workers, largely because of the widespread use of personal identification numbers tied to population registers and tax authorities, and because the labor market is well policed by both private and public organizations. Hammar notes that there is nonetheless some tolerated illegal work by foreigners, as when Poles were allowed to go to Sweden for up to 90 days without visas do farm work (p. 188).

Immigration and integration in Sweden have moved from apolitical to political issues that are pulling Swedes toward the extreme "no borders" and "no immigrants" ends of the spectrum. The anti-immigrant seed was planted in the late 1980s, and an anti-immigrant party was formed that won eight percent of the national vote in 1991. Hammar concludes that Sweden, in trying to balance the sometimes competing goals of maintaining control and protecting human rights, has "too easily forgotten and neglected…the human dignity of the alien." (p. 200).

Austria and Switzerland are often mentioned near the end of chapters on Germany, with the note that the Austrian experience with guest workers was very similar to that of Germany, viz., guest workers were recruited and then settled, whereupon guest worker recruitment was stopped. But Austria, unlike Germany, has been slow to ease naturalization, and thus has not moved to prevent the growth of a second and third generation of foreigners. Switzerland, not covered in this volume, also recruited guest workers, but it has been more successful in enforcing a rotation policy and continues to maintain a decentralized, restrictive naturalization policy.

The number of guest workers in Austria more than doubled between 1970 and 1973, from 112,000 to 227,000. Austria succeeded in reducing both its foreign population and work force in the 1970s, but between 1987 and 1995, the number of foreign residents in Austria doubled, from 326,000 to 724,000. Immigration became a contentious political issue, and a rallying cry for Jorg Haider, who become the leader of the Freedom Party in 1986. Rainer Bauboeck attributes the sharp increase in the number of foreigners in the early 1990s to the spillover economic growth from German unification and to the arrival of persons fleeing fighting in ex-Yugoslavia, not to east-west migration.

The government tried to restrict the growth of the foreign population with federal and provincial quotas that were gradually reduced, but this policy largely failed. Austria joined the EU in 1995, and enacted a new Aliens Act with quotas for various categories of immigrants in 1997. The major immigration story of 1999-2000 was the second-place finish of the Freedom Party in October 1999 elections and the entrance of the Freedom Party into the government. There were about 750,000 foreigners among the 7.5 million Austrian residents, and the Freedom Party used the slogan "Stop der Ueberfremdung" (Stop over-foreignization) during the campaign. There were demonstrations against the coalition government inside Austria and the other 14 EU members froze diplomatic ties with Austria because of the Freedom Party's presence in the government.

The concluding chapter notes that enhanced and effective immigration controls are closely related to the development of a coherent immigration policy, and that most countries are coupling tighter internal controls with renewed efforts to make emigration unnecessary. The book concludes that "the nation state in Europe still matters in relation to immigration control" (p. 333), and that European countries are on the path of "conditional convergence" toward common control policies.


Brochmann, Grete and Tomas Hammar. Eds. 1999. Mechanisms of Immigration Control. A Comparative Analysis of European Regulation Policies. Berg Publishers. http://www.berg.demon.co.uk/
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