Explaining Sending Country Policies: Transnational Interests, National Politics, and the International Diffusion of Ideas

The twin questions of what motivates emigrant countries to formulate and implement outreach policies and why sending country policies tend to differ or converge have been approached in a number of ways. Again, it is worth noting that most of this literature is based on single case or country studies. These studies provide a good contextualized understanding of the perceptions and processes leading to outreach policies, but they fail to test hypotheses systematically across a larger number of cases. Moreover, the first wave of studies of migrant transnationalism exhibited a tendency to sample on the dependent variable (Portes 2001). This extends to the analysis of sending country policies as well, since few studies have included emigration countries with little or no political or administrative attention to emigrants (Mügge 2012a). Finally, studies do not necessarily operate with the same dependent variable. Comparative analyses of sending country policies have tended to focus on only one set of outreach policies, such as political rights, without positioning them within the wider context of policies towards emigrants (Ragazzi 2014). Yet, different sets of policies may derive from different motivations, rendering the findings from one policy field less applicable to another.

A first step towards understanding sending country policies is to elaborate a typology of sending countries based on the scope and intensity of a broad range of outreach policies. A basic categorization is between states that do reach out to emigrants, such as Italy, and those that do not, such as Denmark. In addition to this distinction between engaged and disengaged states, there is a category of “strategically selective states”, which encourage emigrants to stay in touch but extend to them only a subset of rights and services (Levitt and Glick Schiller 2004). Some studies have based their classification on the motives underlying policies. For instance, Gamlen (2008) builds a classification on the distinction between diaspora creating and diaspora integrating policy mechanisms, concluding that those states that employ one set of policies but not the other are emigration states “on paper” or in an incoherent way (ibid.). In a somewhat similar vein, studies of sending countries have employed notions of governance, or the Foucauldian notion of “governmentality”, as the dependent variable, identifying types and forms of extraterritorial sending country policies aimed at creating, mobilizing, or controlling emigrant populations from afar (Délano and Gamlen 2014; Gamlen 2008; Maisonave 2011).

Recent analyses base their classification of sending country policies on the different configurations of policies. This results in a classification that distinguishes not only between the disinterested and engaged states, but also between the expatriate state (which directs cultural and educational policies at high-income expats who reside temporarily abroad) and the managed labour state (which maintains policies to attract remittances and extend welfare provisions to lower income emigrant workers) (Ragazzi 2014). The distinction between policies directed at migrants perceived as temporarily abroad and those considered permanent expatriates is important and echoes the classification of R. C. Smith (2003b) between emigrant policies and global nation policies. There is a key difference between those countries that primarily want to facilitate labour export and those that aim mainly to keep in touch with overseas nationals and their descendants. Both sets of countries may be interested in keeping remittances flowing, but the existence of a broader set of “bonding” policies is more likely among the latter.

When it comes to explaining why states reach out to their emigrant populations, the literature points to a broad range of historical and (geo) political variables that account for differences in emigrant state policies. Recent studies group the explanations according to research area, such as migration and development, transnationalism, and citizenship or governance (Collyer 2013; Délano and Gamlen 2014). Others focus on overall conceptual approach, distinguishing between interest maximization, national ideologies, traditions of governance, and policy diffusion (Ragazzi 2014; Gamlen et al. 2013; Délano 2013). The sections below build on these distinctions, though the main variables and hypotheses are grouped in a slightly different way according to the weight and significance placed on transnational and domestic actors, interests, and types of processes. The first section discusses the understanding of sending country policies as an outcome of the different configurations of interests and power in transnational state–emigrant relations. The second section focuses on an analysis of sending country policies as a result of political processes within the countries of origin, such as broader democratization, national identity, and partisan policy interests. Finally, the last sections discuss the conceptualizations of sending country policies as being shaped by processes of policy diffusion at the global, regional, or even bilateral level. These approaches emphasize different sending country policies. Yet, all of them seek to link a specific set of actors, interests, or processes with the broader scope and level of sending country outreach policies.

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