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Migration Studies and Development Studies

Until relatively recently the two interdisciplinary fields of migration studies and development studies remained separate: migration scholars said little about development, and development specialists said little about migration. Policy debates likewise were kept largely separate. Some significant forays were made into the interlinkages, at both the local-regional level (Abadan-Unat et al. 1976) and on a more global scale (Skeldon 1997; Zelinsky 1971), but little attempt was made at formal theorization of the relationship.

For most of the post-war period until the early 1990s, the predominant European discourse focused on labour-market needs, “guest worker” immigration, and “integration”. There was almost no acknowledgement of migrants' links to their home countries and their developmental impact there. There was, however, an implicit assumption that migration would be beneficial to migrants' home countries through savings and remittances sent back, and through the innovative stimulus of return migration. However, several studies carried out in various return-destination contexts in the 1970s and 1980s found this return-development mechanism to be largely lacking[1]. What was clear then, and what has emerged with renewed clarity as a result of the westward migration of Poles and other accession-country migrants since 2004, is the developmental contribution of labour migration to the receiving country, the continued growth of which was sustained and accelerated by extra supplies of flexible and willing labour. Both the guest worker migration and the recent East–west migration vindicate Piore's (1979) thesis on the crucial role of migrant labour in fuelling growth in advanced industrial economies. Indeed Castles and Kosack (1973, 8), in their classic treatise on immigrant workers in Western Europe, go so far as to say that labour migration was a form of development aid given by the poor to the rich countries of Europe.

The nature of the M&D debate changed around 2000, prompted by a constellation of changing migration contexts, new policy initiatives, and an academic reappraisal of what came to be called the migration–development nexus (Van Hear and Sørensen 2002). This substantial change can be framed in terms of the three distinct levels set out in Chap. 2—individuals, organizations, and institutions—plus a fourth factor, which is the theoretical shift in keeping with empirical findings and political developments. First, at the individual and human-behaviour level, there was a clear understanding that global migration accelerated, globalized, and diversified after the 1980s, through the era that Castles and Miller (2008) refer to as the 'Age of Migration'. Beyond the classic “guest worker” origins in Southern Europe and the Maghreb, migrants were now arriving in Europe from a far wider geographical spread of source countries. The destinations in Europe shifted too, expanding from the “first generation” of North-Western European receiving countries to include new “second-generation” immigration countries (the southern EU countries plus Ireland). This new immigration wave received fresh impetus after the fall of the Iron Curtain and the subsequent eastward expansion of the EU.

Second, at the organizational level, there was recognition that the way migrants are organized was significant. The various forms that migrant collectives took, particularly hometown associations, underlined the importance of forms of integration in both the origin and the destination country. Portes' (1998) notion of “globalization from below” highlights the existence of grassroots networks of migrants, connected transnationally. The effectiveness of these organizations was dependent on their ability to “be accepted” as parts of two societies, as globally networked citizens with access to key expertise in their countries of destination and as purveyors of international financial support in their communities of origin (Lacroix 2005). In many cases, the societies in which migrants were accepted were highly localized. At the national level their presence was challenged in both origin and destination; acceptance came in villages of origin and professional networks in destination countries.

Third, at the institutional level, there were several new initiatives at the international policy and political level. Countries of migrant origin were accepted as partners or were drawn into debates on the international management of migration through such arenas as the Global Forum on Migration and Development, the HighLevel UN Dialogues on Migration, and the increasing recognition of migration's developmental potential in EU policy documents[2]. A parallel developmentalist thrust was prominent in publications emanating from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UNDP, notably the latter's Human Development Report for 2009, entitled Overcoming Barriers: Human Mobility and Development (UNDP 2009). Meanwhile the IOM's 2013 World Migration Report also focuses on migration and development as its main theme (IOM 2013). Another aspect of the changing political context is the pressure coming from some European countries for the return or repatriation of migrants, especially those deemed “illegal”. Part of the justification for this pressure for return is cloaked in a rhetoric of contributions to home-country development. The spread of assisted voluntary return programmes is a clear indication of this development.

Finally, from a theoretical perspective, publication of the collection of papers edited by Van Hear and Sørensen (2002) on the migration–development nexus refocused the academic debate, highlighting in particular the role of remittances in stimulating home-country development. This is consistent with a more “bottom-up” view of migration and development, drawing on the “new economics” of labour migration, which foregrounds migration as a family or household decision leading to the temporary or circulating absence of key workers to generate remittances and investment for the homeland-based residual household or extended family, both for its survival and growth, and as a risk-averting hedge against unforeseen “market failures” such as a crop wipe-out (Taylor 1999).

  • [1] See, amongst others, the results of the REMPLOD project in Turkey (Abadan-Unat et al. 1976), research by Cerase (1974) and King et al. (1986) on Southern Italy, and by Rhodes (1978) on Spain.
  • [2] The European Commission's first Communication on Migration and Development was published in 2002 (COM (2002) 703 final) and presented development as little more than a means of migration control. This had changed by the next Communication in 2005 (COM (2005) 390 final) (see Collyer 2011). The most recent Commission paper, Maximising the Development Impact of Migration, published in October 2013 (COM (2013) 292 final), marks a further step-change in EU discourse. It focuses on internal migration, the impact of climate change, country-of-origin perspectives, and the mobility turn, amongst other things, and is framed by a discourse on the rights of migrants. This is not to say that this change is reflected in EU practice, but it marks an important shift in emphasis of the political dialogue, which is now radically different from a decade earlier.
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