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Cecilie Gunilla Prindahl
Henning Møller Christensen
Ahmad Wesal Zaman
Tobias Lund Sørensen
Thea Grønnegaard Larsen
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Social Rights for Irregular Immigrants in the Universal Welfare
According to Freeman (1986), there is an inherent conflict between the welfare state and
migration. He argues that a welfare state – as the provider of political, civil and social rights
to all its residents – has to be a closed system with “...boundaries that distinguish those who
are members of a community from those who are not.” (Ibid.: 52). Joppke argues in this
regard, “[b]ecause rights are costly, they cannot be for everybody” (1999: 6). Hence the
boundaries of who belongs to society and who does not have to be clear. This seems to
place the welfare state in a conflictual relationship with international migration as
migrants have lesser rights than other citizens of their host societies. This conflict is
intensified when turning to irregular migration and the universal welfare state. Standing,
summing up the conflict, argues that “[t]he structure that leaves taxpayers feeling they are
paying the bills for poor migrants means tensions cannot be dismissed as racial prejudice.
They reflect abandonment of universalism and social solidarity.” (2014: 193).
This literature review evolves around the investigation of two main questions concerning
this conflict. First, it seeks to illuminate how the contemporary literature frame the welfare
and universal welfare state. Following this, attention will be given to how the existing
literature frame migration and irregular migration and the paradox that exists between
irregular immigrants and their access to social rights in the universal welfare state. This
latter inquiry will thereafter be investigated in the mini-project by analysing irregular
migrants and their possibility for access to the healthcare system, which is a key social
right in a universal welfare state.
1 The Welfare State
The national welfare state
“Despite recent challenges posed by globalization and transnationalism, the nation-state
continues to exert a high degree of control over global population mobility.” (Waters 2009:
301). Sovereignty is of key importance and points to control over movement to and within
territory which constitutes the essence of immigration policy (Joppke 1999). Consequently,
the majority of states have an immigration policy and nation-state's immigration and
economic policies are interlinked. (Waters 2009). If social redistribution is high,
immigration policy, accordingly, must be tight - serving as a means to limit outsiders’
access to costly social rights. Hence, citizenship becomes another key element of the
nation-state, and according to Joppke, it “...refers to the modern state not as a territorial
organization, but as a membership association.” (1999: 5). This ‘membership association’ or maybe rather, welfare state - provides equal rights and obligations on all members
(ibid.: 6).
According to Marshall (1950) citizenship, following a long historical development, consists
of three main elements – namely, civil, political and social elements. Each has certain kinds
of rights related to it. The civil element of citizenship, for instance, consists of rights
necessary for personal freedom, whereas the political element consists of rights related to
issues of participation. The social element of citizenship consists of rights to a minimum
level of economic welfare and social security, with the aim of reducing social inequality and
class divisions in society. Institutions closest connected to this social element are
educational and healthcare institutions, as well as other social services (Marshall 1950).
Furthermore, according to Holmwood (2000), Marshall sees the national welfare state as
the embodiment of social rights and as the product of democratisation, and thus contrasts
the view of the neoliberal. The recent debates concerning the national welfare state are
dominated by the “...neoliberal view of market exchange relationships as a system of
economic freedom against what state-provided services are seen as bureaucratic and
2 negative character.” (ibid.: 25). Polanyi's argument is, according to Holmwood, that the
fundamental problem with the neoliberal view of the market being self-regulating is that it
is anti-society. Therefore, “...the anti-social nature of the self-regulating market economy
gives rise to the self-protection of society.” (Holmwood 2000: 33). This self-protection of
society is what is also known as the welfare state. Even though Polanyi does not use the
term ‘social rights’, his research looks at the process and the democratisation together with
of the ‘self-protection’ of society under it and thereby seem similar to the work of Marshall.
Esping-Andersen (1990) classifies post-industrial nations into three categories - namely,
the ‘liberal’, the ‘corporatist’, and the ‘social democratic’ worlds. The first world described
is the ‘liberal world’. Within this world, social reforms are limited by liberal work-ethic
norms understood as the limits of welfare. This equals the marginal propensity to opt for
welfare instead of work. The entitlement rules are often strict, and the clientele consists
mainly of the working-class, and low-income households. In this model, the most
predominant methods of redistribution is modest universal transfers, modest social
insurance, or means-tested assistance. Furthermore, the state encourages the market by
either guaranteeing only a minimum or by subsidising private welfare schemes.
(Esping-Andersen 1990). The consequences of this model are that it minimises
decommodification-effects, and “…erects an order of stratification that is a blend of relative
equality of poverty among state-welfare recipients, market-differentiated welfare among
the majority, and a class-political dualism between the two.” (Esping-Andersen 1990: 27).
