This project funded by a VIDI-Grant of the Dutch Organisation for Scientific Research (grant nr 016.Vidi. 185.159 6289) analyses the relationship between the evolution of welfare states and labour migration policies in Western Europe between 1870 and now, assessing whether there is a trade-off between social protection and openness to immigration.

While there is a large body of research on how immigration affects citizens’ preferences for welfare and redistribution, we know little about how welfare states shape immigration policies and migrants’ access to welfare benefits. Do countries with larger welfare states also enforce stricter immigration policies? When do governments enforce stricter migration policies but provide equal access to welfare for migrants (closure with equality), and when do they enforce liberal immigration policies but restrict their rights to welfare (openness with segmentation)?

The project adopts a comparative and historical approach. It draws on longitudinal case studies going back to the late 19th century and the origins of both welfare states and migration control. It combines this with a quantitative analysis of policies across OECD countries, and focusses on different levels (countries and welfare programmes).

The project will answer 3 main questions. First, did the birth and development of social protection coincide with more restrictive immigration policies over time? (project 1, PI)? Second, do different types of welfare states (Social-Democratic, Continental, Liberal) generate different incentives for governments to restrict immigration? (project 2, PhD 1). Third, why are some welfare programmes (pensions, social assistance, unemployment, health) more closed or more open to immigrants? (project 3, PhD 2)?

The project will disseminate results broadly to policymakers, the media and the public via a variety of channels: workshops, social media, blogs, video clips and audio podcasts.

Overall aim and key objectives

Every welfare state implies boundaries between those who contribute and benefit from it, and those who do not (Walzer 1983: 31; Ferrera 2005; Hall 2017: 219). Where should these boundaries be drawn? This question becomes especially important when it comes to immigration. Given that welfare states are closed systems that redistribute resources within a finite group of people, how are they reconciled with porous borders and potentially large numbers of beneficiaries coming from abroad (Freeman 1986; Ruhs 2013)? Do larger welfare states also enforce stricter immigration policies? When do governments privilege equality at home and keep outsiders out via restrictive immigration control, and when do they stay open to immigration but restrict the rights and entitlements of migrants, creating inequalities within their own societies? (Emmenegger et al. 2012; Hemerijck 2013) While there is an expanding body of research on how immigration affects citizens’ perceptions about welfare and redistribution, we know little about the policies that governments have effectively put in place to deal with this problem.

This project analyses the policy instruments that European countries have used over time to regulate the access of labour migrants to welfare states, and what we can learn from past experiences to ensure a balance between fairness, political acceptance and fiscal sustainability. The project looks at two policy instruments to control access to the welfare state, namely external (immigration control) and internal (welfare eligibility rules, residency rules, citizenship rules) instruments. It adopts a historical and comparative perspective, looking at a subset of European countries from the inception of the major welfare programmes in the late 19th century up to now, combined with a broader analysis of OECD countries covering the more recent period. If we want to understand the trade-offs between welfare protection and immigration openness over time, it is important to return to periods of high openness and labour mobility of the ‘First Globalisation’ (1870-1914)(Lucassen 2005; Peters 2015).

In recent years, the trade-offs between immigration and welfare protection have been vividly discussed (Goodhart & Asscher 2013; Kvist 2004). For instance, access to social benefits for EU nationals has been a core issue in the negotiations between the British government and the EU before the Brexit referendum. Recently, a number of countries have tightened the eligibility rules of some of their benefits after the extension of free movement to Central and Eastern European countries (Heindlmaier & Blauberger 2017). ‘Welfare chauvinism’, or the idea that welfare should be restricted to nationals, has become an important element in the agenda of populist right-wing parties in Europe (Lefkofridi & Michel 2017; Afonso & Rennwald 2018).

