Immigration and the welfare state - A comparative perspective of asylum and highly-skilled migration in Britain and Germany

Seminar Paper, 2006

29 Pages, Grade: 1,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Defining immigration and welfare
A. Highly-skilled immigration
B. Asylum immigration

3. Historically, two very different countries: types of migration and forms of the welfare state
A. Britain
B. Germany

4. Comparing and contrasting citizenship

5. The significance of citizenship

6. Asylum immigration: what is really happening?

7. Towards an EU common immigration and asylum policy: does the Treaty of Amsterdam or Tampere actually make a difference?

8. Conclusion

9. Bibliography

10. Appendix

Listing of Illustrations

Appendix 1: Annual Asylum Applications in years 1982-1991

Appendix 2: Annual Asylum Applications in years 1992-2002

Appendix 3: Chart of Total Asylum Applications between 1982-2002

Appendix 4: Comparison of asylum immigration between 1982-2002

1. Introduction

Armed conflict, economic despair, and systematic violations of human rights have produced unprecedented challenges to today’s international system. It is thus; the post-Cold War era has become witness to significant alterations in global politics that has subsequently generated acute increases in the number of worldwide migrants. Consequently, it is the relationship staggered between immigration and welfare that continues to become an increasingly salient European affair. I mmigration continues to remain a contentious issue spawning vigorous debates intensely focused on welfare and social rights. Are immigrants likely to make positive contributions to welfare states? Or are immigrants rather liable to be a threat, posing financial, social and political burdens, and an overall risk to the survival of these welfare states? Underpinning these ubiquitous questions has been a realignment of debates about the needs and resources of European welfare states, with the renewed interest in immigration as a means of offsetting skills and labour market shortages, while countering the effects of a demographically aging European population.[1] Immigration additionally has been viewed as a means in achieving the European Union’s ambitious Lisbon targets, in that Europe “would become the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion”.[2] Yet as with most social issues, the simple term ‘immigration’ fails to do justice to the wide range of issues that this policy area entails. In fact, there is much to be said about the composition of immigrants, and it would be a huge oversight to classify immigration as though it were homogenous. An acute distinction must be drawn between ‘desired’ and ‘undesired’ forms of immigration, in the ways in which debates about needs and resources have been recast in Europe. Indeed, it seems that through this differentiation, European welfare states have pursued a janus-headed approach to immigration, in that European welfare states continue to open their doors, to highly-skilled immigrants, deemed as positive, but on the other hand have continued to vigorously close their doors, particularly to asylum immigrants, which have become increasingly unwanted and the source of restrictive polices.

Welfare state pressures and welfare state change have had important effects on the way in which immigrants have been, and are categorized. For instance, the multitude of literature that has flooded European social policy book shelves over the last decade has primarily been concerned with what has been fittingly termed as a ‘European welfare state crises’. Long recognized has been the formidable pressures that European welfare states are facing ranging from severe budgetary strain and associated government austerity, to a demographically aging population, to a growing political controversial environment; all of these factors have contributed in some way, shape, or form to the pressures affecting contemporary welfare states.[3] Where expanding European economies were some fifty years ago able to easily absorb immigrants and develop extensive welfare systems, today, this may be no longer feasible. Contemporary immigration, it thus seems, has highlighted key organizational and ideological welfare state pressures, particularly those which have included an attempt to demarcate more tightly a community of legitimate receivers of welfare benefits, along with the heightened pressure to place outside this community forms of migration deemed as ‘bogus’ or abusive, while including those seen as making welfare state contributions. Therefore, it appears it may not so much be about the personality or character of immigrants that generates so much unease; rather it seems it is the way in which immigrants are viewed by institutional settings.[4]

Certainly, welfare states play an important part in mediating the relationship between individuals and society, and generating terms of inclusion and exclusion. Indeed, a key role of welfare state rests in the delineation of the community of legitimate receivers of welfare state benefits. Decisions about entitlement, the basis for entitlement, who is deserving of welfare state support and who is not, have become fundamental matters of welfare states. Whether immigrant newcomers will be permitted membership of the welfare community has become a key policy issue, with evidence across Europe of welfare state exclusion to certain unwanted immigrants, namely asylum seekers.[5] Perhaps, no more apparent has this policy issue been observed then in the relationship between immigration, welfare and entitlement in both Britain and Germany; two European countries that have been concurrently a destination of immigrants for several decades. Interestingly, because both Germany and Britain have had mutually large populations of non-European highly-skilled and asylum immigrants it would seem an appropriate choice to compare these two countries. Moreover, because both nations are two important European Union member states, which subsequently make them full participants of Amsterdam Treaty provisions, a comparison between the two countries could surely shed light on the relation between Europeanization of immigration and welfare issues. However by contrast, both Britain and Germany have very divergent traditions of national identity and citizenship, which makes them interesting point for comparing the impacts of citizenship on welfare.