The second world is the ‘corporatist world’. In this world, the granting of social rights was
never contested such as it was in the liberal regime, as there is no obsession with market
efficiency and commodification. The corporatist regime is constructed on conservative
ideas and the granting of rights are therefore often centered on class and status. This
means that there is a bigger focus on social insurance rather than social assistance.
Furthermore, the corporatist regimes are usually shaped by the church and is committed to
3 the preservation of the traditional family. Hence, the state will only interfere when the
family is no longer able to accommodate its members (Esping-Andersen 1990).
The third and last type of regime is the ‘social democratic world’. In this type of regime the
principles of universalism and decommodification of social rights were extended to the
middle-class. “The social democrats pursued a welfare state that would promote an
equality of the highest standards, not an equality of minimum needs as was pursued
elsewhere.” (Esping-Andersen 1990: 28). The driving force behind social change in this
world was social democracy. In this regime, benefits are connected to citizenship and all
citizens share a universal welfare insurance. Furthermore, there exists a ‘fusion’ of work
and welfare. The state has to be committed to, and depending on full employment. As there
is a huge expense in maintaining a universal and decommodified welfare regime, the state
has to minimize the expenses, and maximize income. This is usually done by ensuring that
as few as possible live of social benefits, and the country is as close to full employment as
possible (Esping-Andersen 1990).
Engelen uses this categorisation to demonstrate how differently these systems tackle the
question of immigration. He argues that states will only focus on “ horn of the
‘trilemma’ of unemployment, equality and balanced budgets at the expense of the other
two…”(Engelen 2005: 314). The focus of the state, he argues, will be determined by the
type of welfare regime. This leads to the conclusion that “…the basic policy choice appears
to be between high immigration and high inequality on the one hand, and low or limited
immigration and a high level of equality on the other, raising the intriguing question: what
would a combination of the best of both worlds look like?” (ibid.: 320).
Universal welfare state
First, the universal welfare state is created by social democratic governments in the
Scandinavian countries in order to have equal treatment of the citizens (Esping-Andersen
& Korpi 1986). The goal was to have social policies that did not only generated poor relief,
4 but provided social rights to their citizens and where “...rights to a normal living standard
are divorced from market criteria.” (ibid: 53). It entailed a decommodification of labour,
and institualisation of social rights in order to have a society based on solidarity with
means of equal rights to all citizens (Esping-Andersen & Korpi 1986).
The universal welfare state therefore differs from the Anglo-Saxon and the liberal welfare
state, as the benefits and social services are available for all citizens with no regard to age
and workability (Rothstein 1998). Furthermore, as healthcare has been institutionalised in
the universal welfare state, it creates a mutual dependency between the citizens and the
society (Esping-Andersen & Korpi 1986). This can therefore lead to a conflictual
relationship between the universal welfare state and irregular immigrants as they are
non-citizens (Standing 2014).
As argued above, sovereignty and citizenship are two key elements of the nation-state, both
of which are put under pressure by vast immigration. Thus, migration and the welfare state
is closely interlinked and interdependent.
Aspects of Migration
Migration is a complex concept and an experience not easily captured in a simple
definition. As Standing argues, “[t]he term ‘migrant’ comes with historical baggage and
covers a multitude of types of experience and behaviour.“ (2014: 153). For instance, he
argues, approximately one third of all modern migrants have moved from a poor to a rich
country, another third from a rich to another rich, whereas the remaining third have moved
from one poor country to another (Standing 2014: 155). “Migration is therefore a diverse
and challenging topic. For individuals and families, it concerns everyday aspects of their
lives, while migrant groups can challenge and influence the cultural and political
underpinnings of communities and nations.” (Boyle 2009: 96).
5 The international debate concerning migrants regularly deals with the un-nuanced division
of open borders against protected societies. Some people perceive migration as a threat to
their culture and way of life, and therefore want to close the national borders in order to
protect their values, whereas others see such measures as a hindering for trade and global
economic growth. (Engelen 2005). However, reality is rarely so black and white. Engelen
further argues that the “[p]roponents of closure often lose sight of the reality that closing
borders is more likely to increase irregular migration, including human trafficking...”
(ibid.:313). Proponents of openness, on the other hand, “...tend to downplay the challenges
that market-led labour migration regimes pose for the sustainability of contemporary
welfare states.” (ibid.: 313).
As stated by Ghosh (2005), if approaching the issue of migration from the perspective of
classical and neoclassical theories of economic migration, it seems to benefit everybody
directly involved. According to the theories, receiving immigrants will bring a country
closer to full utilisation of productivity leading to economic growth. The country ‘sending’
migrants can reduce unemployment and boost economic growth in that sense. The
migrants can benefit from higher wages as they move to a resourceful country. These
theories only work under the assumption that the receiving country is in shortage of labour
and the sending in abundance. As these balances out, migration will cease (ibid.). However,
as Ghosh also points out, these theories only work under a specific set of assumptions. For
example, it fails to take into account the shock effect a huge influx of people can have on a
welfare system as it is designed for a specific capacity while not being very flexible. In
addition it fails to take into consideration the implications it can have when cultural and
religious backgrounds differ substantially from the local people (ibid.). Furthermore, this is
very hard to generalise across different points in time as the demography (age, education,
family status, cultural background, etc.) will vary from each wave of migration. The
implication of this is that the level of use of welfare services and strain on the capacity of
the system will be different (ibid.).
