What is the right to asylum?: Debating the EU’s response to the refugee crisis

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at University of Southampton (@rdavidowen, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by David here.

Listen to PAIR’s Professor David Owen debating with David Goodhart (director of the Integration Hub and former director of Demos) on the right to asylum and Europe’s response to the refugee crisis.

Whereas David Owen puts forward the view that the entire world order of states suffers a legitimacy problem when refugees go unprotected, David Goodhart argues that it is a fantasy to talk about people having human rights when their own states are not protecting them.

You can listen to the discussion in full below:

This debate was recorded for Talking Migration, a podcast produced by Dr Clara Sandelind at the University of Huddersfield and supported by the Centre for Research in the Social Sciences and the Division of Journalism and Media.

Migration@Southampton Research Network

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.


The Migration@Southampton Research Network, coordinated by Dr. Ana Margheritis since 2014, now has an online presence. This is an interdisciplinary group formed by colleagues and postgraduate students from the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences and the Faculty of Humanities.

Their expertise addresses migration-related challenges through world-leading academic research, teaching, advocacy and mutual exchanges with academic and non-academic communities within the university and beyond. Network members have been working on programme development, joint publications, event organization, grant writing and other activities.

Find out more about this exciting initiative and related news at: http://www.southampton.ac.uk/migration

Courting Diasporas: The Politics of Emigration Policies in Latin America

DipticBy Dr. Ana Margheritis, Reader in International Relations at University of Southampton (Twitter, Academia.edu). You can find more posts by Ana here.

Dr Ana Margheritis was recently invited to give a talk at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy on the politics of emigration policies in Latin America.

A short interview with Dr Margheritis on the subject of her talk is below, and the full audio and a summary is available here.





Upcoming Conference on Global Migration

This year the Institute for Latin American Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, have situated global issues (including migration) at the top of their agenda for debate. They invited Dr. Ana Margheritis to co-organize an interdisciplinary conference with broad aims. Please find more details in the call for papers and link to webpage below.

Managing Global Migration: New Perspectives from Latin America and Europe

November 12, 2015

Institute of Latin American Studies, School of Advanced Study, University of London

This one-day ILAS conference at the University of London will present and debate new research on the multiple ways and means of addressing and managing global migration flows between Latin America and Europe. The conference will move beyond area studies by focusing on two world regions historically linked by human mobility and cultural exchange but now grappling with significant demographic changes and new migration trends. These changes and trends include the reversal of flows, the greater heterogeneity of migrant groups, the pull of women leaders in family migration projects, the concentration of newcomers in non-traditional destinations, the intensification of dual or multiple engagements in the country of origin and residence, and the development of new forms of citizenship beyond borders. The aim of the conference is to assess how and to what extent state and non-state actors in both Latin America and Europe are coping with and capitalizing upon the complex and creative implications of these new trends.

We aim to critically address the need to reconcile the political regulation of new trends in human mobility with democratic and multicultural demands for respect of rights and difference. We welcome papers that address this broad scope and aim from a variety of disciplinary, methodological, experiential, and comparative perspectives. ILAS aims to publish a selection of previously unpublished papers. Limited funding is available for travel expenses of participants. Please submit an abstract of 250 words with short bio and contact information by SEPTEMBER 15 to the conference co-organizers:

Dr. Ana Margheritis, University of Southampton

Dr. Mark Thurner, ILAS, University of London

What Is the Real Impact of Migration from Eastern Europe to the UK? A Look at the Evidence

By Dan Jendrissek, an interdisciplinary PhD student in Social Sciences and Modern Languages at University of Southampton (@jendrissek). Dan is currently on the job market.

