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Gregory Feldman studies how European Union policy makers are handling the hot-button issue of migrant workers - photo by Martin Dee
Gregory Feldman studies how European Union policy makers are handling the hot-button issue of migrant workers - photo by Martin Dee

UBC Reports | Vol. 52 | No. 11 | Nov. 2, 2006

Conflicted On Immigration: Europe

By Lorraine Chan

If the world’s migrants were to gather in one place, they would form the fifth largest nation on earth.

“One in 35 people is an international migrant,” says anthropologist Gregory Feldman, a UBC research associate who teaches in the departments of Geography and Anthropology.

Feldman’s study, Plans for the ‘others’: Harmonizing migration management in Europe, will probe the contradictory forces of demographics and politics. Supported by the Social Services and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), his research will be completed by 2009.

Feldman is particularly interested in how this phenomenon will play out in Europe, where immigration is an obvious solution to an aging and shrinking population. However, this draws fire from European neo-nationalist parties — a strong presence since the 1980s — which protest immigration and multiculturalism policies and are pushing governments to frame immigration as a national security issue.

“Europe’s current population of about 800 million will have dropped by 96 million between 2000 and 2050,” says Feldman, adding that migrant labourers already make up five to 10 per cent of the European Union’s population.

These immigrant workers come from throughout the world — Africa, the Middle East, India and Asia — especially if the sending country is a former European colony. In some cases, East and Central European citizens account for much of EU’s migration flow. Last year, for example, Britain received more than 130,000 new immigrants and almost 60 per cent — 73,000 — were Polish.

“This study seeks to understand the tacit assumptions about culture, security, and national identity that constrain migration policy discussions,” says Feldman. “I’m hoping these can be reworked to open up policy debates to a wider range of views.”

Last month in Lisbon, Feldman had a chance to gauge policy views when he attended the 11th International Metropolis Conference, a global research forum on migration policies that drew more than 900 researchers, activists and public officials.

“The current mood indicates that EU members want to get labour into the country, and also get labour out when they don’t need it,” says Feldman.

“The direction that a lot of EU officials want to go is to facilitate circular migration,” he says, “which would make it easy for non-EU migrants to temporarily work in certain sectors of the economy, then leave, but have a clear option to return for work again.”

He reports the top concern for the European Union (EU) is security, given the relaxed internal borders of its 25 member states.

“The EU is trying to slam 25 separate migration policies into one mega policy. It’s really important in terms of global governance how they’re going to deal with these tensions.”

Current proposals call for measures such as tighter surveillance and biometric data on travel documents and passports that will in effect make all immigrants and EU citizens “transparent” once they’re in the system, says Feldman.

He says the moderate position among EU officials is to link immigration policy with humane foreign aid, thus fostering greater stability and economic development within the sending countries. “There would be a commitment to helping with local conflict resolution, for example.”

A strategy that also makes a great deal of sense, says Feldman, is helping newcomers integrate into mainstream European society.

“That would translate into less restrictive laws for gaining permanent residency and citizenship; financial assistance to take courses in the state language; recognition of professional credentials obtained overseas; assistance in navigating state bureaucracies; and schools with programs that gives special assistance to immigrant needs.”

Feldman convenes UBC’s Inter-Faculty Initiative on Migration Studies which seeks to better institutionalize migration studies at the University. UBC has more than 40 faculty and 80 graduate students working on migration issues, a number comparable to the size of migration studies institutes elsewhere in the world.

SSHRC is Canada’s federal arms-length funding agency that promotes and supports university-based research and training in the social sciences and humanities.

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Last reviewed 03-Nov-2006

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