Concerns about the possible burden that immigration may represent for the welfare state are not new (Lucassen 2005: 15). For instance, one of the drivers of the 1905 Aliens Act – the first piece of legislation introducing immigration controls in Britain – was a concern for the pressure on poor relief that Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe would cause (Pellew 1989: 372). The first British state pension scheme introduced shortly after (1908) was restricted to people who had resided in the UK for at least 20 years, therefore excluding immigrants (Thurley 2008: 1). In 1919, the French government also restricted access to its health services for Italian immigrants, thinking its generous social legislation would attract too many of them (Noiriel 2016: 113). Given the similarity of these concerns with contemporary ones, adopting a historical and comparative approach is very relevant.

The project seeks to answer three chiefly related research questions.

  1. Subproject 1. How has the emergence and transformation of welfare states influenced immigration policies? (1870-1945) Assuming that there is a trade-off between social rights and openness, has the expansion of welfare states over time led to a greater need for governments to control access via immigration control or restrictions on migrant rights? The transition from minimal state and open borders in the period 1870-1914 to the take-off in social spending and restrictive immigration policy in the period that followed (Dowty 1989; Torpey 2000) points in this direction. However, can the causal link between these two policy domains be proven empirically?
  2. Subproject 2. Do different welfare state regimes lead to different immigration policies across countries? (1945-2017) The welfare state literature identifies different types of welfare states that not only differ in how much they redistribute but also in how they redistribute: Continental/Bismarckian (Germany, France, Netherlands), Social-Democratic (Scandinavia) and Liberal (United Kingdom, USA) welfare states define the boundaries of contributors and beneficiaries differently (Esping-Andersen 1990). However, the theoretical and empirical connections between these ideal types and immigration policies have not been investigated extensively. Have welfare states based on social insurance (Bismarckian) been more open to immigration than those based on universal benefits (Social-Democratic and Liberal systems) because the opportunities for ‘freeriding’ are smaller? How have international factors, most notably European integration, influenced the tools that governments use to control access to welfare for labour migrants?
  3. Subproject 3. Why are some welfare programmes more likely to restrict benefits for immigrants? (1990-2017) Besides variations between countries and between regimes, we can expect different patterns of inclusion and exclusion across welfare programmes within countries. Welfare programmes (pensions, unemployment, social assistance, health care) vary widely in their system of funding, generosity, conditionality and degree of state involvement. How do these factors affect the restrictions they apply to immigrants?

The project adopts an approach grounded in comparative political economy combining comparative-historical, qualitative and quantitative methods. It combines longitudinal case studies analysing the coevolution of immigration policy, welfare programmes and their eligibility rules in European countries, complemented by a large-N analysis of OECD countries covering different welfare systems and schemes.

Scientific Relevance and Contributions

The project makes theoretical, methodological and empirical contributions to the study of welfare states and immigration policy.

Theory: Linking Welfare States and Immigration Policy

The project addresses the collective action problem faced by any welfare state: if governments want citizens to pay taxes to fund social protection programmes, they need to provide some guarantee that ‘outsiders’ will not take advantage without contributing. This argument is often used to explain the residual nature of the US welfare state, where the perception that welfare mostly benefits ethnic minorities undermined its support among the majority (Fox 2012; Lieberman 2001; Alesina and Glaeser 2004). The project assesses the hypothesis that the creation and expansion of systems of redistribution create a political demand for closure in the form of either (external) immigration control[1] or (internal) eligibility restrictions.[2]

This approach is innovative for a number of reasons. First, immigration policy has not often been considered a ‘typical’ instrument of economic policy in comparative political economy in spite of its important distributional implications (Freeman 1995). I consider it here as an instrument to control the supply of potential beneficiaries of the welfare system. Second, the literature on welfare capitalism (e.g Esping-Andersen 1999; Hall and Soskice 2001) and the literature on immigration policy (Cornelius 2004) have mostly evolved separately. Systematic efforts to connect different models of political economy with immigration policy have only emerged recently (Afonso & Devitt 2016; Devitt 2011; Menz 2009; Peters 2015; Ruhs 2013; Sainsbury 2012). Third, there is an expanding body of research on the relationship between immigration and welfare (Burgoon et al. 2012; Burgoon 2014), but this research has been primarily focussed on the micro-level (citizens’ preferences) and not so much on the macro-level (public policies). We now know a great deal about how immigration affects citizens’ opinions about welfare, but little about how public policies in these two domains are related.

