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Global Norms and the International Diffusion of Ideas

Another set of explanations of why sending countries reach out to their citizens abroad positions emigrant and diaspora policies within processes of idea and norm diffusion through international organizations (Levitt and De la Dehesa 2003; Rhodes and Harutyunyan 2010), regional networks of states (Délano 2013), and even bilateral exchanges of information (Iskander 2010). Norms are here understood as collective understandings of appropriate behaviour (Guiraudon 2012). The basic idea is that there is an evolution of norms of how sending country policies can optimize the externalities of international migration. Formulation and implementation of sending country policies take cues from this process of norm evolution. For instance, the emergence of new international norms of nationhood and citizen protection has been argued to influence emigrant state policies within the domain of citizenship and political rights. States liberalize their citizenship policies in step with globalization and adhere to more post-national or cosmopolitan notions of nationhood. Such a deterritorialization of citizenship, coupled with a stronger commitment to human rights norms, may arguably translate into more inclusive policies towards both immigrants and emigrants (Joppke 2008; Rhodes and Harutyunyan 2010; Soysal 1994; Levitt and De la Dehesa 2003).

A broader set of outreach policies can be understood in the context of evolving norms of global migration governance. Here, the role of emigrant countries in recovering lost resources, especially in the policy fields of migration and development, is lauded as a “best practice”, because it allows not just the migrant receiving states but also emigrant states to partake in bilateral or multilateral cooperation on migration issues (Gamlen et al. 2013). This view is reflected in the agenda and recommendations of the Global Forum on Migration and Development and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) sponsored Handbook on Diaspora Engagement, which provides 'a user-friendly accessible and practical guide on the state of the art in governmental diaspora initiatives…designed to help policy makers and practitioners fit the many elements of diaspora policy into a coherent strategy' (Aguinas and Newland 2012, 14). Indeed, there are strong indications that sending states which move in the same international circles are picking up on this advice. From 2000 to 2008, 20 % of all poverty reduction strategies published by developing states included a call for engaging expatriate communities (Gamlen et al. 2013).

In terms of the regional and national politics of policy diffusion, Délano (2013) identifies a convergence of practices and policies of emigrant states in Latin America as a result of dialogue and information sharing among Latin American governments. Three factors are identified as crucial to this process: the influence of the Mexican example, the ideological convergence of Latin American governments, and finally the fact that these countries largely share the same emigrant destination country, the USA (ibid.). Iskander (2010) traces policy diffusion across regions, demonstrating that Morocco and Mexico learned from each other (and the emigrants) through a creative process of policy innovation. The overall suggestion is that domestic resistance to outreach policies among segments or all of the homeland political elite can be overcome with a consolidating example from another sending country that has successfully implemented such policies (Délano 2013).

The perspective on norms and policy diffusion adds an interesting dimension to our understanding of the complex interplay between processes within and beyond the nation state. It highlights the fact that ideas travel and that international, regional, and bilateral relationships matter (Délano 2013). Moreover, it calls for further analyses of what domestic factors matter for the incorporation of international or regionally evolving norms of state-emigrant policies (Guiraudon 2012).

All in all, these different approaches place different emphases on different actors and processes. Few would argue that emigration policies can be understood only with reference to either the strength and potential of the emigrants, the political situation in the country of origin, or the diffusion of policy norms. Instead qualitative studies have tended to look at the particular configuration of several or all of these factors across a limited number of cases, and broader systematic statistical studies have increasingly tested these different predictors in a particular policy area or a broader set of policies. The study of relations between the sending country and its emigrants has been criticized as being largely a-theoretical (Délano and Gamlen 2014). Yet, overall the field appears to have increasingly taken up the challenge of developing theory on the roles of actors, norms, and processes at the national, transnational, and international level.

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