Transnational Relations as an Outcome of the Balance of Interests and Power between Sending Countries and Diasporas

A dominant trend in research has been to view sending state policies as an outcome of the balance of interests and power between sending countries and diasporas. From this perspective, sending states reach out to their diasporas in recognition of the economic and political contributions that emigrants might make via remittances, foreign direct investment, or political support (Sheffer 1986; Bauböck 2003; Østergaard-Nielsen 2003a; Guarnizo 1998). Consequently, sending country outreach policies constitute a particularly attractive strategy for states that occupy a marginal position in the global economic and political system (Guarnizo 1998). For these countries, diaspora engagement policies are, so to speak, a foot in the door to the economic benefits of globalization. Other analyses emphasize the political significance of diasporas, in particular, when a sizeable proportion of the sending country's population resides in a receiving country or region important for its foreign policy or when a dissident voice is unwanted by the homeland.

Thus, one overall hypothesis of why countries reach out to their diasporas is based on a rational cost-benefit analysis by the political elite of the sending country; that is, the more important the diaspora is for the economy and domestic and foreign policy of the country of origin, the more likely that country is to seek to “tap into” diaspora resources through outreach policies. This might be with policies aimed directly at maximizing remittance flows or via broader policy reforms to encourage the continued loyalty of the diaspora. Indeed, the role of remittances is given significant weight in this strand of analysis as outreach policies are seen as 'part of a broader effort to attract or channel migrant remittances' (Levitt and De la Dehesa 2003, 595). Similarly, Waterbury (2006) argues that some emigrant states reach out to their diasporas residing in countries with assimilatory migrant incorporation regimes in order to retain loyalty and keep remittances flowing.

The notion of diaspora engagement policies as the outcome of a cost-benefit analysis related to the economic and political strength of sending countries' overseas nationals is straightforward but ultimately fails to offer a comprehensive analytical framework. First, it does not explain why some of the countries most dependent on migrant remittances have not implemented the most comprehensive sending country policies. Arguably, the answer could be that those countries that already receive a large and steady flow of remittances need not do anything further to attract such funds, except keep facilitating labour export. Second, it does not explain why a variety of countries that are not dependent on emigrant economic and political support have reached out to their emigrants, as have Spain, Italy, and France.

Moreover, emigrants and diasporas are not passive entities merely waiting for their country of origin to approach them. Another notion is that of sending country outreach policies being a response to demand from an organized and powerful diaspora (Østergaard-Nielsen 2003a). Such demands from a diaspora may be backed by the expatriates' economic and political strength. The role of the Armenian diaspora in the first set of Armenian outreach policies after independence is a case in point (Panossian 2003). However, this perspective does not view outreach policies as stemming from a dictate from the diaspora. Instead it highlights the domestic politics of the country of origin, as diaspora demands and potential support enter power struggles among main political actors in the country of origin.

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