This project focusses on welfare institutions as elements which structure the preferences of policymakers in the domain of immigration policy. I assume that the incentives of policymakers to restrict immigration are shaped by welfare state institutions, and their ability to minimise the costs of immigration. In contrast to other approaches, I focus on the state and governments as central actors, albeit influenced by parties and interest groups.

Methodology: Bringing History Back In

The main methodological contribution of the project is the use of a longitudinal and comparative approach in the study of immigration policy and welfare state development, covering the “birth” of both policy domains. The methodological toolbox used is the most suited to investigate complex causal processes over longer periods of time (Mahoney & Thelen 2015; Pierson 2004). Most existing analyses of immigration policy focus on the recent period or go back to World War II (WWII). They often consist of isolated case studies rather than systematic comparisons trying to explain variation across countries.

The most obvious justification for a historical approach is that, even acknowledging that institutions are not static, choices made in the past still shape today’s policies (Mahoney & Thelen 2015; Acemoglu and Robinson 2009). Just as the main features of the German welfare state can be traced back to Bismarck’s social insurance reforms in the late 19th century (Baldwin 1990), immigration policies today are still shaped by policy legacies and past experiences with immigration (Brubaker 1992; Ellermann 2015). However, there is little systematic comparative research on the origins of immigration policies, especially as it relates to the emergence of welfare states. This is astonishing because there was a clear movement of immigration closure at the beginning of the 20th century, at the time when many modern welfare schemes were also being created. Before World War I, international labour mobility was high and most governments enforced little control on international migration (Peters 2017; Dowty 1989; Torpey 2000). Thus, this period is crucial to understand today’s public policies because this is the time when most of them were born, as the state massively increased its role in society (Polanyi 1944; Ansell & Lindvall forthcoming). A large body of research has shown that the context and timing in which policies were created can have a decisive impact on their characteristics (e.g. Bonoli 2007; Topalov 1994).

While the use of comparative-historical methods has a long tradition in political science and political economy (Evans et al. 1985; Lipset & Rokkan 1967; Moore 1966; Pierson 2004; Thelen 2004), this is not the case for the study of immigration policy in the European context. There are some very valuable comparative analyses of immigration policy across countries (Brochmann 1999; Cornelius 2004; Geddes & Scholten 2016; Messina 2007), but they usually focus on the period that followed WWII. Only a very recent strand of literature has begun to apply a comparative approach with a longer time span (Ellermann 2013; Kalm & Lindvall 2016; Peters 2015).

In history, there is a large body of literature on immigration and immigration policy in Europe (e.g. Hansen 2000; Leenders 1993; Noiriel 2016; Spencer 2002; Tichenor 2002; Weil 1995). However, it rarely adopts an explicitly comparative approach, and rarely provides an explicit theoretical basis. As the author of one of the few exceptions argues, these two literatures do not really communicate (Lucassen 2005: 16). This is an important gap, especially considering the valuable work done on the role of race and immigration in welfare state development in the US (Fox 2012; Lieberman 2001; Katznelson 2013).

