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Managing labour migration in Europe: Ideas, knowledge and policy change

Managing labour migration in Europe: Ideas, knowledge and policy change

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Managing labour migration in Europe: Ideas, knowledge and policy change

399 pagine
5 ore
Jul 19, 2013


Labour migration has become one of the hot topics in Europe, especially since 2000 with the shift from restriction to managed migration. This book provides an authoritative account of policy change over labour migration in Europe during this new era of governance.

It has important implications for debates about the contemporary governance of labour migration in Europe, and questions about the impact of an emergent EU migration regime in the context of a globalising labour market. The key findings offer a deeper understanding of the linkages between those engaged in policymaking and the kinds of communities that produce usable knowledge.

It will therefore be essential reading for academics, practitioners and students of migration and national policy processes in the EU. It will be an invaluable resource for individuals and organisations active in the immigration policy community, including policymakers themselves, but also the wider network of NGOs, think tanks and interest groups.
Jul 19, 2013

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Alex Balch is ESRC Post-Doctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Politics at Sheffield University

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Managing labour migration in Europe - Alex Balch




This book challenges the usual questions asked about immigration policies and provides new answers about the policy-making process. Instead of denouncing immigration policy-making as irrational, incompetent, or even racist, it asks what kinds of ideas and knowledge actually shape and frame policy. The case studies are the UK and Spain, two countries that from quite different backgrounds in terms of immigration policy-making have emerged as major labour importers in the EU since 2000. The research shows why, when, how and where policy frames on labour migration shift and change. The work provides evidence of an increasing but variegated role for expertise in policy formation and demonstrates how, and in what ways, national modes of policy-making intervene to resist or facilitate policy convergence via particular types of communities and coalitions.

The approach of the work addresses the observation that we often know very little about the flow of ideas, and what actually drives politicians and policy-makers to make decisions about immigration (Sciortino 2000) – decisions that ultimately have far-reaching implications and impact on the lives of millions of people. Immigration policy is an area of heightened interest in Europe, and where there is a perceived mismatch between inputs and outputs, or what policy-makers appear to say and then seem to do (e.g Castles 2004). Yet we know that the policies of labour importing countries are coming to resemble each other (Cornelius and Tsuda 2004: 15).

The work has important implications for all those communities involved in the policy process, including policy-makers themselves, but also NGOs, think tanks and interest groups. The key findings offer a deeper understanding of the links between those engaged in policymaking and the kinds of epistemic communities that produce usable knowledge. This is achieved by making more explicit the links between ideas and policy change and applying theoretical frameworks, which specify the relationship more clearly between ideas, actors and the policy process (Haas 1992; Hajer 1993; Sabatier 1993).

The growing world of think tanks (Stone 2002a) and the widening of those involved in policy communities (Marsh 1998) means that there is a broad and enlarging audience that might benefit from this work. Many of those involved in NGOs, think tanks and research organisations (including universities) see themselves as repositories/producers or disseminators of ideas and knowledge. It therefore makes sense that these people should be interested in research that helps to specify and illustrate the ways in which certain types of ideas and knowledge can play a role in making a difference in policy development.

The technocratic quality of much of modern-day policy-making appears to give to experts the role of Plato’s cave-bound philosophers – those to whom we turn to interpret the shadows on the wall. But for policy-makers, explaining policy and locating it within the framework of other political programmes and objectives means weaving a convincing narrative that might not always ‘fit’ the data. We know that knowledge and ideas can be buried or exploited and twisted in the service of interests, to legitimise decisions already made or de-legitimise those not made. Furthermore, the complex nature of social systems (and relatively recent evolution of many social science disciplines) limits the power of available analytical methods to find or define ‘solutions’.