6 Freeman (1986), who has a rather negative view of immigration’s effects the welfare state,
however also argues that not all kinds of migration are in conflict with the welfare state. He
argues that as long as it is a limited period of migration, the fiscal circumstances of the
welfare state programs will firstly be minimally damaged and secondly, probably be
sufficiently improved. However, he argues, family immigration and family reunification are
‘kinds’ of migration that “...changes the financial picture of the welfare state in significant
ways. By reducing the differences between migrants and nationals, family immigration
tends to eliminate the fiscal bonuses that temporary migration brought with it.” (Ibid.: 60).
The nature of the welfare state as a closed system places it, according to Freeman (1986)
and Joppke (1999), in a position of conflict in regards to migration. Both argue that the
inequality or difference between states is what fuels and motivates migration. “The
migration of labor is a threat to the welfare state, but the very existence of inequality of
benefits between states stimulates migration.” (Freeman 1986: 55). Not merely is the
better wages in the country of migration a pull factor, but also the social wages (rights and
benefits) are factors fueling migration.
However, as Joppke (1999: 6) points out, many immigrants does not gain full citizenship,
which leaves them in a vulnerable - or, to use the terminology of Standing (2014),
precarious - position in society. Waters argue that “[t]he relationship between immigrants
and the nationstate is partly mediated through citizenship.” (2009 : 304). However, “...much
of today’s migration is not assimilation to new citizenship but more of a ​
process.” (Standing 2014: 164). By this, Standing refers to the fact that migrants to a
varying extent are being deprived of different right belonging to the status of citizenship
(ibid.). Non-citizens deprived of formal access to social rights will be the object of the
project which follows.
7 Irregular Migration
The literature on irregular migration is divided into two main parts, one deals with the
comprehensive analysis of irregular migration. It discusses the historical, sociological and
economic aspects of irregular migration that includes field works, data collection, and
empirical based analysis. The other part, takes the methodological, theoretical, conceptual
development and empirical knowledge production into focus (Jørgensen & Thomsen 2012).
The latter argues that the study of irregular migration has been highly politicised and is one
of the most political and controversial issues in western governments (ibid.; Waters 2009).
Therefore, the consequences of the politicisation of the methodological aspects have been
the production of biased numbers and data on irregular migration. Furthermore, at times
even deliberate expulsion of the subject for specific principles and convictions has
happened. For instance, in Denmark there has been less interest in understanding the
numbers and nature of the phenomenon, but more focus has been given on illegal border
crossing and human smuggling (Jørgensen & Thomsen 2012; Jørgensen & Meret 2012).
However, both typologies of literature provide a relatively comprehensive definition of
irregular migration, which will be described below.
Düvell argues that “...migration became irregular only by the introduction of protectionist
immigration policies, according restrictions, and the criminalisation of unwanted
migrants.” (2011: 81). He, therefore, understands irregular migration as a product of
economic and political conditions. Waters (2009) refers to a ‘hidden’ economy targeting
irregular migrants and Standing (2014) refers to a ‘shadow’ economy that they - the
irregular migrants - live in. The shadow/hidden economy has not only been understood as
a pull factor for irregular migrants, but also as the dehumanising system that is blamed for
much of the depraved conditions of them.
Standing further argues that irregular migrants “...have civil rights as human beings but
lack economic, social or political rights.” (2014: 161). Besides lacking economic, social or
political rights, irregular migrants face another problem - namely, being blamed inter alia
8 for social ills in society, crimes, unemployment, pressure on welfare state and terrorism
(Standing 2014; Waters 2009). ​
A blaming that evolve from the dynamics of an
understanding of society and/or social benefits as something 'us' pays for 'them.
The paradox
The conflictual relationship between welfare state and international migration
Freeman’s main concern with the welfare state/migration nexus is that too much diversity
in society endangers the main objectives of the welfare state. “When the welfare state is
seen as something for ‘them’ paid for by ‘us,’ its days as a consensual solution to societal
problems are numbered.” (1986: 62). Investigating the consequences of understanding
society as something consisting of ‘them’ and ‘us’, Alesina & Glaeser (2004) argue, that
racial or ethnical heterogeneity (together with political institutions) negatively influences
social spending. In other words, an understanding of society consisting of ‘us’ and ‘them’
along racial/ethnic lines negatively impacts the level of social redistribution in a society.
