Postcolonial, Labour, and Asylum Migrants in North-Western Europe
Among the first immigrants that European countries witnessed in modern times were members of the colonial middle classes who came to the “motherland” to work or to study. Their numbers grew considerably when the colonies gained independence. These members of the middle classes felt uneasy under their postcolonial governments or expected a more secure future upon resettling in Europe. Although at some point these European countries of destination imposed restrictions on such resettlement, it was generally understood that these migrants belonged to the nation and that the nation had a moral obligation towards them. Even though migrants still arrive from these countries as family migrants today, postcolonial migration was predominantly from the 1950s to the late 1970s.
In the 1960s, employers in countries including Belgium, France, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands recruited labour from abroad. Unskilled and semi-skilled workers were brought in for the service industry, construction, and manufacturing to meet the growing demands of the booming economies. At the same time, such jobs lost their attraction to native workers, whose educational levels were on the rise. The intention was to hire such workers on a temporary basis. With the exception of France, governments had no ambition to develop settlement policies (Martin and Miller 1980, 316). The term “guest worker” was used to underline this stance. Once demand for guest workers ebbed as a result of the recession following the 1973 oil crisis, facts and conceptions took diverging paths. Further recruitment was halted—in Germany by law—and the guest workers’ return home seemed a logical consequence of the economic downturn. Yet a large share remained. Despite the recession, demand for their work remained sizeable (ibid., 320; Castles 1986, 765). Moreover, these workers themselves preferred to stay, as their countries of origin likewise were going through hard times. For their part, “host” governments were unable or unwilling to force their erstwhile guests to go home. Welfare arrangements and entitlements were an additional disincentive for return migration. As a consequence, many guest workers became immigrants. Because this gave cause for spouses and children to join them, the end of the guest worker era actually meant the beginning of substantially larger migration flows. As a rule, governments did not applaud this ongoing migration of family members, but their ability to curb arrivals was restricted by humanitarian, economic, and legal obligations.
The example of the Netherlands illustrates this. Some 74,000 Moroccan and Turkish workers lived in this country in 1973, but ethnic communities ten times this size arose over the next 40 years (Doomernik 2011, 73). In Germany the rise was less steep. While in 1973 the country had 910,000 Turkish inhabitants, in 2012 some 3 million German residents had a Turkish background.Footnote 1
Over time, some governments acknowledged that continuing migration produced ongoing challenges in terms of integrating the newcomers into mainstream society. In no small part, this was a result of the nature of the recruitment policies, as they had been biased towards poorly educated migrants (Castles 1986, 773). The bias towards those with little formal education also put migrants’ children in a disadvantaged position in education and, subsequently, the labour market (Crul and Doomernik 2003). This situation, in conjunction with an increased politicization of migration, brought about a growing interweaving of migration controls and integration requirements in countries such as Denmark and the Netherlands (from the late 1990s on). Permanent residence was made conditional on the acquisition of language proficiency and knowledge of the host country’s law and society. Even though this touches all non-EU citizens, these measures were designed to target immigrants from former guest worker countries of origin. In general it can be observed that “immigration”, if not directly serving the interests of the receiving states, had taken on a negative connotation in public discourse.
During the 1990s, migration from the former guest workers’ countries became overshadowed—in numbers and in popular perceptions—by the arrival of large numbers of asylum seekers and refugees. In two senses this arrival resulted from the end of the Cold War. First, restrictions were removed on mobility from Eastern Europe to the rest of the world. Second, the end of the Cold War indirectly caused the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union. The former led to massive displacement and refugee movements. Many Bosnians ended up seeking security in Western Europe, especially in Germany, where they were given temporary protection. By 2005 the largest Bosnian populations in Western Europe were found in Austria, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands (Valenta and Ramet 2011, 4). Asylum migration from the fringes of the Soviet Union, especially the Caucasus, also became significant, as did flows from Romania, Turkey, Iraq, Afghanistan, and from African states tormented by civil war and lawlessness (Castles et al. 2014, 228). These asylum seekers did not end up more or less randomly distributed among European states. They sought refuge predominantly in North-Western Europe, and within this region first and foremost in Germany. Already in 1992 the German parliament saw itself forced to alter the constitution in order to severely curtail access for asylum claimants. The effect was a drop in overall numbers, yet it also created considerable spill-over of asylum requests into neighbouring states (Grutters 2003, 165). This set in motion a dynamic by which countries sought to avoid being more attractive than others to asylum seekers, while also creating impetus for the integrated European approach that became part of the 1997 Amsterdam Treaty. Joint policies were to take effect from May 2004 at the latest.
