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date: 05 December 2020

Immigration and Foreign Policylocked

  • Anna OltmanAnna OltmanDepartment of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  •  and Jonathan RenshonJonathan RenshonDepartment of Political Science, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Summary

Immigration has taken on renewed prominence in both domestic and international politics. Typical approaches to this pressing theoretical and policy problem, however, focus on either domestic politics (e.g., filling labor needs and integrating migrants into society) or international relations (e.g., international law or norms regarding the treatment of migrants). In this sense, work on immigration has coalesced around two ways of seeing this problem, one micro, one macro, and neither one related to foreign policy. This is particularly unfortunate given that a foreign policy approach—grounded in “mid-range theory,” an “actor-specific” approach, and a sensitivity to factors both above and below the state level—has the potential to add a great deal to our understanding of immigration in IR. A review of the literature reveals two approaches to immigration in IR. The first, largely grounded in the methods and assumptions of political economy, focuses on the “pull” or demand factors that incentivize and regulate migration to a receiving country. The second focuses on “push” factors that drive people from their homelands. This latter approach concentrates on displaced populations, human rights norms, and institutions and cooperation among states. Both approaches contribute a great deal, but are, unfortunately, isolated from each other: an outcome that is at least partly attributable to an arbitrary and politically expedient distinction between “refugees” and “ economic migrants” that countries found it in their interests to make in the aftermath of World War II.

This discussion of immigration and foreign policy thus begins by surveying the theoretical and empirical landscape and providing a framework with which to understand contributions thus far. The following section will highlight three major themes emerging in an innovative new body of research. Fundamentally, these themes revolve around integration: whether it is the integration of security into immigration studies (typically dominated by an economics-based approach), of identity concerns into the public’s immigration preferences, or a focus on the multiple actors located in between the domestic public and international regimes. Suggestions for future research will conclude our discussion.

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