Irregular Migration. A Challenge to the Nation State?

Term Paper, 2016

12 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theoretical Concepts and Definitions
2.1. Migration - Concept and Causes
2.2. Irregular Migration
2.3. Irregular Migration in the Liberal Nation State
2.4. Possible Challenges

3. Irregular Migration in Context

4. Conclusion

Publication bibliography

1. Introduction

With a lingering global refugee crisis that has shaken the western hemisphere the topic of immigration, refuge and how to deal with the challenges accompanying it have been running up and down the news cycle for quite a while now (see Berry et al. 2016; Holmes, Castaneda 2016)1. While migration and seeking asylum as a refugee are two different cases, this development has certainly made it clear to many a people that while the globalization and liberalization of trade have reached an all-time high, the globalization of the movement of people might go along a similar course. Although the desire to regulate migration and the flow of people seems to be almost unanimously accepted as a prerogative of nations, this desire could be faced with a new modus operando where it becomes almost impossible to control – especially from the point of view of democracies adhering to liberal principles (Castles 2000, pp. 269–271). The question this essay tries to answer is ‘Does irregular migration pose a challenge to the nation-state?’. To answer this question this text will first give a brief overview of the definitions, causes and mechanisms of (im-)migration to better understand the concept of irregular immigration that is at the heart of this analysis. It will then, focusing mainly on a EU perspective, present the concept of irregular immigration and the nation state to then lay out the challenges irregular migration may pose to the nation state. Finally, using a short qualitative analysis it will then be shown which challenges are credible to arise from irregular immigration.

2. Theoretical Concepts and Definitions

2.1. Migration - Concept and Causes

The process of migration, defined by The Oxford Dictionaries online (2016) as “Movement of people to a new area or country in order to find work or better living” is by no means a new concept. In its general meaning of movement of people to a new area this practice has been commonplace among humanity over the course of history and groups of people have been traveling large distances to inhabit new places for a substantial amount of time. The concept, as we look at it today, requires a wider terminology and a broader concept as the conditions of movement in the world have changed significantly. With the inception of the concept of a nation state with a fixed territory and consequently borders that surround it, the question of people leaving their country of birth and moving to a new home country – crossing administrative or political boundaries – entails a host of new aspects that need to be considered when observing and explaining migration. Furthermore, an enormous development in the means of travel and information technology has led to a steep increase in the availability of migration opportunities or to put it differently, “The shrinking relevance of space and time increasingly lends itself to greater mobility across frontiers [...]“ (Moses 2005, p. 54). In addition to this general understanding of migration the terms of emigration – leaving a country – and immigration – entering a new country – are the ways in which migration occurs, to which a division of the world into nation states is a prerequisite. While the concept of migration itself is a rather established area the causes for migration are subject to a wide range of research and with ever changing external conditions, a large number of countries of destination and origin and a sheer endless amount of variables to consider, a host of possible explanations exists in literature (Joppke 1998a, pp. 1–3; Koser 2009, 188 f.).

The question of why people migrate from one country to another is certainly one of the more core subjects of migration research (Marban 2004). Theories for the causes of migration range from purely economic considerations like the push-pull model – where push factors are coercing or forcing people to leave their current country or pull factors that act as an attraction for people to move to a different country – or a simple cost-benefit calculation (see Zimmermann 1996; Schoorl et al. 2000; Moses 2005; Dorigo, Tobler 2010) to other theories that try to widen the scope beyond econometric perspectives and rely on concepts of social and political science for explaining migration, like institutional settings, international relations or collective action. Although purely economic perspectives might not always deliver the most convincing or complete picture, improving one’s situation through migration to or gaining access to a more favorable labor market is a prevalent cause for migration, even if not the only one. It will thus be at the center of this analysis. (Castles 2000, pp. 271–273; Cole 2000, p. 28; Carling 2002; Marban 2004, pp. 100–101; Boswell 2007; Kahanec, Zimmermann 2008, pp. 2–3; Bommes, Sciortino 2011, pp. 11–13).

