Working Papers

Migration and Politics

Explaining variation among rich democracies in recent nativist protest

Rich democracies evidence convergent trends in immigration experience (cf. Gary P. Freeman, 1994, pp. 17-30; Collinson 1993, pp. 57-59; and Hollifield 1992, pp. 32-33, 84-85, 204-213):

  • Increasing effort and capacity to regulate migration flows, especially absolute numbers.
  • The increased moral resonance of family unification as a major criterion for admission, accounting for an increasing percentage of total immigration and decreasing state control of the social characteristics (education, skills) of the immigrants.
  • An hour-glass shape of the education and skills of the recent immigration population. Although there are some national differences here, the central tendency is toward some overrepresentation of college graduates and a very big overrepresentation of the least educated and least skilled. Philip Martin (1992, p. 14) estimates that American immigrants are 30 percent highly skilled, 20 percent in the middle, and 50 percent unskilled.
  • The transformation of temporary work programs into permanent immigration. (Like The Man Who Came to Dinner and stayed for several months, the guest workers of Europe increasingly settled down in the host countries for long periods, even their whole working lives.) Movements for expanding immigrant rights were a natural outcome.
  • The uneven spread of migrants in Western Europe 1950-93. The explanation: variation in (1) the demand for and recruitment of “temporary” labor; (2) the openness to the rising tide of political refugees, East to West and increasingly South to North.
  • As legal entry routes are restricted in response to xenophobic political pressure, illegal entrants and visa overstayers have increased, although nations vary in their capacity to police their borders and control illegal immigration.