As one of the archetypal modern policy dilemmas, immigration provides a fascinating case study for exploring policy change, the interplay between ideas and interests and the role of expertise in the policy process. By its very nature, immigration is multi-dimensional (and international) and cuts across a range of questions concerning the economy, territoriality, sovereignty, along with a host of moral, ethical and security issues. This is why the political element is so complex and holds such interest – because policies ‘reveal, for ourselves and for the world, what we really believe in and whether we are prepared to act on those beliefs’ (Legomsky 1993: 335).

Theories about human migratory phenomena and its causes and effects have developed and evolved since the original laws of push and pull (Ravenstein 1885) through neoclassical economics, labour market theory, theories of human capital, world systems and so on, but the way policy is framed changes the very questions that are posed to policy experts. From the simple puzzle of why people move, there is increasing interest in what the effects of this movement are, or why so many people choose not to move in the first place.

Perhaps the most obvious shift in the tectonic plates beneath immigration policy-making in the new Europe is the context of integration and the free movement of persons, particularly after the 2004 and 2007 enlargements of the EU. This has meant a transformation of the very definition of much immigration into ‘intra-EU mobility’, leading some to conclude that ‘tried-and-tested narratives and models of postwar immigration in Europe – the standard discussions of immigration, integration and citizenship, based on post-colonial, guestworker and asylum models, and historical distinctions between pre- and post-1973 trends – are finished’ (Favell 2008: 702). Among other things, the ‘mobility turn’ has switched attention from state-based regulation of flows to the capacity (and desirability) of individuals to exploit the opportunities of free movement (e.g. Rutter, Latorre et al. 2008), inspired by cosmopolitan rather than communitarian principles (e.g. Canzler, Kaufman et al. 2008).

However, we know relatively little about the ways in which new ideas are incorporated or transferred into policy, and even those involved in the process may be in the dark as to the derivation and provenance of those ideas that support their positions. As Sikkink observes, it is quite strange that in disciplines such as political science: ‘scholars, whose entire existence is centred on the production and understanding of ideas, should grant ideas so little significance for explaining political life’ (Sikkink 1991: 3). Considering the recent interest of governments to provide fiscal stimulus for recessionary economies, Keynes was perhaps rather prophetic when he observed: ‘practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back’ (Keynes 1936: ch.24).

On the subject of immigration, certain ideas have proved to be more powerful and ‘sticky’ than others. In hard economic times, for example, it is commonly thought that anti-immigrant feeling will rise along with unemployment and inter-community tension, despite the fact that there is evidence that disputes this (Taylor-Gooby 2008). Another ‘law’ of immigration policy is that once migration begins, it induces its own flows (Weiner 1995: 28). Or to use a metaphor, policy is much like a tap that: ‘can be turned on at any time, although, as always, turning the tap off is more difficult’ (Coleman and Rowthorn 2004). But again, the evidence is mixed. Others suggest that lowering the barriers to entry actually leads to lower, not higher, rates of permanent migration (e.g. Pollard, Latorre et al. 2008).

In the so-called post-ideological age, ideas remain the main currency of politics, but where do ideas come from and how do they get into policy? It is quite unlikely that they flow via online canvassing of the public, Obama-style, despite the fact that politicians are always eager to show that they are ‘listening’. We know that governments, political parties and interests have built up a range of different structures and methods for producing the information that finds its way into policy. We are now living in a ‘war of ideas’ (Rich 2005) with internal research and policy development functions increasing their powers alongside an interlinked and interdependent army of think tanks, research institutes (or even University departments), but how does this affect the way in which new policies develop and emerge? The aim of this book is to answer that question by showing how ideas and knowledge play a role in the development of policies on labour migration in the UK and Spain.

Key themes

The politics of labour migration policy

Analysis of immigration in political science has traditionally focused on the challenges that it provides to nation-states (Joppke 1998), or the organisation and boundaries of welfare states (Bommes and Geddes 2000), but policies themselves clearly play a significant role in shaping patterns and flows, not least because of the large demand and restricted entry to more developed industrialised countries (Meyers 2000). Without nation-states and their associated apparatus, in terms of border controls, there would be no such thing as international migration. It therefore makes sense that we should seek to understand how states go about making their migration policies – or the walls that states build and the small doors that they open in them (Zolberg 1989).

