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July 2004, Volume 11, Number 3

Cornelius: Controlling Immigration

The second edition of country case studies emphasizes that migration and concerns about migration rose in the 1990s in industrial democracies. Controlling Immigration is based on two central theses: (1) there is a gap in most countries between the goals of immigration policies and migration realities, as when guest workers who are supposed to be only temporary additions to the labor force settle; and (2) there is convergence in migration problems and policies to deal with them, at least at the regional level, as with the EU.

The gap between policy goals and realities is attributed to flawed policies, such as the inability of employer sanctions to prevent the widespread employment of unauthorized workers, markets trumping laws, as when farmers hire unauthorized workers because they perceive no other way to get their crops picked, and constraints on governmental actions, especially conflicts between, for instance, commitments to refugee or other international conventions that limit governmental flexibility to deal with asylum seekers or migrant workers. Convergence suggests that industrial democracies that face similar problems learn from each other and eventually respond similarly. In immigration policy, where there is often an exchange of information on policies that failed, it is not clear which country has the policies toward which others converge.

The persistence of gaps between migration policy goals and realities in classic immigration countries may reflect broad differences between elites and masses- elites tend to view immigration as good, and thus take only symbolic actions to satisfy masses who want more control. During the 1990s, US immigration policy had a zig-zag quality, with admissionists opening doors as widely as possible when they had political power, and restrictionists seeking more Border Patrol agents, quicker expulsions, and fewer welfare benefits when they had political power.

Canada is different, with a skills-based immigration policy that admits three times the number of immigrants per capita than the United States. A majority of Canadians favor maintaining or increasing immigration, perhaps reflecting the fact that most immigrants are selected under a point system, there are relatively few illegal migrants, and because immigration is associated with nation-building and population maintenance. Australia's immigration policy is similar to Canada's, but with more public ambivalence about the benefits of large-scale immigration, perhaps because of widely publicized arrivals of asylum applicants.

The reluctant countries of immigration in Western Europe became immigrant destinations by default rather than as a result of commissions and laws declaring that immigration was in the national interest. France has accepted immigrants and aimed to assimilate them, and several times enacted grand bargains in which conditions were improved for current immigrants while new restrictions were introduced to prevent additional immigration. In the 1960's, Germany recruited guest workers, got immigrants instead and halted recruitment in 1972. Migration policy making was then thrown into turmoil by high rates of immigration. Developments in the 1990s included unification, the arrival of ethnic Germans from the ex-USSR, an influx of asylum seekers and Yugoslavs fleeing civil war, and continued family unification of guest worker families as well as the arrival of unauthorized foreign workers from Eastern Europe.

Britain and the Netherlands are countries of emigration that have become reluctant countries of immigration, as a result of previous colonial policies, guest worker recruitment and asylum-seeking. The UK restricted immigration between the 1960s and 1980s in response to public opposition to largely minority immigrants, but in the 1990s adopted increasingly admissionist policies, allowing the entry of highly skilled foreigners seeking jobs as well as less-skilled workers admitted to fill jobs in agriculture and services, even while receiving the most asylum applications among industrial countries. The Dutch have tried to balance economic interests and humanitarian concerns, but the perception that especially Muslim immigrants are not being successfully integrated has led to tougher immigration controls and interventionist integration policies that, for instance, require foreigners receiving public assistance to learn Dutch.

Recent countries of immigration include Italy and Spain in southern Europe and Korea and Japan in east Asia. Northern European countries feared massive Italian emigration in the 1960s that did not materialize, and Italy became an increasingly important destination for migrants in the 1990s. Italy and Spain both adopted policies that resulted in foreigners who arrived and found jobs obtaining work and residence permits that legalized their stay for one, two, or more years, and ensured that farmers, small manufacturing firms, and households and restaurants would increase their dependence on migrants over time. The result is a mix of legal and unauthorized foreign workers, still extensive underground or black economies, and increasingly polarized public opinion.

Korea has made one of the world's most rapid migration transitions: from exporting large numbers of construction workers to the Middle East in the early 1980s to importing workers for small and medium-sized firms in the 1990s. Until 2004, Korea banned foreign guest workers, insisting that the several hundred thousand foreigners in the country were mostly trainees working and learning on the job. However, since most trainees can earn more as unauthorized workers than legal trainees, many ran off from their employers, who took increasingly desperate steps to retain them. Japan similarly bars unskilled migrants, but accepts trainees and neikkijan, second- and third-generation descendents of Japanese who emigrated to Brazil and Peru early in the 20th century.

Cornelius, Wayne A., Takeyuki Tsuda, Philip L. Martin, and James F. Hollifield. Eds. 2004. Controlling Immigration. A Global Perspective Stanford University Press.