Meanwhile two further developments took on prominence. Firstly, among policymakers a new consensus gradually emerged about the demographic and economic contributions that selective labour migration might bring. In 2000, the German chancellor proposed seeking to attract information technology (IT) specialists by means of a “green card” (Doomernik et al. 2009). The scheme was unsuccessful, but the change in rhetoric did have impact. The German government established an expert committee to rethink the hitherto dogmatic position against significant labour immigration. In other countries, such as the UK, France, and the Netherlands, soon thereafter similar schemes were devised, all geared towards attracting skilled foreign workers (ibid.). Some measured skill levels using the proxy of a high previous income (as did the UK); others applied human capital endowment measures (e.g., a university degree was used by France and the Netherlands). At the European level, too, this ambition found support and resulted in the joint Blue Card programme.
The second key development was the increasing dominance of irregular migration as a public issue. Here, North-Western Europe faced a particular challenge. These countries had long been characterized by inclusive welfare systems that were also open to non-nationals, alongside highly regulated labour markets in which informal labour was outlawed. This implied relative closure to immigrants, whose contribution to the economy could not be guaranteed a priori. Restrictions, however, led to situations in which an alien, for instance, upon a failed asylum request, ended up without any state support, which is diametrically opposed to the essence of the welfare state. In order to avoid such paradoxical and politically troublesome situations, these states tended to devise measures against unsolicited arrivals. At the same time, lack of legal opportunities for unskilled immigrant workers encouraged illegal migration and unwarranted asylum requests. States in North-Western Europe tended to respond with increased detention of aliens and forced return measures (Doomernik and Jandl 2008).
From Emigration to Immigration in the Southern European Countries
Once North-Western European recruitment policies were discontinued in 1973–1974 and the period of mass emigration from Southern Europe came to an end, Mediterranean countries began their gradual transformation to countries of immigration. Changes were spurred by unprecedented economic growth and political stability brought about by the end of the dictatorships in Portugal, Greece, and Spain, as well as by the accession of these countries to the European Economic Community during the 1980s. Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece presented from the beginning particular patterns of migration and migration regulation that distinguished them from North-Western Europe (Baldwin-Edwards 1997; King et al. 1997; Arango and Finotelli 2009). The “Mediterranean model of immigration” (King et al. 1997) is characterized by a predominance of labour and family migration, a scarcity of asylum seekers, illegality as an endemic feature, and the combination of restrictive admission and citizenship policies with frequent amnesties. Migration to Southern Europe is closely related to its colonial past, linked to former African and Latin American colonies, and to the opening up of Central and Eastern Europe. Similarities in migration trends and policies among these countries must thus be seen in light of their common historical developments and analogous socio-economic conditions.
The start of immigration flows caught Southern European countries unprepared, lacking immigration experience and an adequate legal framework. Southern European countries reacted by developing policies to fence off immigration and established ius sanguinis as the principle defining who belonged to the nation. Spain passed its first foreigners law in 1985, pushed by the obligations acquired with its accession to the European Economic Community. The end of the Cold War and the gradual incorporation of Central and Eastern Europe into the EU migration system brought about a sharp increase of migration from Albania and the former Soviet Union to Italy and above all to Greece in the first half of the 1990s. In that period, policymakers across Europe shared a fear of an imminent “invasion” of Central and Eastern European migrants, which stimulated the introduction of stricter control and admission measures. It was in this spirit that Greece and Italy developed their first alien laws, respectively, in 1991 and 1998.