The perception of the various forms of international migration as either positive in terms of economic benefits, or bad in terms of allocation of scarce public goods, is shaped by institutions and organisations in receiving states (Geddes 2003: 2–3). Policies designate various forms of migration as ‘wanted’, while others become ‘unwanted’ (that is, regular and irregular migration). Governments divide individuals into the categories of ‘legal’ or ‘illegal’ immigrant directly or indirectly as a result of policy frameworks (Samers 2003). Governments therefore determine the numbers of migrants who enjoy legal status, the rights associated with that status, and the way that policies are implemented (Cornelius and Rosenblum 2005). The decision to remove exit controls in the UK, for example, has for years been blamed for high levels of irregularity by the Immigration Advisory Service (IAS 2004). The Spanish regularisation process in 2005 was criticised across Europe because of the effect the policy would have for other EU states.¹

Immigration is an issue that increasingly captures the public imagination in Europe. Opposition politicians, commentators, academics and policy experts seem to queue up to criticise government policies. Indeed, there are few areas in politics where the motives and arguments of those involved in the policy process are more deeply questioned or less understood. There is a tendency to denounce the outcomes of migration policies as illiberal, racist, or representing ‘fortress Europe’, but this implies that policy-makers are driven by prejudicial or xenophobic motivations, and that policy is a straightforward expression of these. The argument here is that it would be useful to ask these people how they understand policy, and the causes, drivers and effects of labour migration.

Policies on migration have long provided a strong explanatory challenge for political scientists (Hansen 2002), but we lack sufficient understanding of the political sociology behind such policies (Sciortino 2000), and how ideas and knowledge play a role in policy-making (Boswell 2004, 2009b). These gaps in the research are particularly relevant considering the autonomy of political elites to determine policies in a relatively top-down way – and often against the will of a more restrictionist public (Statham and Geddes 2006: 266–267).

It has been noted that policies in labour-importing countries ‘are coming to resemble each other in important ways’ (Cornelius and Tsuda 2004: 15). A wide range of explanations has been put forward for convergence (for a review, see: Meyers 2002), but these often overlook the policy process itself. Highly influential in terms of theories about how ideas inform migration policy is the ‘securitisation’ thesis (Heisler and Layton-Henry 1993; Wæver, Buzan et al. 1993; Huysmans 2000; Bigo 2002; Huysmans and Buonfino 2008). From this perspective, migration policies are driven by association with existential threats to society, whether in terms of group identity or, after 9/11, international terrorism. Indeed, one need not look too far to see illustrations of the securitisation of certain aspects of migration control, for example, with the strengthening of the US-Mexico border (Tirman 2004) and the policing of the Mediterranean (Lutterbeck 2006).

Within the securitisation debate, the Copenhagen School draws from social theory to show how immigration can become discursively constructed in terms of ‘societal security’ (Wæver, Buzan et al. 1993: 17–23). Others explore the ways in which security-related expertise and technology become legitimised for application to the field of immigration (Huysmans 1995; Bigo 2002). However, while there have no doubt been moves towards securitisation, for migration to be securitised, evidence of a discursive linkage (Huysmans and Buonfino 2008) needs to become cemented in the policy apparatus (Buzan, Wæver et al. 1998: 25). The evidence of policy change over migration in Europe would suggest that this is far from being achieved (Boswell 2006). A good example here would be the shift in immigration policy in Spain after the Madrid bombings of March 2004 away from a security-related focus to a more liberal one emphasising economic and labour market needs.

Framing of policy

The point here, and central to the rationale behind this book, is that in order to focus on the politics of migration policy, we need to examine the ways in which migration can become subject to different, competing policy frames, and what effects this might have over time. In other words, when thinking about how ideas and knowledge play a role in labour migration policy we need to ask ideas and knowledge about what?