When Poland joined the European Union in May 2004, only the UK, Ireland and Sweden decided to open up their labour markets and chose not to impose major restrictions on members of the ‘new’ EU8 states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia). Nonetheless, EU8 citizens had to be registered on the Workers Registration Scheme and in continuous employment for 12 months before they could claim income-related benefits like jobseeker’s allowance or housing benefits. Migration from EU8 countries to the UK, from Poland in particular, turned into “one of the most important social and economic phenomena shaping the UK today” (Pollard, Latorre, Sriskandarajah 2008: 7) and is still heavily influencing the immigration debate. Most of the political commentators on the impact of migration from Eastern Europe, however, are stubbornly ignoring the existing evidence.

At the time Poland joined the EU in 2004, the country’s unemployment rate was 19%, compared to 5% in the UK (Eurostat 2014). Furthermore, a youth unemployment rate of 40% in Poland had made employment in the UK, even in low-skilled jobs, an attractive option for young Poles. Given these numbers it is hardly surprising that migration from Eastern Europe to the UK inclined significantly after EU accession.

While in 2001 58,000 Polish citizens were living in England and Wales, this number rose to 558,000 in 2011 (Office for National Statistics 2001, 2013). Long-term international migration (LTIM) data shows that in-migration of EU8 nationals increased after 2004 and peaked in December 2007 (ONS 2014). Since then, numbers for EU8 in-migration have been declining and data from the Polish Labour Force Survey demonstrates that while degree level educated migrants tend to stay abroad, those with secondary and vocational level of education originating from rural areas are increasingly returning to Poland (Anacka & Fihel 2012).

Figure 1: Long-Term International Migration estimates by EU8 citizenship, June 2004 to December 2013 (ONS 2014)


Rolling year (YE = Year Ending, p = Year includes provisional estimates for 2013)


Labour as well as Conservatives have identified immigration from Eastern Europe as a problem. In last year’s immigration speech, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasised the role of post-2004 migration from Eastern Europe for current immigration policies by arguing that “when new countries join the European Union it is important to put in place transitional controls and it’s wrong that this didn’t happen with Poland and the other countries that joined the EU in 2004.”

Labour leader Ed Miliband’s position is not far off. In a speech at the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) in 2012 he claimed that his party had mishandled immigration from Eastern Europe and declared that “one of the areas where we had got things wrong and needed to change was immigration”; while there was “nothing wrong with anyone employing Polish builders”, there was a problem with “local talent” being “locked out of opportunity”. Mr Miliband has reiterated his position since: in a party political broadcast in 2013 he announced a crack-down on “low-skill migration” and called for “the maximum transitional controls for new countries coming in from Eastern Europe”.

In another IPPR speech the then shadow immigration minister Chris Bryant criticised UK retailer Next for using a recruitment agency that hired exclusively Polish workers for a warehouse in West Yorkshire. Mr Bryant said it was not illegal for agencies to target foreign workers, however, “when agencies bring such a large number of workers of a specific nationality at a time when there are one million young unemployed in Britain it is right to ask why that is happening.”

In the above statements a connection is made between ‘Polish builders’ and ‘local talent being locked out of opportunity’, between immigration and youth unemployment. At first glance it may seem that there is nothing wrong with asking these questions and these discursive chains may make sense to a wider audience. However, two things are noteworthy in this context: firstly, statements like the above are almost identical to those uttered by voices from the supposedly other end of the political spectrum, be it the infamous think tank MigrationWatch establishing a connection between immigration and youth unemployment or UKIP’s Nigel Farrage blaming “the huge increase in supply of unskilled labour” from abroad to negatively influence wages and housing.

Secondly, and more importantly, these statements are ignoring a growing body of evidence. In fact, the connectedness of (youth) unemployment and immigration is far from self-evident. A study by the Bank of England, for example, reviews international and UK research and concludes that there is no evidence that immigration influences wages or unemployment. On the contrary, the authors argue that immigration is likely to have reduced the natural rate of unemployment in the UK.

Other studies come to similar conclusions. Eldring & Schulten (2012) compare data from Germany, Norway, Switzerland and the UK. They point out that cases of wage-dumping and even exploitation of migrant workers do exist in some sectors, but that at the macroeconomic level the effects of migration on wages are marginal, something connected to the existence of a national minimum wage.

