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Thesis of the month

Open Borders versus Inclusive Societies? How Politicization Connects Immigration Policies and Citizenship Policies

by Sam Schmid, winner of the EUI 3-minute Ph.D. video contest (watch video)

Thesis Summary

Do inclusive societies need closed borders? In his thesis, Samuel D. Schmid shows that they do not, and that things are more intricate that this simple question suggests. Sam finds that countries that combine relatively open immigration policies with relative inclusive citizenship policies have become more frequent across 23 Western democracies from 1980 to 2010 (see figure 1). Relatively open-inclusive cases are like blueberries – they are soft outside and soft inside, meaning that there are lower barriers both to entry into the country and for gaining citizenship. Lower barriers for entry can mean that, for instance, asylum seekers can file a claim at an embassy abroad, or that labor migrants can enter while not having a job offer yet, or that family migrants can reunite with their parents beyond reaching maturity. Lower barriers for accessing citizenship are, among others, lower residence duration requirements, toleration of multiple citizenship, and no language tests.But back to the fruits. The other imaginable combinations of “fruits of immigration” also exist: there are fewer and fewer almond-like countries that are hard both outside and inside, and the numbers of watermelon-like countries combining hard outsides with soft insides as well as the number of peach-like countries with soft outsides but hard insides have fluctuated over time. Meanwhile, it is striking that overall the watermelon-like configuration is the least prevalent (only 15 percent); classical political theorists liked watermelons and painted them as the optimal balance in a liberal democracy. Meanwhile, blueberry-like countries – deemed impossible or unsustainable by some – are most frequent (32 percent overall).


Figure 1: The “Fruits of Immigration” across time in 23 democracies 1980-2010

Schmid_figure 1

Legend: Entries are percentages of cases categorized as fruits in the three decades under scrutiny


Sam’s core research question is: How are the openness of immigration policies and the inclusiveness of citizenship policies associated? Building on the claim that inclusive societies must have closed borders, the usual assumption in much of the existing literature is that there is a trade-off, or a negative correlation, between the two policy areas. Sam argues instead that the openness of borders and the inclusiveness of citizenship become increasingly positively correlated as they become a defining feature of a new cultural dimension of political conflict that has emerged in recent decades – the so-called globalization cleavage. This cleavage splits the electorate and re-configures political parties into those that want nations that are open versus those who want nations that are closed.The extent to which this cleavage becomes the dominant line of conflict is defined by the level of politicization. Politicization in the areas of immigration and citizenship can be understood as the combination of the salience or visibility of the immigration issue in political debates as well as the number of votes for far-right parties. Covering 23 Western democracies from 1980 to 2010, Sam’s analysis demonstrates that politicization, thus understood, indeed leads to a positive association between the openness of borders and the inclusiveness of citizenship. This can be seen in the following figure. The blue dots show no politicization (very low issue salience and no votes for the far-right). The blue line indicates that for these cases there is virtually no correlation between Immigration Policy Openness and Citizenship Policy Inclusiveness. The red dots show moderate politicization (medium issue salience and <10% votes for the far-right). Here the correlation is positive but moderate, as indicated by the red line. Finally, in the strongly politicized (high issue salience and >10% votes for the far-right) contexts marked yellow, a strong correlation emerges (see the yellow line).


Figure 2: Politicization makes the correlation positive



Schmid_figure 2Legend: Scores on Immigration Policy Openness are measured with selected items of the Immigration Policies in Comparison (IMPIC) Data; scores on Citizenship Policy Openness are measured with the Citizenship Regime Inclusiveness Index (CITRIX; original data collection)


Politicization is therefore associated with a positive correlation between the openness of borders and the inclusiveness of citizenship. Further, among strongly politicized countries, the overall cross-case correlation entails within-case convergence that is towards greater restrictiveness on one end, or greater liberalization on the other end, in both immigration and citizenship. In other words, it explains why countries are more almond-like or more blueberry-like. In the case of Austria, there has been extreme politicization and at certain times the far-right has participated in government. Here we can observe a restrictive convergence in immigration policies and citizenship policies, though immigration policies remain much less affected than those regulating citizenship. Nevertheless, Austria has been almond-like overall. The blueberry-like case of Belgium shows that politicization does not always mean restrictive convergence. Politicization is what states – or parties – make of it. In Belgium, there is strong politicization, but the far-right has never participated in government; even more it is politically contained by an agreement of all other parties to never seek a government coalition with the far-right. Moreover, the far-right specific to the Flemish part of the country. All they have done was to make the issue more salient, but until 2010 at least (I have no data afterwards) this kind of politicization rather brought the topic on the agenda, which then led to liberal convergence by a government coalition led by the Flemish liberals in the 2000s.


Figure 3: Politicization and far-right government participation explains configurations

Schmid_figure 3

Three main implications follow. First, we can discuss the widespread idea of a general trade-off between the openness of borders and the inclusiveness of citizenship. This is important not only from the point of view of empirical political science, but also for political philosophy. In most cases, the two policy realms seem to be independent – and all policy configurations occur empirically. This leaves a lot of freedom for political theorists who want to take into account empirical research in prescribing some policy mix. However, the second implication is that once the issue becomes politicized, the association of citizenship inclusiveness and immigration openness becomes more constrained. But even politicization does not necessarily mean closed borders and exclusive citizenship. And that brings us to the third implication. Ultimately, the relationship between the openness of borders and the inclusiveness of citizenship is dependent on political context, and therefore it is politically malleable. The fruits of immigration do not just ripen in any fashion; they grow on farming nations with distinctive political soils and fertilizers, as well as discursive climates.


Short bio

Schmid_SamuelSamuel David Schmid is a Ph.D. Researcher at the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence. From September 2019 onwards, Sam will be a Doctoral Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Multiethnic and Multireligious Societies in Göttingen, Germany. He holds BA in Political Science, a MA in World Society and Global Governance from the University of Lucerne, Switzerland. During and after his BA and MA studies, he worked as a research associate, teaching assistant and lecturer at Department of Political Science in Lucerne. Since his MA, he has also contributed to the GLOBALCIT Observatory at the Robert Schuman Center as a research associate to help develop and code the ELECLAW indicators (database on electoral rights). These indicators are introduced in a co-authored publication entitled “Non-universal suffrage: Measuring electoral rights in contemporary democracies”, which has appeared in European Political Science in 2019. His co-authored contribution “Democratic Deficits in Europe: The Overlooked Exclusiveness of Nation-States and the Positive Role of the European Union”, which is based on research conducted at the University of Lucerne using data from GLOBALCIT, has won the 2017 Best Article Prize of the Journal of Common Market Studies. Finally, Sam is involved in the Immigration Policies in Comparison (IMPIC) project at the WZB Social Science Center in Berlin am an external research collaborator.


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Page last updated on 04 July 2019