2.2. Irregular Migration

While migration is an established part of today’s states, their laws and societies a distinction must be made between regular migration that is happening according to the laws set out by aforementioned states and that which in one way or another occurs outside of those boundaries. While most migration happens in the confines of the laws applicable a “small minority, however, does not conform to the law and migrates, settles or works in deviation from the rules […]” (Düvell 2011, p. 276). These could, thus, be called irregular migrants. According to Düvell (2011) the culprit for irregular migration could either be the state or the migrant. The state on the one hand is the actor setting out the rules that determine which kind of migration is regular or irregular. Migration that once used to be regular only became irregular through laws rendering previously acceptable immigration illegal. Immigrants on the other hand are the actors that make the decision to act against the laws of the state by deciding the manner with which they enter the territory and at what time they do it – with exception of those who are moved across borders against their will by being victims of human trafficking. The causes for the individual migrant becoming irregular can for example be “[…] migrants who are born into irregularity and the partners of irregular migrants, asylum seekers who have had their cases rejected, visa over-stayers (student, holiday and work) as well as those who enter clandestinely […]” (Bloch, Chimienti 2011, p. 1273). Bloch’s and Chimienti’s (2011) observation highlights the multitude of causes of irregularity in migration and that while some people end up in a state of irregularity due to administrative hurdles or ignorance, others deliberately choose to. But in order to understand irregular migration, the role of nation states as actors defining the rules of migration and establishing mechanisms to assert control over wanted and unwanted migration, cannot be underestimated. (Koser 2005, pp. 3–4; Bloch, Chimienti 2011, pp. 1274–1276; Bommes, Sciortino 2011, pp. 68–69; Düvell 2011, pp. 275–276; Triandafyllidou 2016, pp. 2–4).

2.3. Irregular Migration in the Liberal Nation State

With states playing a central role in shaping migration, as was mentioned above, one has to understand the determinants of states’ behavior in dealing with issues of immigration. When dealing with liberal democratic states – as is the case in this essay focusing on a EU perspective on immigration – the questions cannot only be limited to matters of sovereignty and economic aspects, but need to further consider the implications of liberalism for migration policies. In this analysis, three aspects will be considered when looking at the role of liberal states in controlling irregular migration. Namely internal aspects of the nation state affected by irregular immigration, the liberal paradox and the social structures irregular immigrants build. It will then look the possible challenges states might face from irregular migration while keeping in mind the tension between an ever more globalized world on the one hand and nation states on the other. In any case it should always be kept in mind that many factors lie outside the reach of state control, like the increasing inequality divide between north and south or conflicts in other regions of the world (Koser 2005, p. 15).

First, it needs to be established which internal aspects of the state need to be considered with regards to irregular immigration. For modern nation states the matters they decide over rely on the concept of sovereignty – meaning that in an international system they have the power to decide over domestic matters without influence of external authorities. Here four areas of state affairs will be discussed, namely security, the labor market, the welfare state and sovereignty itself. Security in a state depends on a wide range of factors, but with regards to immigration one aspect is the ability to have control over who enters the state’s territory and who resides in it (Boswell 2007, p. 89). Undesirables can be stopped from entering the territory and immigration can be limited to those that are beneficial from the state’s perspective (Koser 2005; Bommes, Sciortino 2011, p. 12). Furthermore, the economic aspects of the labor market play a significant role when thinking about who can and cannot enter certain states. The composition of the work force is a meaningful variable when planning economic policy, thus, making it dependent on who is part of that work force from which irregular migrants without documentation active in the work force would be absent With the labor market being dependent on the people that make it up, the importance of being able to stop or allow workers from entering the existing workforce is high on the agenda (Carling 2002, p. 11). A similar situation can be observed in matters of welfare. While the negative economic impact of an increasing number of people receiving welfare services is undoubtedly to be expected the notion of the welfare state carries a wider meaning or symbolism. The welfare state as a system of costs and benefits shared by the citizens of the state creates a sense of community and thus are connected to the population’s readiness to accept new ‘members’ into their midst, something government authorities in liberal democracies need to keep in mind (Marban 2004, p. 30; Bommes, Sciortino 2011, p. 215).


1 For an interdisciplinary look at media coverage of the refugee crisis

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Irregular Migration. A Challenge to the Nation State?
University of Bamberg
The Liberal Paradox
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
migration, irregular migration, nation state, nationalism, immigration, illegal immigrants, migrants, germany
Quote paper
Christian Horch (Author), 2016, Irregular Migration. A Challenge to the Nation State?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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