Finally, Dustmann & Frattini (2013) investigate the contributions of immigrants to the UK tax and welfare system. According to their research migrants from the European Economic Area (EEA) have put more money into the system than they took out; between 2001 and 2011 EEA immigrants contributed 34% more to the fiscal system than they took out, equivalent to a net contribution of around 22 billion GBP. Furthermore, recent immigrants are 45% less likely to claim benefits or tax credits than the UK’s native population. This can be explained by the age structure of recent immigrants and their educational credentials – especially Polish migrants are comparably young and highly qualified.

Data from the British Labour Force Survey (LFS) shows that EU8 migrants are more highly educated than people born in the UK. In 2012, around one in four UK born citizens was degree level educated. The number of Polish born LFS participants with degree level qualification was 37%, while another 20% were holding other work related or professional qualifications. Despite these high educational credentials, the majority of Polish migrants in the UK are working in rather low-skilled jobs in the manufacturing and hospitality sector. This ‘social downgrading’ often leads to a variety of problems for the individual (Trevena 2011, 2013) and constitutes a waste of human capital on the macroeconomic level. A recent IPPR report shows that a fifth of workers with higher education qualifications are doing menial, unskilled jobs in the UK and LFS data indicates that this situation is even worse for migrants from Eastern Europe.

To sum up, there is a growing body of research on the impact of migration from Eastern Europe to the UK. The existing evidence suggests that overall intra-European migration has been beneficial for the UK. Over the last decade, migrants from Eastern Europe have paid more money into the system than they took out. On average, they are young and well-educated, yet, they are more likely to end up in low-skilled jobs than UK born citizens. Furthermore, migration from Eastern Europe to the UK has been in decline since 2007 and some studies suggest that it is, in fact, the ‘best and brightest’ that decide to stay while those with a low level of qualification are increasingly returning to their home country.

While it has become commonplace to establish a link between immigration, unemployment and falling wages in public political discourse, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that one does not cause the other. With less than a year to go until the next UK general election and immigration likely to be one of the hot issues, it is important to get the facts right and to put the immigration debate on an evidence base in order to tackle a rather ill-informed political blame game.

The Ethics of Immigration symposium: On Social Membership

By David Owen, Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Southampton.

Cross-posted at Crooked Timber.

Joe Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration is just the book that the growing field of the political theory of migration needed. Rich in argumentation, wide in its coverage, fluently and reflectively written, it will act as a locus of, and focus for, discussion and debate.

It is also a book with a distinctive methodological structure. In the first part, Carens presupposes ‘(1) the contemporary international order which divides the world into independent states with vast differences of freedom, security, and economic opportunity among them and (2) the conventional moral view on immigration, i.e., that despite these vast differences between states, each state is morally entitled to exercise considerable discretionary control over the admission of immigrants’ (p.10) and seeks to reconstruct how liberal democratic states should, in acting on their own deepest commitments, treat immigrants. In the second part, Carens focuses on admission and in the final two chapters drops this presumption of state control and re-articulates his well-known argument for open borders. In this commentary, I will focus on the first part of the book.

The arguments of the first part build to Carens’s theory of social membership (chapter 8) on which I’ll focus but we should preface this discussion by noting how they build to this theory. Carens is committed to a contextualist form of political theory that works from the ground up. The discussions of birthright citizenship, permanent residents, temporary worker, irregular migrants can be seen as the cases from which Carens is attempting to reconstruct a norm of social membership that will make coherent sense of our democratic practices of social and political membership. The norm that Carens reconstructs is ‘that living within the territorial boundaries of a state makes one a member of society, that this social membership gives rise to moral claims in relation to political community, and that these claims deepen over time.’ (p.158)