The notion of securitisation is clearly one such ‘frame’ but migration is a policy field where there are a number of different perspectives, or ideas, about which policies to adopt. By framing the issue in various ways and by using certain terms, policy-makers can legitimise and delegitimise potential policy actions. This is particularly pertinent to immigration, because it is an area that can – and has been – related to a host of different policy areas such as, inter alia, economics, external relations, identity politics, security, health. The relative lack of certainty (Sciortino 2000) and abundance of alternative frames means that we need to pay attention to the kinds of ideas and knowledge that play a role in the policy process.

The concept of policy ‘frames’ (Entman 1993; Schoen and Rein 1994), rather like policy ‘paradigms’ (Hall 1993), has been used in policy analysis to try and understand the constitution, reproduction and change of the ideational framework that exists in any given policy field. Frames provide signposts and guidance for policy-makers, shape perceptions and influence political outcomes. Hall defines a policy paradigm as ‘a framework of ideas and standards that specifies not only the goals of policy and the kinds of instruments that can be used to attain them, but also the very nature of the problem they are addressing’. A policy paradigm becomes embedded and ‘is influential precisely because so much of it is taken for granted’ (Hall 1993: 279).

Migration policy in the EU, for example, has been identified as being influenced by either a ‘realist’ frame of internal security or a ‘liberal’ frame of human rights (Lavanex 2001). The shift towards more open labour migration policies in the UK and Spain, for example, has been linked to arguments surrounding supply-side economics, particularly labour shortages, demographic issues, and the potentially positive net benefit of migration to the national economy (Balch 2005; Geddes 2005b). Others have gone further in terms of identifying a multiplicity of frames, noting that policy-makers have a choice of whether to frame policy as, among others, an ‘immigration reform’ issue, an ‘illegal immigration’ issue, a ‘globalisation’ issue, a labour market issue, or even an ‘economic refugee’ issue, with each frame speaking to different core values and understandings (Lakoff and Ferguson 2006).

Ideas and public policy analysis

Key to the study of policy framing, and public policy analysis more generally, is the role of ideas and knowledge. While most would agree with this statement, there are divisions over whose ideas and knowledge matter, and therefore, how frames are constructed and displaced, and by whom. The Epistemic Communities Hypothesis (Haas 1992, 2001, 2004) for example, is one approach, which identifies the role of experts in introducing new ideas to reframe policy, particularly in areas of policy uncertainty. This approach has been used to explain why politicians make apparently brave decisions to relinquish political control of certain policy levers.² In contrast, discourse analysts tend not to differentiate between different types of knowledge or expertise, instead treating experts in the same way as other elites (Fischer 2003a). However, we know that there is a growing trend for policy-making to be informed by expertise (government and non-government funded), and there is estimated to be a 12 per cent annual increase in institutions categorised as think tanks (Stone and Denham 2004).

Most of the work on the role of expertise in public policy has thus far been in areas that either have overriding scientific or technical content or strong international resonance. Good examples include environmental policy (Mazey and Richardson 1992), energy policy (Jenkins-Smith and Clair 1993), transport policy (Dudley 2004), local government finance (John 1999), macro-economic policy (King 2005), EU tax policy (Radaelli 1997), European Monetary Union (Verdun 1999), or European integration (Zito 2001b). This reflects the preoccupation of dominant approaches with particular aspects of modern policymaking. A survey of work carried out using the Advocacy Coalition Framework (another model which incorporates a role for ideas and knowledge in policy change), for example, found that out of 34 studies, 23 were on environmental or energy policy (Sabatier and Jenkins-Smith 1999: 125).