From the mid-1980s through the 1990s, Southern Europe experienced a period of intense economic growth with substantial labour shortages in low-skilled sectors. This created a strong demand for migrant labour during a time of restructuring of the global economy, resulting in a remarkable increase of foreigners’ presence in Spain, Italy, Portugal, and Greece. Flows in Spain showed the most spectacular growth. The percentage of foreign population increased from 2.2 to 12.2 between 2000 and 2010, according to National Institute of Statistics figures. Despite these large flows, the issue of migration remained relatively depoliticized until recently, with foreign workers generally perceived as contributors to the national economy (except in Greece).Footnote 2
As a result of the strong segmentation of the labour market that was characteristic of these countries, migrants were incorporated in low-status, low-paid jobs that natives tended to reject. Typically, those sectors with a strong need for low-skilled labour fell within the large informal economy of Southern European countries, estimated in 2002–2003 as 28.3 % of gross domestic product (GDP) in Greece, 26.2 % of GDP in Italy, and 22.2 % of GDP in Portugal and Spain (Schneider and Klingmair 2004). Other niches of migrant labour are closely associated with the features of the Mediterranean welfare regime, particularly the large informal market for domestic work and care-giving services, which employs primarily migrant women. Gradually, governments saw the need to regulate labour migration, with Spain being the first to introduce a scheme based on a labour market test (known as the Regimen General, as established in the 1985 Foreigners Law), followed by Greece in 1991 with its invitation scheme. Ultimately, all four countries ended up introducing a system of annual quotas for labour migrants—representing all skill levels—Italy in 1990, Spain in 1993, Greece in 2000, and Portugal in 2001. These systems were a forerunner of the current EU position that recognizes the need to open new legal ways to enter the EU given the crucial role that immigration plays in the European economy.Footnote 3 Implicitly, Southern European countries have bet on immigrants to maintain the low-productivity sectors that form the core of their economies (González-Enriquez and Triandafyllidou 2009).
At a certain point, governments acknowledged that migration recruitment procedures were ineffective, as shown by the large presence of irregular migrants. To cope with the discrepancy between planned legal inflows and the actual needs of the economy they have applied regularization programmes “ex post” with a certain degree of periodicity, though governments presented them each time as exceptional “one time only” measures (Arango and Finotelli 2009, 31). Regularizations have been applied by governments of different colour, showing a considerable continuity in the policies of the main political parties in all four countries, despite rhetorical differences (González-Enriquez and Triandafyllidou 2009; Zincone 2006). However, by 2005 regularizations had become highly controversial among North-Western European partners who claimed that immigrants regularized in Southern Europe tended to move to Northern Europe to benefit from the generous welfare systems there (Chauvin et al. 2013). Interestingly, research shows rather the opposite effect: regularizations in Italy and Spain have “stabilized” a large part of the immigrant population (Carafagna 2002; Blangiardo 2004; Arango and Finotelli 2009; Cachón 2007).Footnote 4 In any case, from the mid-2000s, increased European integration has put more pressure on improving migration controls, and the European Council has agreed to limit regularizations to individual and ad hoc measures.
In sum, migration policies in the Southern EU member states have primarily set out to fight illegal migration. Massive migration flows to the Mediterranean countries occurred in a period combining restrictive policies and sizeable labour demand, and this partly explains why illegal migration is so predominant.Footnote 5 The four Southern European countries followed a similar path of policymaking: starting with the lack of an adequate legal framework for the influx of migrants, soon after adopting strict control measures, then establishing measures to manage migrant labour, and subsequently resorting to regularizations to “repair” ex post the poorly functioning recruitment procedures.
Due to the peculiarities of the Mediterranean model of migration, illegal migration poses other challenges to Southern European countries than to North-Western European ones. Illegal migration in Southern Europe is mainly a result of visa-overstaying or losing work permits, not illegally entering the country (Monzini et al. 2006; Arango and Finotelli 2009). Southern European policymakers are thus mainly concerned with how to handle large concentrations of irregular migrants while at the same time curtailing the shadow economy and collecting taxes and social security contributions. From this perspective, regularization programmes seem to be win-win opportunities that transform irregular migrants into regular ones, making them taxpayers and social-security contributors. However, it leaves unresolved the question of how to prevent regular migrants from falling into irregularity when they have to renew their temporary residence permits and cannot prove they hold a formal job. It also fails to tackle the informal economy, which created and reproduces the South European irregular migration system.