Through this rather prolonged introduction, the central question that this paper will strive to reveal is: do both Germany and Britain support evidence that would suggest that both countries simultaneously provide social inclusion to highly-skilled immigrants, therefore endorsing certain norms of social acceptability, but on the reversal, provide social exclusion to asylum immigrants who are deemed damaging, and thus believed to be socially unacceptable? And if this is indeed the case, what is the justification behind these intentions? The paper will begin with section two, which offers a brief overview of the differences presented between highly-skilled and asylum immigration, followed by section three which will reflect on historical differences of the two countries, highlighting variations between welfare state regimes. Section four will offer a comparison between underlying differences of British and German citizenship, succeeded by section five, in of which, will provide insight to the essential significance of citizenship. In section six, the paper will go on to include some of the challenges facing asylum immigrant populations, alongside attempts to deny this form of immigration social inclusion. Section seven, will then underline the approaches taken towards obtaining a common immigration and asylum policy under the Treaty of Amsterdam, and through the Summit of Tampere. Lastly, the paper will conclude with section eight, which will incorporate a summary of findings and concluding remarks.

2. Defining immigration and welfare

As member states of the European Union, both Germany and Britain have become increasingly open to the movement of goods, capital, services, and money, but at the same time make quite stringent efforts to filter the movement of people and to distinguish between wanted and unwanted forms of migration. This has been referred to as the ‘liberal paradox’ of liberal markets and relatively closed states.[6] Indeed, it has become no secret that both Germany and Britain continue to welcome some forms of immigration while deterring others. In this sense, various forms of highly-skilled immigrants are deemed ‘desired’ as they have been seen to contribute to the welfare state, or the alternative being asylum seekers, who have been labelled as ‘undesired’, accused that they drain welfare resources. With this said, it is perhaps useful if we a take a deeper look into the defining characteristics of both highly-skilled and asylum immigrants.

A. Highly-skilled immigration

It is perhaps quite surprising that labour migration should return to the political agenda in the twenty-first century, given that unemployment in Germany exceeded the 5 million mark in 2005,[7] and even in Britain it remains around 1.5 million.[8] Certainly, it would seem reasonable to hypothesise that both countries would attempt to curb labour migration to safeguard domestic jobs and to avoid social unrest. Furthermore, evidence has seemed to support this notion as Germany’s immigration policy has often been characterized as ‘ Deutschland ist kein Einwanderungsland ’ or that Germany is not a country of immigration.[9] However, despite such conceptions it seems that both Germany and Britain have developed a volte-face towards immigration policy, as there have been considerable exceptions to immigration in both countries, notably for high-skilled labour in a bid to overcome ominous demographic developments. It is foreseen, that the simultaneous decline in birth rates and an increase in life expectancy in both countries pose significant challenges not only for pension provisions, but also for the financing of other public services including healthcare. In a United Nations Population Division study published in 2000, it has been estimate that in order to keep the relationship between the number of people employed to those unemployed constant in 2050 (known as the Potential Support Ratio (PSR)) Germany and Britain will require net immigration of around 1 million and 3.4 million annually, respectively.[10]

Demographic decline, of course does not remain the exclusive element in justifying increased highly-skilled migrant labour, for at the same time both Germany and Britain are experiencing skills shortages in key strategic sectors. Here the focus has been on new technologies, such as IT, ICT and engineering. Germany in 2000 introduced its so-called Green Card programme aimed at recruiting IT specialists, and with an initial quota of 20,000 work permits non-EU IT-specialists for a maximum of five years.[11] Britain by contrast has always endorsed the possibility of elite labour immigration; where subsequently the number of work permits issued has been rising progressively over the past ten years to reach levels unseen since the 1960s. Even considering this, Britain’s Home Office unveiled in October 2001 its Highly Skilled Migrant Programme (HSMP), which introduced a Canadian-style points-based entry system that has allowed labour migrants to enter Britain without a job on renewable permits with permanent residence possible after four years.[12]