Labour migration is an interesting new area for this type of research because it offers up points of convergence and divergence with the work that has already been carried out. A strong point of convergence is seen in the fact that labour migration and more technical policies such as those on the environment have multiple international implications that are, in turn, counterbalanced by national-level blockages to policy coordination. In both cases there is a pattern of increasing international dialogue whether in regional, bilateral or multilateral fora, and in both cases the tensions between costs and benefits frequently emerge as political difficulties and sensitivities at the national level. Yet broad acceptance of the fundamental need for international cooperation, backed up by the adoption and enforcement of common rules, is much closer for certain environmental issues, than with labour migration. The movement of people across national borders has demographic, economic, political and cultural implications that go beyond the nation-state, but while there has been development of international regimes liberalising the mobility of goods and finance, no similar agreements yet exist on an international regime for the free movement of persons (Lavenex 2004).

Problems of knowledge

Taking this as a starting point, this book seeks to contribute by examining the role of ideas and knowledge in the policy process and seeking to explain the relationship between ideas, knowledge and the reframing of policy. Adopting this approach means taking a conscious decision to move away from more declaratory accounts of migration policy towards a fuller exploration of immigration policy-making. In this way, this book also sheds light on the relationship between expert knowledge and policy-making.

The literature on knowledge utilisation and the research-policy nexus has established, among other things, that this is a highly complex relationship (Weiss 1977; Caplan 1979); that forms of knowledge other than professional social inquiry are often important (Lindblom and Cohen 1979); that knowledge is filtered by beliefs and policy preferences (Sabatier 1993); that communities of experts can play an important role in the policy process (Haas 1992); that political agendas and windows of opportunity can mean that new knowledge is accepted or rejected (Kingdon 1995); and that knowledge can be understood as incorporated within a wider, discursive dimension of public policy (Fischer and Forester 1993; Hajer 1993).

The limited amount of work that has been done in the field of immigration policy certainly suggests that there are problems with knowledge utilisation (Brans, Jacobs et al. 2004; Boswell 2008), and there is a more pronounced gap in the case of immigration policies between information available to those involved in the policy process, and that which is presented to the public by politicians (Boswell 2004). Statistical data in the field of labour migration has issues around national methodological variations (Davies, Nutley et al. 2000); difficulties with collecting data (Laczko and Wijkstrom 2004); increasing levels of international travel; uncertainty as to the status of some immigrants (e.g. asylum seekers); the high numbers of people that change status (e.g. individuals that arrive as tourists or students and then attempt to find work); and significant levels of irregularity and non- or semi-compliance with immigration regulations (Ruhs and Anderson 2006). This is combined with more general complaints about the overall quality of policy-relevant information available about immigration (Portes 1997: 817) and poor comparability of this data across Europe (Geddes and Niessen 2005).

The problem of a knowledge ‘gap’ in immigration has been the subject of intergovernmental conferences³ and European research projects,⁴ with the High-level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, which took place in 2006 (UNPF 2004), highlighting the need for improved knowledge on migration. The work of Christina Boswell (2008, 2009a, 2009b) deserves mention as she has looked in detail at the political utilisation of knowledge in debates over immigration in Germany, the EU (Boswell 2008) and in the UK (Boswell 2009a). This work shows how policy-makers are increasingly likely to turn to expertise in areas such as immigration, but warns that we need to pay attention to the underlying motives of politicians to use knowledge for instrumental or legitimising functions (Boswell 2009b).

This book builds on these insights by developing our understanding of expertise in policy-making on labour migration in the UK and Spain. However, the starting point is that discussion of knowledge utilisation needs to take into account the reasons why certain types of knowledge (macro-economic data, criminal statistics, demographic data, and so on) become more (or less) salient or legitimate in the policy debate in the first place. Knowledge – whether in terms of improving policy or providing a legitimising or instrumental role – is rendered more ‘usable’ by its relevance to the policy debate. In other words, this book is interested in why, how, and when and where ideas and knowledge provide a framing or agenda setting role, directing and shaping that debate – that is, providing the preconditions for subsequent knowledge utilisation.