Central and Eastern Europe
During the decades in which Eastern and Central Europe were under Communist rule migration was a rare phenomenon. Insofar as it occurred, it concerned people leaving for Western countries. There were some highly publicized cases of dissidents who managed to flee, and others who were forced into exile, but quantitatively much more important were the ethnic Germans who, by the thousands and year after year, left Poland and Romania to resettle in the German Federal Republic. Between 1950 and 1989 this led to the resettlement of, respectively, some 240,000 persons.Footnote 6 After the end of the Cold War the former states of the Eastern Bloc were confronted with three challenges. The first was emigration to Western and Southern Europe. Indeed, migration triggered the fall of the Iron Curtain. Almost as soon as the Hungarian government opened its borders to Austria in the summer of 1989 large numbers of East Germans used this opportunity to travel to West Germany. Significant also was that the Hungarian government had signed the Geneva Refugee Convention thus signalling that it would not return fleeing foreigners to their countries of origin (because of the Convention’s prohibition against refoulement). The desire to move West did not diminish once all restrictions on departure had been lifted. The nature of the movements did change however. Fewer people settled abroad, and forms of brief mobility and temporary labour migration took on greater importance (Favell 2008). Until the 2004 accession of 10 new member states to the EU, much of this mobility was irregular. Afterwards, it became regular as part of the EU’s freedom of movement. Generally speaking, emigration from the new member states poses no policy challenges in countries of origin. The main exceptions are found in the Baltics. Upon independence in 1991, nearly half of Latvia’s population was of Russian origin. This fact made development of nationality policies unavoidable. These, in effect, transformed sizeable segments of the population into foreigners, many of whom felt compelled to “return” to Russia or go elsewhere (e.g., Jews could opt for a future in Israel or Germany) (Doomernik 1997). Another consequence of ethnic state-building in the Baltics was considerable governmental concern about emigration of co-ethnics and ensuing attempts to formulate effective and inclusive diaspora policies that would ideally lead to their return once the nation’s economy had recovered from its crisis (Lace 2013). In Poland, too, maintaining the diaspora’s connection with the fatherland was viewed as a strategic political objective, as was the promotion of employment in the wider EU (Kicinger and Koryś 2011, 367).
Secondly, immigration, be it of refugees or workers, until today has tended to be of minor political concern. In Poland, for instance, refugee numbers have been relatively small (mainly people fleeing Chechnya) whereas most other migrants arrive for work (OECD 2013, 284). Moreover, with the exception of Hungary and the Czech and Slovak Republics net migration is negative, in Latvia and Lithuania even dramatically so (ibid., 271, 273). Early migration policies were, where needed, fashioned on an ad hoc basis. Such policy responses were required towards the presence of de facto guest workers from (predominantly) Vietnam who had arrived during the Communist era. These were typically granted leave to remain. There was also regional migration to regulate from the Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and the Russian Federation (ibid.), but few attempts at restriction were made. This changed once accession to the EU came into view, as Kicinger and Koryś (2011) show for the Polish case. Regarding third-country nationals, directives such as those on family reunification, long-term residents, and refugees had to be turned into national law. Existing migration patterns (often of a temporary nature) from eastern neighbours were not easily reconciled with the EU logic of border management, especially the Schengen Agreement. But finally border commuting could be exempted from a strict implementation of the Schengen regime (ibid.). For labour migrants from eastern neighbouring states, simplified rules were introduced in 2006 (exempting them from labour market testing) (OECD 2013, 284). Most of these workers were employed in construction and agriculture (ibid.).
According to Čanĕk and Čižinsky (2011), reporting on the Czech experience, this happened somewhat naively and in the expectation that adopting the EU acquis would automatically mean the introduction of a comprehensive migration regime. However, the fact that this was not the case has not attracted much political attention. Since migration issues are not a salient political priority, and political parties lack distinctive positions and clear views about migration, migration policymaking has remained in the hands of specialized civil servants.