Why is noting the method important here? Consider that if we focus on a single example, for example, permanent residents, we might wonder why we need a theory of social membership. After all, the case for the political membership of permanent residents can be made on straightforwardly democratic lines by simply appealing to Robert Dahl’s ‘principle of full inclusion’: ‘The demos must include all adult members of the association except transients and persons proved to be mentally defective’ (1989: 129), where ‘adult members of the association’ refers to ‘all adults subject to the binding collective decisions of the association’ (1989: 120). However, this principle does not provide guidance with respect to the full range of cases that Carens considers nor does it offer guidance on issues of social, rather than political, membership, i.e., the kinds of social rights that whose who are not, or are not yet, citizens should be entitled. So we need to address Carens’s theory of social membership as a theory designed to make our judgments cohere across a range of cases. Perhaps the central controversy to which this theory gives rise is Carens insistence that it is the fact of social membership that matters and that law should be constrained by the acknowledgment of this fact. When the relevant threshold has been passed and the immigrant has become social member, then they should be entitled to access to citizenship. I want to focus on three aspects of this theory addressing, in turn, the idea of social membership, the idea of thresholds and the relationship to law.

One case that Carens is confronted with is the hermit or recluse who is resistant to making social connections. His practical response is to note that this is, at most, a very rare occurrence and therefore not a good basis for legal reasoning. His theoretical response is to draw an analogy with the case of a birthright citizen who is a recluse and argue that one cannot deny citizenship to the immigrant recluse without also denying it to the birthright citizen recluse. This is essentially the same response. Birthright citizenship is justifiable because it will typically be the case that children born to resident citizens form their lives through a rich web of social connections tied to the territorial society of the state. Carens’s argument is dependent on what is typically true of human beings. It is not that social connections are a necessary condition of entitlement to citizenship but that the well-founded expectation that human beings will typically form such social connections in their state of residence is a necessary condition for the justifiability of a general rule for granting citizenship in terms of the idea of social membership. To counter this argument, what is needed is either to show that the expectation is not well-founded or to show that the state has a justified basis for exemptions to the rule in the case of residents who do not form such connections.

Let me turn then to the idea of thresholds such that once a person has lived in a state for a given length of time, we can presume that they will typically have become a full social member and that entitlement to citizenship is the acknowledgment of this fact. My concern here is not with imagined hermits but rather with the presumption that the time and residence proxies function in the same way for different types of migrant. Consider the case of a short-term worker or student whose stay does not meet the threshold that Carens proposes for access to citizenship but whose work contract is then renewed or student status extended (e.g., for postgraduate work), even if following a brief period of absence from the state, such that the period of (more or less continuous) residence passes the threshold for the inclusion of habitual residents. Should we count the period of residence as starting again with the contract renewal, or as continuous across contracts? This question arises because, in contrast to the habitually resident non-citizen, the short-term worker is admitted as someone engaged on a project with a specified end and, then, re-admitted on another project with a specified end. Even if one accepts Carens’s theory of social membership, it does make a difference in that when the state admits ‘voluntary’ migrants for an open-ended period, the relationship between state and migrant is conceived as potentially permanent, whereas in the case of the short-term worker or student, each of their serial stays has a contractually agreed and specified purpose with an endpoint. The temporary migrant lives in society with the presumption that they will be required to leave; the habitual migrant with (or acquiring) permanent residency status lives in society with the presumption that they will not be required to leave. These distinct conditions of social life will almost inevitably affect the depth and extent of the ties to society that these differently situated migrants enjoy. (Consider by analogy the difference between ‘home’ friendships and ‘holiday’ friendships.) In this respect, I think that the stress of the social membership argument on a standard period of time has a tendency to suppress the point that time is being used as a generic proxy for typically expected social ties. The problem is that the adoption of a standard period of time as a generic proxy for typically expected social ties across different classes of migrant relies on the presupposition that the migrant’s relation to the society in which they reside is independent of the temporal and normative horizon in terms of which migrant’s experience, and reflect, on their presence in society. This is an empirical issue but I am sceptical as to the truth of this presupposition.