Much of the work that attempts to close the knowledge gap between researchers and policy-makers is based on the simplistic argument that more and better usage of data on migration and research on its impacts would result in better policies. I argue that we need to go beyond such a linear conception of the policy process and provide a ‘thicker’ understanding of ideas and knowledge by incorporating the discursive element into the analysis. Although discourse has multiple definitions, here, policy discourse is understood ‘in terms of its content, as a set of policy ideas and values, and in terms of its usage, as a process of interaction focused on policy formulation and communication’ (Schmidt and Radaelli 2004: 184).

Immigration policies are often criticised for being predicated on highly questionable assumptions and understandings (e.g. Castles 2004), but if this is true, we need to understand how and why such understandings influence policy outcomes. Researching the policy process in this way also goes straight to deeper questions within social science, namely: Why do we understand and deal with social phenomena such as labour migration in certain ways? How important is political conflict over knowledge, and the distribution of power and resources? How do individual actors play a role in policy change?

In order to answer these questions I argue that we need to establish what kinds of ideas and knowledge feed into the policy process through what types of policy networks and communities. Furthermore, we need to specify how this process is conditioned and affected by what categories of intervening variables. To fully understand how ideas and knowledge play a role in policy change, we need to find out about the communities that surround immigration policy-making and explore the types of knowledge that feed into them.

National policy-making and the developing EU migration regime

As an area of national competence experiencing the impact of emerging developments at EU level (Geddes and Guiraudon 2004), changing national policies on labour migration also offer an excellent opportunity to consider the possible effects of ‘Europeanisation’. The EU provides perhaps the best expression of the tension between a sustained preeminence of national policymaking and an increasingly important international dimension. While regulation of entry to a state’s territory is one of the established rights of sovereign states (Zolberg 1999), this is now qualified in the case of citizens of the EU Member States, where free movement is subject to EU regulation (Geddes 2000).

Since the Treaty of Amsterdam (1997), a common policy on immigration has slowly developed via programmes outlined at Tampere (1999) and the Hague (2005), to the European Pact on Immigration and Asylum (EPIA) (CEU 2008). Activity at the EU level on Justice and Home Affairs has increased markedly (Monar 2008), and integration has often been of the ‘soft’ variety, for example, using the Open Method of Coordination (OMC). This specifically fosters and encourages policy learning through the utilisation of knowledge networks and transnational research communities to identify common practices and policies (Bogusz 2002). The different relationship between the EU and the UK (which has an opt-out but frequently declines to use it) and Spain (as part of Schengen) provides an interesting laboratory for considering theories of Europeanisation.

The fact that the EU figures so prominently in the work on knowledge in public policy (Radaelli 1999) is understandable in an integrating Europe with a supranational commission, which often operates as a technocratic regulator (Majone 1996) and has based much of its policy-making power around the incorporation of scientific expertise into regulatory decision-making (Joerges and Vos 1997). This effectively makes the accumulation of knowledge (and the location at the centre of knowledge networks) axiomatic in the relationship between the policy-making capacity of the European Commission and that of the Member States. Added to this, the EU is increasingly recognised as possessing significant ‘soft power’ including the ability to spread ideas. Although normally linked with foreign policy, soft power is an aspect of world politics that is rightly recognised to be of enhanced importance in the ‘information age’, with the associated increase in the mobility of information and ideas (Nye 1991, 2004).

Within the context of the EU, however, rather than a struggle for dominance between the national and the supranational, these developments chime with the observation that policy-making is becoming increasingly multi-level (Marks, Hooghe et al. 1996). However, the addition of a new level of policy-making or even a uniquely supranational polity (Wallace 2005) does not mean that we should overlook the sustained significance of the national level of policy-making. Successive waves of research have correctly turned the lens away from the emerging supranational level towards nation-states, attempting to explain how they are changing in the context of ever-increasing international linkages and overlaps, with the concept of the Europeanisation of national policy-making a key area of interest (see, for example: Borzel and Risse 2000; Featherstone and Radaelli 2003).

Labour migration policies are still clearly part of the national domain of policy-making, but there is a strong European resonance for several

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