Among the Central European countries, first and foremost the Czech Republic became an attractive destination for economic migration from Russia, Ukraine, and Slovakia (Drbohlav 2012, 185). In the Czech case, increasing demand for migrant labour has been documented, especially in booming areas like Prague and Mladá Bolesvav, where some authors report that the social welfare system offers insufficient motivation for unemployed Czechs to seek work (Jíchová 2005 in Čanĕk and Čižinsky 2011). Like most countries in the region, the Czech government has aspired to attract highly skilled migrant workers by means of a special scheme (Doomernik et al. 2009). Success, however, seems to have been limited (Drbohlav n.d.). In 2011, 244 migrants made use of the Czech scheme; 80 % of these were Ukrainian nationals (OECD 2013, 244).
Towards a European Approach to Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Labour Migrants
With the Maastricht Treaty of 1992, migration and asylum were formally defined as a common policy concern. As noted earlier, at the time, asylum migration stood high on the political agenda of the EU’s North-Western member states. A first step towards a common approach was to limit eligibility for protection to the first safe country the asylum seeker set foot in. This principle became codified in the Dublin Convention (and was later incorporated into the EU Treaty). In effect, this put the obligation to receive asylum seekers on the member states at the EU’s periphery. Alternative mechanisms by which to achieve more even burden-sharing have yet to be developed. Presently, some member states are unable (notably Greece) or unwilling (notably Italy) to abide by the agreements based on “Dublin”. At the same time, member states farther north consider the existing arrangements as satisfactory. Political solidarity between member states is thus not easily achieved. Instead modest compensatory measures have been introduced to reward states for their efforts in accommodating refugees; the European Refugee Fund offers subsidies for their integration.
By 1997 political ambitions had progressed towards truly common policies in the field of refugee protection, asylum, and migration. The Amsterdam Treaty concluded that year (and coming into force in 1999) turned these issues into communitarian ones, and the Commission was asked to propose a comprehensive approach. By 2004 this had led in the field of asylum to directives on minimum norms regarding asylum-seeker reception and asylum procedures and on common definitions of who qualified as a refugee (which were recast in 2011). In many instances this simply permitted member states to continue existing practices. The Common European Asylum System (CEAS), as it is commonly referred to, gained new momentum from the publication in 2008 of the European Commission’s Policy Plan on Asylum. This sought to build on the European political consensus regarding the need for more practical collaboration, further harmonization, and increased solidarity among member states. Yet, collaboration has since become most visible in increased border controls, the deployment of Frontex, and in 2011 the establishment of the European Asylum Support Office in Malta. Prospects for a truly joint asylum system (i.e., having joint processing facilities and redistributive measures) remain beyond the present horizon (Thielemann and Armstrong 2012).
Arguably, a common European asylum system would be born out of managerial and political necessity. However, as already noted, when the Amsterdam Treaty was drafted, the political ambition was to go much farther and devise a comprehensive European migration regime. To this end, the European Commission produced an ambitious proposal in 2001 (COMM 757/2001) going in the direction of managed and forward-looking labour immigration schemes to fulfil current and future demand and to curb irregular migration, human smuggling, and trafficking. It found support in Southern Europe but much less up north. Indeed, in subsequent steps, the willingness among member states to surrender their sovereignty in the admission of foreign workers evaporated (if it ever had truly existed).
Nevertheless, some consequential directives are now part of EU law. A 2003 directive grants long-term residents the same freedom of movement as is enjoyed by EU nationals (after five years of legal residence in one member state) (Council Directive 2003/109/EC). Also concluded in 2003 is a directive on family reunification (Council Directive 2003/86/EC) which determines the conditions under which third-country nationals can bring in their family members. In the subsequent years, this led to practices that were more liberal than some of the member states had intended. Coming into force more recently was the Blue Card Directive (Council Directive 2009/50/EC), detailing common rules for the admission of highly skilled workers. It aims to simplify and standardize admission requirements for skilled workers from outside the EU and to ease their mobility between member states. The idea here is to increase the EU’s competitive edge in the global competition for “brains”. Hence, it hardly challenges member states’ sovereignty (Doomernik et al. 2009).