Welfare States and Immigrant Rights: The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion

November 22, 2012

Welfare States and Immigrant Rights offers an original analysis of the impact of welfare states on immigrants’ social rights, economic situations and levels of inclusion. In what is the first comparison of its kind across welfare-state nations, Diane Sainsbury traces immigrants’ social rights throughout the post-war period in six countries: Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, the UK and the US. Based on the thesis that immigrants’ social rights are directly influenced by the type of welfare state in which they live, this is a welcome, innovative addition to the literature. Through an examination of welfare states and the politics and policies involved, it exposes the extent to which such regimes include or exclude immigrants, traces changes in immigrants’ social rights and draws comparisons between their rights and those of native citizens. At a time when immigration and integration are high on the West’s political agenda, the findings are timely and certainly have the potential to affect future policy.

The conclusions reached are numerous. For example, in all six countries, immigrants are disadvantaged compared with citizens in regard to employment opportunities, standards of living and access to benefits. Overall, there is a clear correlation between immigrant status and a greater risk of poverty regardless of welfare-state type, and immigrant status often equates to suffering disadvantage in social rights. Furthermore, immigrants’ social rights have been directly influenced by central governments and courts, mainstream political parties have played the immigration card in an attempt to attract voters, and immigrants themselves have become increasingly engaged with the political process.

Yet despite these similarities, there are also marked differences between the six countries. For example, immigrants in the US and the UK, two liberal regimes, suffer higher levels of poverty than those in the social democratic nations of Sweden and Denmark and the conservative corporatist countries Germany and France. Levels of social rights are also influenced by degrees of geographical concentration, be it the dispersion found in Germany or the Danish areas of residential concentration. The French situation has often been marked by social exclusion and political appeals to national solidarity, and the extension of immigrant rights in Denmark has frequently been impeded by their being viewed as temporary foreign workers. In contrast, immigrants in Sweden have largely been seen as potential settlers and a great degree of importance has been placed on integration and mutual tolerance.

While these case studies offer a detailed insight into immigrants’ rights in a variety of welfare-state types and frameworks, Sainsbury’s greatest achievement is the highlighting of the need to approach the debate on immigration and welfare states from a perspective rather different from what has so far been the norm. She makes a convincing case for paying further attention to the impact of welfare states’ policies on immigrants’ social rights, rather than the reverse, and persuasively argues that the social inclusion of immigrants and their families should be seen as a challenge, rather than a threat. By revealing the manner in which immigrants’ social rights are directly affected by welfare-regime type and the extent of their disadvantage compared with native citizens, Sainsbury offers a comprehensive account of a key aspect of a highly contentious and topical issue.

This book is a reminder of the importance of immigrants’ political, economic and social integration. Drawing on both welfare-state and international-migration literature, this is an essential read for scholars with an interest in political science and migration studies.

Welfare States and Immigrant Rights: The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion

By Diane Sainsbury
Oxford University Press
352pp, £60.00 and £22.50
ISBN 9780199654772 and 54789
Published 30 August 2012

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