Who’s in?

Hiranthi Jayaweera

These days we are constantly told that as human beings we have certain rights that cannot be denied or questioned. But we are also told that people and groups need to be classified, separated, treated differently, and (perhaps because) we cannot afford the modern welfare support system. What effect does this have on different groups? In particular, what effect does it have on a group like migrants – a population whose access to various services can be controlled by various means (e.g. through limitations stipulated on an entry visa)? What are the repercussions of inclusion or exclusion when it comes to access to rights in areas such as health care, family life, education, and the work environment?

The Hilary term seminar series was convened by the COMPAS Welfare Cluster, and sought to address this complicated relationship between migrants and rights. The aim of the series  “Migrants and Welfare States: Inclusion or Exclusion” was to explore the relationship between the development of welfare states and the framework of entitlements and restrictions for migrants found in entry and settlement criteria, and the impact of these on welfare state inclusion or exclusion.  The series considered theoretical, policy and practical approaches to how this relationship impacts migrants in various places across Europe.

Because this issue affects all areas of life we took an inter-disciplinary approach, inviting internationally renowned scholars who are experts in the areas of social policy, law, and history. We also took an innovative step of inviting a panel of practitioners to the final seminar in the series, who spoke on their experiences of working with migrants in facilitating their access to a range of rights – in healthcare, education, employment, and legal representation.

Where do you find a migrant in a haystack of rights?

The concept of ‘civic stratification’ as described by Lydia Morris (University of Essex) in the first seminar is very useful to understand the way migrants are differentially placed in the system of rights – e.g. rights to

  • the welfare state
  • family life
  • residence
  • labour market
  • asylum

It is also important for understanding how migrant status cross-cuts with other stratification factors – e.g. country of origin, gender. For instance, the reasons that women migrate have implications for the kinds of rights they have.

The concept of civic stratification includes both formal entitlement to rights and an informal dimension encompassing the possession of material or moral resources that create gains or deficits (e.g. stigma attached to the idea of ‘bogus’ asylum seekers). It also includes the expansion or contraction of entitlement to rights, related to, for instance, issues around citizenship or challenges in law courts based on human rights.

The tension between national state level restrictions on entitlements to welfare rights and supra-national challenges to these based on human rights and anti-discrimination considerations, at EU level or in international standards, were focused on in several seminars, for instance by Virginie Guiraudon (French National Centre for Scientific Research), Aoife Nolan (Durham Law School), Sarah Van Walsum (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) and Thomas Huddleston (Migration Policy Group).

In the final lively panel session, it was interesting to see from the perspectives of the four practitioners – Fizza Qureshi, Ruthanna Barnett (Turpin & Miller), Bill Bolloten (Refugee Education), and Nick Clark (London Metropolitan University) – how these tensions, including at the local level, were played out on the ground.

A historical perspective was taken by Becky Taylor (Birkbeck, University of London) talking about the relationship of gypsies and travellers to the welfare state; and by Alison Shaw and Kaveri Qureshi (University of Oxford) on the re-construction of Pakistani family migrants by the state in immigration and welfare rulings. It provided considerable food for thought, to hear how welfare state arrangements reflect dominant conceptions of family and ‘culture’ for different ethnic groups – for instance, women migrants seen largely as economically dependent on men – and how these ideologies impact on migrants’ family life.

The podcasts from the seminars are being made available soon through the links for each seminar on the Compas seminar series webpage: http://www.compas.ox.ac.uk/events/seminar-series/

Once you’ve had a listen to the podcasts, feel free to comment or start a debate here on the blog, or on our COMPAS Facebook page. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Centre-on-Migration-Policy-and-Society-COMPAS/174297622628904

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