Immigration Policies

Classic immigration countries, like the USA and Canada, have defined themselves as nations of immigrants. In contrast, North-Western European countries have not seen themselves as immigration countries, although they received large numbers of newcomers from abroad between 1950 and 1974: refugees from the East, immigrants from onetime colonies, and guest workers. As we read in Chap. 3, after 1974, when the first oil crisis precipitated the restructuring of economies and labour markets and new hands were no longer needed, these countries responded by adopting restrictive immigration policies. These new policies were framed in the 1980s (regarding labour migrants and family migrants) and 1990s (on asylum migrants). Only very recently have countries like the UK and Germany adopted new active immigration policies—for the first time since the 1960s and early 1970s—to recruit labour for certain sectors suffering shortages of workers. The immigration policies developed in the 1980s and 1990s were mostly framed in a nation state-centred way. For instance, Nordic and North-Western European countries often framed immigration policies in relation to the welfare state. In the UK, they were framed in particular by the history of the British Empire. Germany's immigration policies cannot be understood without reference to its long history as a “divided nation” and its consequential reluctance to become a country of immigration. In some countries, arguments of overpopulation (the Netherlands) or population decline due to ageing have played an important role.


A cornerstone of migration policy in the European setting is the principle of free movement for EU citizens. This principle, which applies to intra-EU migration only, has been at the heart of European integration since its inception. The European Coal and Steal Community (ECSC) established, already in 1951, a provision of free mobility for workers in this industry. Since then, the free movement principle has been extended and firmly anchored in EU treaties. It is a key supranational element of the Europeanization of immigration policies, and has had a clear binding effect on member states. Intra-EU mobility increased significantly after the accession of Central and Eastern European countries in 2004 and 2007. Europeanization of policies on immigration from outside the EU has occurred much more incrementally. First, immigration and border security were discussed intergovernmentally in the so-called Trevi Group in the late 1970s. A major step followed in the 1980s when a group of member states moved to abolish border controls and adopt joint immigration policy measures with the Schengen Agreement (1985). The Schengen group numbered 26 countries as of 2014. In 1999, the Schengen Agreement was incorporated into the Treaty of Amsterdam, though exceptions and opt-outs have continued to apply to several countries. Thus, a form of cooperation between nation states eventually arose and contributed to the anchoring of common regulations in the supranational treaties of the EU. Asylum migration in the 1990s became an important impetus for the Europeanization of asylum and immigration policies. With the Dublin Convention of 1990, EU member states formalized arrangements to address the problem of “asylum shopping”. The Maastricht Treaty of 1993 established a broader framework for intergovernmental cooperation in the field of asylum and migration, under the so-called Third Pillar “non-binding” cooperation. Perhaps the most important step towards a common EU policy was taken in 1997, when asylum and migration were moved to the First Pillar, which involved a much stronger role for the European Commission and a legal basis for EU activity. This was further reinforced by the 2009 Lisbon Treaty, which “normalized” immigration policy as a core EU issue, introducing qualified majority voting in this domain and strengthening the role of

the European Parliament and the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

It is fair to say that by the 2010s a strongly Europeanized policy field had emerged on asylum and migration. This encompassed numerous elements: joint border controls (Frontex), the Returns Directive regulating the return of illegal migrants, standardization of asylum procedures, the EU Blue Card Directive on selective labour migration, the Family Reunification Directive, which had strong impact on national family migration policies, and a series of cooperation agreements with migrantsending countries to address the root causes of migration. Particularly important in terms of multilevel governance has been the step by step strengthening of the role of EU institutions like the ECJ and Parliament, marking a real transfer of competencies to supranational institutions. Nevertheless, via the EU Council, various intergovernmental working groups, and to some extent also the Commission, the member states continue to play a key role.

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