B. Asylum immigration

If economic considerations dominate discussions about labour migration, then the discussion about asylum immigration as first regulated in the 1951 Geneva Convention is defined by political factors. According to the 1951 Geneva Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 New York Protocol, the Convention defines a refugee as any one who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable, or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country…".[13] The precise methods of applying the Geneva Convention varies among countries, however once a refugee is recognised as qualifying he or she will usually be given permanent or indefinite leave to remain in a host country. Once the refugee is lawfully a resident, the Convention stipulates certain minimum standards of treatment to which he or she is entitled, usually (but not always) defined as at least equal to those enjoyed by other legally resident aliens.[14]

It seems that the stigma behind asylum seeking is assumed to be involuntary while labour immigration is assumed to be voluntary. However attitudes towards asylum-seekers have become increasingly more negative since the end of the Cold War. Before this time, asylum flows were linked to decolonization and to American and Soviet intervention in the developing world.[15] As contended by Andrew Geddes:

Refugees in Western Europe fleeing the Soviet Bloc countries were welcomed because of the implicit vindication of west European liberal democracy that their movement provided. While there people were seen as escaping totalitarianism there were also very few of them. Their presence was hardly likely to be a political concern or to be perceived as a threat and elicit a security-orientated response.[16]

However, by the late 1980s and 1990s both the scale and national origin of asylum immigrants intensified and expanded. Notably, as early as 1980 the number of applications lodged before Germany exceeded 100,000, reaching a peak of 438,191 in 1992, before falling back to their current level of approximately 70,000 per annum.[17] By comparison, applications in the past few years have risen significantly in Britain, even exceeding the number of applications in Germany in the year 2000.[18] European states including those of Germany and Britain have sought to restrict inflows of immigration that they viewed with suspicion. Accordingly, there remains a shared conviction, by politicians and the public alike that most asylum seekers are not genuinely in need of political protection but are really economic migrants in search of better lives for themselves and their families. Many of these asylum-seekers have thus become viewed as ‘bogus’ or abusive in the sense that they have avoided controls on labour migration by using the asylum channel.[19] Certainly, on the one hand, the irony of these assumptions fails to discern what is actually occurring in the world, particularly in Iraq, Sudan, Chechnya, and elsewhere. Conversely however, perhaps it may not be so implausible to believe that many immigrants claim asylum status on the basis of economic rather than political reasons, as it is has been argued that it is probably little coincidence that asylum applications first increased in the wake of the 1970s.[20] Whether such applications are actually ‘bogus’ may never be certain, for today far more than ever, it has become increasingly difficult to determine where economic persecution ends and political persecution starts.


[1] Geddes, 2003a.

[2] Cited in World Economic Forum: The Lisbon Review 2002-2003: An Assessment of Polices and Reforms in Europe:

[3] Pierson, 1998.

[4] Geddes, 2003b, p. 3.

[5] Geddes, 2003a.

[6] Cited in Geddes, 2003b, p. 19-20.

[7] BBC News. (2005a). German jobless rate at new record. March 1, 2005:

[8] BBC News. (2005b). UK unemployment total increases. December 14, 2005:

[9] Geddes, 2003b, p. 79.

[10] United Nations, 2000.

[11] Green, 2002.

[12] Green, 2002.

[13] European Council on Refugees and Exiles:

[14] Ibid,.

[15] Geddes, 2003b, p. 18.

[16] Ibid,.

[17] Please see appendix 1 & 2.

[18] ECRE, 2003.

[19] Geddes, 2003b, p. 18.

[20] Geddes, 2003a.

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Immigration and the welfare state - A comparative perspective of asylum and highly-skilled migration in Britain and Germany
University of Münster  (Politikwissenschaft - European Studies)
European Social Policies
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ISBN (Book)
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Immigration, Britain, Germany, European, Social, Policies
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Susanne Taron (Author), 2006, Immigration and the welfare state - A comparative perspective of asylum and highly-skilled migration in Britain and Germany , Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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