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Integration Policies in Southern European Countries

In Southern Europe, integration measures followed long after the attempts to regulate admissions and migrant labour. Italy launched in 1998 its first migration law including integration; Spain did so in 2000, followed by Greece and Portugal in 2001. Up to then Southern Europe's management of migration resembled in many ways that in Northern Europe during the guest worker period in the 1960s. Despite the fact that immigration to Southern Europe was neither mediated nor planned by the receiving states, a labour-oriented approach prevailed in which immigration control and labour regulation were the main priorities and integration was relegated to a second place (Bruquetas-Callejo et al. 2011). This explains the economic conception of migration that guides Southern European policies, in contrast to the humanitarian-oriented commitment that still weighs heavily in North-Western European policies (Finotelli 2009). In this view, regularizations are legitimized as a mechanism allowing the legal inclusion of formally unwanted (irregular) immigrants, provided that they enhance the utility of immigration for the receiving country's economy and society. Above all, those who contribute positively to the countries' economies become the Mediterranean answer to the question of who should be integrated.

Characteristic of Southern European countries is that integration policies have been elaborated from the bottom up, starting with local and regional initiatives in the 1990s. Policies diverged from city to city and region to region. Since the turn of the millennium, we have witnessed in all countries initiatives to produce national frameworks of integration in an effort to coordinate the policies produced at subnational levels. Greece and Portugal have been relatively successful in this regard, with national plans that are managed in a more centralized way than those in Spain and Italy. Moreover, EU initiatives and financial instruments (e.g., the European Social Fund and European Integration Fund) have promoted the application of integration projects initiated by immigrant organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), municipalities, and universities. The outcomes of these EU programmes for the promotion of the social and economic integration of immigrants have been positive though limited (Triandafyllidou 2009).

Southern European countries have continued to think of themselves as emigration countries (Zincone 2011, 390), which is reflected in their more open integration policies. With the exception of Greece, Southern European countries are very inclusive in legal terms, especially towards migrants with a cultural or ethnic link. Regular immigrants in Southern Europe have access to basic rights (e.g., work, welfare services, health care, and education) on equal footing with natives, while irregular migrants' access depends on local authorities' will and the discretionary practices of street-level bureaucrats (González-Enriquez and Triandafyllidou 2009; Moreno Fuentes and Bruquetas-Callejo 2011). Spain is a case in point, as since 2000 irregular migrants registered in the municipal census have been entitled to basic social rights such as health care, education, and welfare allowances, although with the reform of the health care law in 2012 (Royal Decree 16/2012) health care rights were restricted to foreigners legally residing in the country and contributing to the social security system[1].

As a consequence of their labour-oriented approach to migration, immigrant integration in Southern European societies takes place mainly through labour market insertion. Typical of the Mediterranean welfare regime, Southern European countries offer coverage for unemployment and old-age pensions proportionate to labour participation and contributions to the social security system. This contributive logic, which is also common among the conservative-corporatist systems of North-Western Europe, usually implies that foreign-born citizens have less coverage since they tend to hold temporary jobs. Similarly, their old-age pensions tend to be less, since most immigrants have contributed to the social security system for fewer years. Thus, Mediterranean welfare states are characterized by a combination of contributive and universal schemes. While immigrants are entitled to universal benefits in areas like health care and social services, the amount of other benefits (e.g., basic income allowances) is linked to contributions, meaning they tend to be more meagre than those of the native populations.

This also means that the process of integration is less directly mediated by explicit policies of integration but rather by immigrants' agency and interaction with local network and clientelistic relations that structure the labour market and interaction with the state in Southern Europe (Triandafyllidou 2009). Immigrants find their local niches of life and work and take part in local life and networks regardless of their legal situation. Nevertheless, as we read above, the segmentation of the labour market determines that migrants are incorporated in the less protected segments and often in very precarious situations.

Moreover, immigrants are tolerated to reside and work in these countries but are generally seen as outsiders, not belonging to the nation even after many years of residence. Restrictive citizenship policies in Southern Europe make naturalization especially difficult. Third-country nationals in Italy, Greece, Spain, and (until 2006) Portugal are required to have resided in the country at least ten years in order to apply for naturalization. Yet, for immigrants who can prove ethnic descent or colonial ties, naturalization is relatively easy, creating two differentiated roads to integration.

Southern European societies produce a different answer to the question of who should be integrated. Contrary to the North-Western European situation, Southern Europeans are rather tolerant to irregular immigrants (González-Enríquez and Triandafyllidou 2009). This can be explained by the prevailing labour migration rational, as well as the roles played by various actors. The Catholic Church in three of the four countries, for example, has lobbied for soft policies towards irregular migration (while in Greece, the Orthodox Church has not played an important role). Trade unions, too, have adopted a cooperative stance towards immigrants. While the middle classes provide a broad base of social support (partly due to the services that migrants provide for them), there are negative feelings among low-skilled workers, since their salaries and labour conditions have been affected by the arrival of immigrants.

  • [1] Then again, regional governments are in charge of implementing this, which leads to variation. So far, several regions have publicly declared that they will not implement this reform.
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