Empirical Analysis: Welfare States Beyond Domestic Politics

So far, welfare state development has often been considered a phenomenon essentially driven by domestic factors. Authors have looked, for instance, at the strength of labour, Social-Democratic parties or the preferences of employer organisations to explain the development of welfare states across countries (Korpi 1983; Mares 2003; Swenson 2002). However, in many instances, welfare state development was shaped by factors beyond the nation-state. The question of immigration is one of the best empirical cases to grasp this international dimension. For instance, the movement of workers across borders has been a catalyst of policy harmonisation of social programmes across countries, spurring the emergence of minimum standards for countries to handle citizens of other states in the early 20th century (Moses 2009). Based on this, a dense network of agreements between countries emerged about the rights and obligations of sending and receiving countries in the area of social protection, with substantial effects on welfare programmes, dating back to the 1920s (Bohning 1991). More recently, the most important phenomenon challenging the boundaries of welfare has been European integration (Ferrera 2005): while rulings of the European Court of Justice have in some instances compelled states to give foreign workers equal access to welfare services (Caporaso & Tarrow 2009), many European countries have tightened eligibility rules after EU free movement was extended to new member states in Central and Eastern Europe (Heindlmaier & Blauberger 2017). Hence, external instruments of control of the labour supply have been replaced by internal instruments. The project goes beyond existing frameworks, looking at connections between policy fields but also between the national and the international level.

Organisation, Hypotheses and Methods

The project is composed of three connected subprojects (one for the PI and two PhD projects) connected by a common concern to understand the interactions between welfare states and immigration policy. Project 1 and 2 focus on the national level in two subsequent time periods, and project 3 takes welfare programmes as its unit of analysis in a broader set of countries.

Subproject 1 (Principal investigator): Social Protection and the Origins of Immigration Policies in Western Europe (1870-1945)

This project tracks the relationship between the origins of welfare states and the origins of immigration policies from the second half of the 19th century up to WWII, tracing patterns of inclusion and exclusion in two phases: the liberal world (1870-1914) and world wars and the interwar period (1914-1945). It assesses the hypothesis that the expansion of social rights granted to citizens led to an increase in the need to monitor and control access to these rights through restrictive eligibility rules and immigration control. Using “process tracing” (Beach & Pedersen 2013: 14) and a case selection strategy seeking to cover a broad variation in welfare regimes (Gerring 2007: 98), the project uses archival material and secondary literature to trace the coevolution of two major welfare programmes (old age pensions and unemployment) and immigration control in four European countries: Sweden (Social-Democratic), France, Germany (Bismarckian) and the United Kingdom (Liberal). The project assesses whether the timing of the introduction of immigration control can be explained by developments in social protection, looking at whether politicians used this rationale to justify the introduction of immigration restrictions.

Methods and data: In this subproject, the methods of comparative-historical analysis will be used (Mahoney & Thelen 2015). The project will focus on parliamentary debates (largely digitised and accessible online in all countries) to investigate major policy reforms, archival records and secondary literature in different languages. Archival resources will be accessed at the Archives Nationales in Paris, the Modern Records Centre at the University of Warwick, the National Archives in Kew, the Bundesarchiv in Berlin and the Riksarkivet in Stockholm. The project will also exploit the rich resources of the International Institute for Social History in Amsterdam. The PI is particularly suited to conduct this research: he has worked on sources in French, English and German (all fluent) and has a passive understanding of written Swedish.

Subproject 2 (PhD 1): Welfare State Regimes and Immigration Policies in Western Europe (1945-2016)

While the first project looks at the phase of institutionalisation of policies at the turn of the century and the two world wars, this second project looks at the phase of consolidation of welfare states and growth (1945-1973) and then at the phase of ‘permanent austerity’ that followed (1973-2016), focusing on the same two welfare programmes: old-age pensions and unemployment protection. Since welfare regimes became more differentiated along the paths outlined by Esping-Andersen’s ‘Worlds of Welfare’ (1990), this makes it possible to test more specific hypotheses about the relationship between the size and organisation of welfare states on the one hand and immigration policies and migrant eligibility rules on the other.