Consequently, as migration increases racial/ethnic heterogeneity in society it provides an
incentive for ​
less ​
redistribution and social spending.
Putnam (2007) argues in a similar vein - migration creates diversity in society and thus less
social cohesion. However, whereas Alesina & Glaeser (2004) pointed out that racial
heterogeneity negatively affects the solidarity between racial/ethnic groups in society,
Putnam argues that diversity has even greater societal consequences. “[P]eople living in
ethnically diverse settings appear to ‘hunker down’ – that is, to pull in like a turtle.”
(Putnam 2007: 149). In the short to medium run, Putnam thus argues that “...immigration
and ethnic diversity challenge social solidarity and inhibit social capital.” (ibid.: 138).
According to these arguments, immigration and the welfare state is in a conflictual
relationship - immigration might even be seen as a threat to the very existence of the
welfare state. Brochmann & Hagelund (2011, 2012), however, point out that other
9 interpretations of the welfare state/migration nexus exists. Crepaz (2008), for instance,
approaches the nexus with an institutional approach and while accepting the conflict he
also points to solutions. Summing up his argument, Brochmann & Hagelund argues that
“...institutions can shape the success of integration, indicating that it is up to the welfare
stately design to encumber vicious effects of immigration-induced diversity.” (2011: 14).
Alesina & Glaeser also paying attention to the institutions for a solution, further argue that
political messages and will also can lessen (or increase) the hatred between societal groups
and thus affect the will to accept (or reject) social redistribution (2004). Despite Putnam’s
bleak predictions above in regards to the welfare state and immigration, he also sees a
possible solution - namely, a reconstruction of ‘us’. “[N]ot by making ‘them’ like ‘us’, but
rather by creating a new, more capacious sense of ‘we’, a reconstruction of diversity that
does not bleach out ethnic specificities, but creates overarching identities that ensure that
those specificities do not trigger the allergic, ‘hunker down’ reaction.” (Putnam 2007:
The literature reviewed above thus provides different approaches to intensify or reduce
the inherent conflict between immigration and the welfare state. These three approaches namely, institutions, political will/discourse, and identity - provides key components for
understanding and analysing the conflictual relationship.
Irregular migrants in a universal welfare state
The contradiction exists between the residents’ social rights and free access to social
welfare benefits and services, on the one hand, and undocumented residents lack of access
to these, on the other. Moreover, due to their status as ‘illegal’ this group of migrants are
furthermore restricted in their access to important social benefits, such as for instance
healthcare, which is needed in order to improve equity in health (Wahlberg et al. 2014: 7).
Access to the healthcare system for all residents in a country (documented or not) is
restricted by a combination of ‘formal’ (e.g. rights, health policies) and ‘informal’ (e.g. fear
of authorities, lacking information, etc.) barriers (Hansen 2005). However, for
10 undocumented migrants the combination of restricted rights, lack of information (about
rights) and fear of authorities prove a severe restriction, and they are consequently
deprived of access to a vital social service. Wahlberg and her colleges argue that “illegal
ambiguities regarding health care provision must be addressed if equity in health is to be
achieved in a country otherwise known for its universal health coverage.” (Wahlberg et al.
2014: 1).
A recent Swedish study of death causes among undocumented immigrants in Sweden
shows that the status as ‘illegal’ has severe consequences for the health of people in this
group (Wahlberg et al. 2014). The findings of the study point out that the life as irregular
immigrant has severe negative impacts on life quality and implies severe insecurities. “As
living and working conditions are linked to aspects of life-quality, such as health, these
factors could be possible explanations for the high number of external causes, including
suicides, accidents, and assault, among undocumented migrants in Sweden.” (ibid.: 7). The
study consequently found there to be “...inequity in health as substantial differences in
causes of death between undocumented migrants and residents were seen.” (ibid.: 1).
Conclusion As it is argued above, different types of welfare regimes deliver social rights in different
ways. Of all the rights managed by the state, social rights are different in the sense that they
are redistributive. This creates a divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’, as rights cannot be for
everyone. Furthermore, in the universal welfare regime, inclusion depends on citizenship
rather than participation in work. This means that being an irregular immigrant - and
thereby a non-citizen, when in a nation with a universal welfare regime - places the
irregular immigrant in a very disadvantaged situation compared to a citizen in the welfare
state.The literature has argued, as follows, that there exists a conflicting relationship
between economic migrants and the welfare state. The welfare state is, on the one hand,
constrained by its capacity, which comes under stress, when there is a large influx of
11 immigrants. On the other hand, post-industrialised nation-states are also economic
dependent on migrants.
Following this literature review will be an investigation into the consequences of the
formal and informal barriers that lies within the Danish welfare regime. Furthermore, we
intend to explore alternative solutions for this conflict in the project. 12