Research projects provide hard data to support common immigration policy

March 10, 2006

Brussels, 09 Mar 2006

Fewer subjects are currently debated more at national level within Europe than immigration. The subject has been on governments' agendas for decades, but issues such as increased mobility and EU enlargement have seen even more time devoted to the topic by politicians, the media, and citizens alike.

With all members of the EU sharing common borders, policy makers have decided that it makes sense to have a common immigration policy for the EU, but with legislation and provisions differing markedly between EU Member States, drawing up a common immigration policy is no simple matter.

A number of EU funded research projects are addressing the issues of migration and nationality under the Commission's Sixth Framework Programme (FP6). The projects are meeting a definite need. 'We thought we needed scientific support when discussing [immigration] policy, and therefore asked for research,' said Jordi Garcia Martinez from the Commission's Justice, Liberty and Security DG at a presentation of two such projects on 8 March.

The two projects presented - THESIM (Towards harmonised European statistics on international migration) and NATAC (The acquisition of nationality in the EU Member States: rules, practices and quantitative developments) are both groundbreaking. THESIM represents a step towards the collection of comparable and reliable data on immigration in all 25 EU Member States. The project brought together national statistics offices and ministries which had previously had little contact with one another. The NATAC project was the first attempt to compare nationality laws and their implementation in the EU15. The research led to the recommendation that, while the EU has no legal competence in matters of nationality, it should initiate a process of open coordination in order to promote a minimum set of standards and good practices in citizenship and nationality law.

'The main problem is that a border exists. If we don't have a border, we don't have the problem of crossing it,' said Michel Poulain, coordinator of the THESIM project, opening his presentation. He noted how the 'problem' of immigration has moved step-by-step from national to European level, but that no data has become available to support the development of policy at European level. This is where statistics play a vital role. 'Policy support is the first aim of statistics,' he said. 'We are not working in an ivory tower. In fact it is the complete opposite,' he added.

In the past, statistics on immigration have either been not available, not reliable, or not comparable, said Professor Poulain. The provision of data within the EU has been based on a gentlemen's agreement, which meant that it was not always provided, and little effort went into making data comparable, he said. This had the result that the data were so poor that they could not be used for any analysis.

For example, said Professor Poulain, the data from two countries recording immigration from one to the other were likely to be very different. Immigration is the one area where Professor Poulain has seen statisticians all over Europe admit that they have bad data, he said.

MEP Ewa Klamt, rapporteur for 'an EU approach to economic migration' within the European Parliament, attended the presentations and made a point of highlighting that she too had noted the absence of statistics in this field. On becoming an MEP in 1999, her first report was on immigration, and she was amazed to discover that there were no statistics to work with. Upon investigating further herself, she discovered that in her home country, Germany, alone, she was given different statistics by different political parties.

The THESIN consortium, comprising seven teams from around Europe, addressed the problem by visiting each of the 25 EU Member States and organising a meeting in each to which national statisticians and ministry representatives were invited. For some of the countries, this involved bringing together people who had never met before. 'The only way to solve the problem was to bring these people together,' explained Professor Poulain.

Despite having achieved so much, Professor Poulain concedes that 'There will still be a problem.' Collecting data takes a great deal of time, and policy makers want the information quickly. 'They want to know about the situation today, not three years ago.' It is this time delay that explains why data is not used by some policy makers, and why ministries try to collate their own data, duplicating the work of national statistics offices.

Professor Poulain and his colleagues made a special effort to ensure the swift publication of the results of the THESIM project as they knew that the issue of immigration is being currently discussed at EU level. 'If we had published in six months it would have gone straight to the library,' he said.

While the THESIM project focused primarily on establishing where immigrants are and what they are doing, the NATAC project looked more at the situations and challenges that immigrants face, particularly in terms of acquiring the nationality of their country of residence.

Here too there has been a great deal of change in the last ten years, with most changes making the nationality acquisition process more restrictive. A number of countries have introduced tests or other requirements that immigrants must meet in order to be naturalised. Once again, every EU Member State has its own regulations and practices.

Even countries that are approaching immigration and nationality from the same angle have implemented their policies differently. For example, both the UK and the Netherlands require their immigrants to pass a test before they can have citizenship. But while the UK runs courses to prepare immigrants for the test, and also publishes a booklet on its content, the Netherlands does not. The justification for this lack of information is that you cannot study to be Dutch.

While harmonisation is a long way off, countries are starting to discuss these issues more with one another, said project coordinator Professor Rainer Bauböck. More discussion is often the result of the realisation that policies in one country are affecting another. Professor Bauböck noted the example of a Chinese woman who went to Ireland to give birth and thus gained EU citizenship not only for her child, but for herself as its primary carer. He also referred to an attempt by Germany to prohibit its citizens having dual nationality. This led to Turkey introducing a new 'pink card' that enabled Turkish-born Germans to reacquire their Turkish nationality once they had become officially German, and thus undermining German policy.

'I would like to see an open method of coordination, where Member States can look over each others' shoulders and learn from good practice,' said Professor Bauböck.

Isabelle Chopin from the Migration Policy Group, one of the participants in the NATAC project, presented some of their findings in the form of recommendations. Both immigrants and administrators would benefit from better communication all the way through the citizenship application procedure, better training for administrators, more consistency on the documentation required for the process, simplification of the procedure, a compulsory justification of any rejections and a dual nationality code.

One question that neither statistics nor nationality acquisition can answer is to what extent immigrants are integrated. Ms Chopin said that non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are currently debating whether nationality has an impact on integration, and many believe that it does not. However, if an immigrant knows that he or she is able to initiate the procedure for acquiring nationality, he or she is likely to be more integrated, initial findings suggest.

Professor Poulain claimed that in order to measure integration, a typology is needed. This does not yet exist at either EU or UN level, although some countries are starting to produce a typology, he said.

Director of the Commission's Social Sciences and Humanities Directorate, Dius Lennon, was so impressed with the results of the two projects that he pledged to 'reflect on how we can further disseminate the work that has been done. It is important that it goes beyond Brussels,' he said. He also invited all present to participate in a consultation on the detailed research agenda for the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), which will open soon.

Professor Poulain concluded his presentation by saying that working with the Commission was 'the first time I have felt that we were really involved in policy support. I've had a long career, but it was the first time that I felt that. Stopping now would be without sense.'

CORDIS RTD-NEWS/© European Communities, 2005
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