The preceding remarks operate internal to the frame of Carens’s theory and its presumption that law should be constrained to acknowledge the fact of social membership. But should it? One way of framing the issue is to consider the case of irregular migrants whom it might be charged acquire social membership but acquire it fraudulently on the basis of a residence to which they are not entitled. This is, I think, the point behind Michael Blake’s objection to Carens’s theory. I have sympathy for Blake’s objection, namely, that sometimes the normative force of the fact of social membership can be over-ridden by other legal and moral considerations but I think that the contrary claim holds as well, namely, that other moral and legal considerations can be over-ridden by the fact of social membership in virtue of the social connections that can typically be expected of such membership. To focus this point, consider whether there should be a statute of limitations with respect to irregular migrants who could be returned to a home state where they would not be subject to oppression or injustice, should there be a statute of limitations beyond which the right of the state to deport an irregular migrant ceases. We should note that it is widely believed that some rights are capable of ‘fading’ in their moral importance by virtue of the passage of time and by the sheer persistence of what was originally wrongful infringement (Waldron 1992). The pertinent question is, consequently, whether the right to determine whether the long-term irregular migrant is entitled to remain in the state is one such right. There are two reasons to suggest that it is, and so should be subject to a statute of limitations. The first is that the harm to the individual of being deported after long-term residence and having acquired the attendant social attachments is significantly greater than any harm done to society in allowing this individual to remain. This argument is, however, open to the objection that, although this may be true for each case taken singly, it leaves aside the general harm of irregular migration to the state as a legal and political order. The more important reason is the second, namely that precisely because we can typically expect that the irregular migrant will have forged social connections, the legitimate expectations of other ‘regular’ members of society whose life-plans centrally involve the presence of the long-term irregular migrant will also be frustrated and harmed by the act of deporting this migrant. This is most clearly the case when an irregular migrant has a ‘regular’ family. This does not entail that the long-term irregular migrant might not be subject to penalty, for example, an extension of the period of regular residence prior to any access to citizenship but it does provide reasons for restricting the deportation of long-term irregular migrants and allowing them to regularize their status.

Consideration of these three issues suggests that the principle of social membership is defensible, that social membership is immensely important but that the conditions of social membership as demarcated by time and residence can vary across types of immigrants – and that while it can, in principle, be over-ridden by considerations of morality and law, it can also be sufficiently important to constrain or over-ride such considerations.

Dahl, R. (1989) Democracy and its Critics (New Haven: Yale, 1989).
Waldron, J. (1992) ‘Superseding Historic Injustice’, Ethics, Vol. 103, No. 1, pp. 4-28.

Uruguay: Tiny Country, Big Population Problems

By Dr. Ana Margheritis, Politics & International Relations

The international press has focused on Uruguay lately and praised a number of factors that make the country attractive and relatively atypical in the Latin American context today: a small, gorgeous area of fertile land; political and economic stability; a friendly and laid-back style of life; progressive tax, social welfare and other policies (e.g., legalisation of abortion, marijuana consumption, and gay marriage); records of foreign investment; improvement in reducing poverty, unemployment, underemployment, and inequality, and a humble president whose simple, frugal habits and standard of living has not changed after coming to office.

Demographers argue that Uruguay is an atypical case in other respect, too: it did not go through peaks of population growth and an early decline in mortality and birth rates gave it a demographic profile more similar to the advanced countries than to its developing neighbours, though still sharing with the latter the same struggle to overcome economic under-development. Such demographic evolution contributed to a generalized perception of a lack of population problems and, consequently, to the absence of specific policies. Problems existed, though, compounded today by a low fertility rate, concentration of population in a small coastal area and few cities (half of the total population lives in Montevideo, the capital city), low immigration inflows, and continuous population ageing and emigration. Internal migration from the countryside to the coast has historically been the first step in a long journey that extends beyond the country’s borders as a significant part of the total population (between 15% and 18% in the mid-2000s) moved subsequently abroad. Thus, in terms of migration flows Uruguay passed from being a receiving country up to the 1950s to a sending country since then and depopulation became a structural problem.