The main hypothesis to be tested is whether different welfare regimes (Liberal, Bismarckian or SocialDemocratic) have led to different levels of restrictiveness in labour immigration policy and different types of eligibility rules for labour migrants over time. Bismarckian welfare regimes entail a greater degree of segmentation in rights along occupational lines and benefits are determined by contributions (Emmenegger et al. 2012; Hemerijck 2013). As such, they may be able to ‘afford’ higher levels of immigration because the risk of freeriding – migrants benefitting from transfers without paying their share – is lower. Because the coverage and generosity of benefits differ across professions and sectors, immigrants in low-skill employment are less well covered, and welfare states may even “free-ride” on the social contributions of migrants (Boeri 2010: 655). Even if they vary greatly in generosity and patterns of redistribution, both Social-Democratic and Liberal systems entail universal coverage (Ferrera 1993). In these systems, policymakers may be more reluctant to adopt open immigration policies because social rights are more difficult to restrict. For instance, Swedish social democrats have consistently defended stricter immigration policies as a way to ‘defend’ the egalitarian Swedish model (Bucken-Knapp 2009; Hinnfors et al. 2011). In contrast, countries which established large-scale guest-worker programmes limiting the rights of migrants in Europe (Germany; France) were also Bismarckian.

Methods and data: The project will consist of a comparative case study analysis of the four countries outlined above (1945-now), combined with a large-N analysis of OECD countries mapping the relationship between the welfare state structures and immigration control using existing datasets (1980-now). This project will use three types of sources. For the earlier period, the project will use parliamentary debates, policy documents and archival material on major policy reforms. For the most recent period, a number of interviews (about 5-10 per country) will be conducted with policymakers. The project will track the development of welfare policies (old age pensions and unemployment) with the development of immigration policies, looking at whether arguments about welfare and the impact of immigration on welfare programmes are evoked by political actors. In the large-N analysis covering the period 1980-2015,[3] the project will use existing datasets to assess the relationship between welfare (spending and generosity index as measured by Allan and Scruggs’s (2004) Comparative Welfare Entitlements Dataset and immigration policy restrictiveness, as measured by a new dataset by Bjerre et al. (2014).

Subproject 3: (PhD 2): The Politics of Migrant Worker Eligibility in Welfare Programmes

While subproject 2 looks at national welfare regimes as a whole, the units of analysis of subproject 3 are welfare programmes. It extends the range of welfare programmes covered (pensions, unemployment, social assistance, health, disability) and of countries (all OECD countries) but in a smaller time period (1990-2017). The focus on schemes is justified because patterns of inclusion and exclusion of migrants in welfare states cannot only be expected to vary across countries, but also across social security schemes within the same country. The main objective of this project is to catalogue and explain the instruments limiting the eligibility of migrants for welfare programmes at a more granular level than existing analyses (e.g Sainsbury 2012). The project assesses whether these differences can be explained by different funding models, different distributions of risk, or party-political factors, such as the impact of radical-right parties (Tyrberg and Dahlstrom 2017). For this purpose, the project will construct a new dataset of eligibility rules for migrants within welfare programmes in OECD countries, which will be made available for further use.

Methods and data: Data will be gathered from government websites and legal documents, as well as an expert survey for information that is not readily available to construct an index of openness/closure. Data collection will be carried out by the PhD student with support from the research assistants. A number of interviews will be conducted in a smaller subsample of countries to capture the political dynamics underpinning restriction within the schemes. This data will be analysed using multilevel regression techniques to account for the multilevel structure of the data (countries, years and welfare programmes).


[1] To measure the restrictiveness of labour migration policy precisely, we will use the dimensions outlined by Peters (2015), comprising the following dimensions: selection by nationality; selection by skill level; existence of numeric quotas; extensiveness of active recruitment programmes; restrictions to specific sectors or occupations; work prohibitions; provisions for family reunification; provisions for deportation and strictness of enforcement.

[2] Eligibility restrictions can be residence requirements (e.g having resided in a country for a certain length of time); stay permit requirements (entitlement tied to legal status); vesting periods (minimum contribution period required for entitlement); citizenship requirements (benefits restricted to nationals) or limits on the exportability of benefits (e.g not being able to receive benefits abroad, or receiving a reduced amount).

[3] The smaller time range is due to constraints on data availability.


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