However, it is not until the mid-2000s that the magnitude of the emigration problem was acknowledged and both population and migration issues entered the governmental agenda and political discourse. The immediate factor that prompted this policy shift was the mobilization of Uruguayans abroad around the time of the 2004 elections and its role in the Frente Amplio’s victory. This was compounded by the last two presidents’ leadership role, the profile of the emigrant group (i.e., young, highly educated), and the nature of the Frente’s political project, namely a development strategy in which the state has a prominent role and a progressive social agenda that brings human rights considerations to the forefront. A new set of innovative migration-related measures and institutional changes gained momentum in the last decade, though their scope and sustainability are still subject to controversies.

Uruguayan governments have, indeed, made significant efforts to reach out to citizens living abroad. Following global trends, several initiatives were launched: a new discourse to re-name the diaspora and its role in the nation; legislation update to institutionalize migrant rights; new bureaucratic units in charge of migrant affairs; a number of linkage programs to engage migrants with homeland, and the promise of inclusion and increasing political participation through extra-territorial voting rights. The emphasis on linkages and absentee voting rights promised not only to reinforce nationhood bonds but also to make effective a notion of citizenship that goes beyond territorial borders and redefines the idea of nation. Nevertheless, this initiative could not overcome political and social opposition. Most likely, it will be revived this year as national elections approach.

Among other lessons, Uruguay shows that sending state emigration policies require the political commitment of specific actors to prosper. It is not the state as a unitary apparatus or political parties but specific individuals and offices (i.e., the president, foreign minister, especial migration units) which push transnational initiatives politically. Emigration policy also requires an articulation between symbolic and rhetoric initiatives and concrete measures to entitle and engage emigrants. The label patria peregrine (peregrine nation), intended to emphasize that emigrants are still part of the nation, was too vague, did not resonate with the dual engagements of Uruguayans abroad and failed to give them an identity, thus jeopardizing the chances of constructing them as subjects and interlocutors. The use of this terminology also cast doubts on the conceptualization of the problem and policy intentions because it involves a redefinition of borders when, in fact, political and social ideas about the nation still remain strongly tied to territory in Uruguay. As the debate on extra-territorial voting rights illustrates, two views persist: the official political discourse emphasizes notions of national identity and unity, collective commitment with nation-building, and sense of responsibility towards the country’s fate even if at a long distance; in contrast, other political and social actors argue that physical presence in the territory at the moment of suffrage ultimately contributes to reinforce the nationhood bond, questioning that those who are physically absent decide on the lives of those who will actually endure the consequences of decisions.

Bureaucratic practices are a major obstacle to policy consistency and sustainability, as well as society’s low capacity to exert strong pressure or push for its agenda. Several of the initiatives above have been subject to constant vaivenes (the word I most often heard during field research, meaning ups and downs, comings and goings) and faced implementation problems.Thus, the sustainability of emigration policy in the long run is contingent not only on state’s capacity to reform itself but also on society’s ability to acquire a greater voice and more organizational capacity as well as to engage broader sectors with the re-construction of national membership along pluralistic and non-territorial lines.

In sum, Uruguay is a critical case to study emigration policies because, in contrast to other cases, discursive mechanisms have included but not targeted elites exclusively, new re-conceptualizations of the citizens abroad failed to re-incorporate them into the nation, state strategies have not prioritized financial flows but political issues and, rather than capitalizing on migrant transnational networks overseas, the state implemented a top-down, state-led model on diverse migrant organizations that largely backfired. Moreover, I argue that full extra-territorial citizenship has not materialized yet not because of governments’ reluctance but because the political elites’ and society’s strong attachment to territorial notions of entitlements have re-territorialized the debate.

Do you want to know more? See my forthcoming article in International Migration Review: “Redrawing the Contours of the Nation-State in Uruguay? The Vicissitudes of Emigration Policyin the 2000s”.