In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Immigration and European Politics

  • Introduction
  • Postwar History and Immigration to Europe
  • The Transformation of European Politics
  • Academic Journals
  • Monographs on Immigrant Integration
  • Immigration Policy: Causes and Effects

Political Science Immigration and European Politics
Sara Wallace Goodman
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 November 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756223-0289


Immigration is among the most transformative experiences of postwar Europe. It has reoriented political parties, restructured the European party system, and given birth to new political parties, namely far-right exclusionary populist parties. Alongside these political changes, immigration presents innumerable social and economic challenges that have forced political elites to face hard questions about national belonging, economic growth, and demographic realities in aging nation-states. Reflecting the scale of this challenge, there are several branches of scholarship that strive to understanding and contextualize immigration in the European political landscape. There are three, general areas of immigration-related fields: immigration policy, immigration politics, and migrant politics. Immigration policy studies examine the rules and procedures that facilitate the entry, settlement, integration, and citizenship of a migrant. This is an admittedly maximalist definition—one can reserve the term “immigration policy” merely to the process and dynamics of admission. Yet, the reality of immigrant-related policy design and implementation shows policies as joined-up, aligned, and mutually reinforcing. As such, “immigration policy” incorporates all policies that address the condition of and consequences of migration. This body of work traditionally examines political, economic, and social determinants of policy and the effects of immigration policy on a variety of attitudinal and behavior outcomes, among both immigrant and native populations. The second group of scholarship looks at immigration politics. This body of work considers how political parties and elections structure and mobilize around immigration issues and saliency. Work within this strand may range from studying public opinion and electoral data to interviews that capture elite or other stakeholder (e.g., firm) preferences. This strand stretches across multiple levels of analysis, from the very local—like neighborhoods and city blocks, to regions, to national politics, to the supranational European Union. A final strand of literature looks at migrant politics. These are studies that look specifically at the formation of political identity, migrant political behavior, and migrant representation. Of course, these three strands of immigration studies are not mutually exclusive and often overlap, e.g., studies on how policies affect immigrant political behavior. Immigration politics is a critical factor shaping domestic politics and foreign policy alike. As immigration continues to fundamentally transform the European political space—immigration from both within Europe and without—we identify a number of critical pieces that help shape our understanding of this transition here to which scholars that seek to understand European politics today ignore at their own peril.

Postwar History and Immigration to Europe

Immigrants have been coming to Europe for centuries, but the consensus “start point” for studying immigration in Europe today draws its origins from the immediate post–World War II period, with (1) the establishment of an international liberal order, (2) the massive influx of refugees and return migrations to western Europe, and (3) early waves of colonial/postcolonial migration from abroad that started moving to Europe to seek economic opportunities. These early years (1945–1960s) are important in their own right, but for our purposes here, they establish early relationship patterns between individuals and the state—in many cases, between subject and state, that create over generations, in terms of incorporation, political participation, national identity, and political opportunity structures more generally. A number of important works cover this early period, including Castles, et al. 2013, an examination of early conditions of reception, as well as treatments by Hollifield 1992 and Messina 2007 that feature the oil crisis and post-crisis recovery, as well as Geddes and Scholten 2016, an examination of the multilevel politics of immigration in Europe today. This arc is examined through both single case work, like Hansen 2000, a study of postwar Great Britain, and cross-national studies like Schain 2008. There is also work that addresses unique challenges of specific immigrant groups, including Peach and Vertovec 2016, an early study of Muslims.

  • Castles, Stephen, Hein De Haas, and Mark J. Miller. The Age of Migration: International Population Movements in the Modern World. London: Pan Macmillan, 2013.

    The leading text in the field, this authoritative work offers a global perspective on the nature of migration flows, why they occur, and their consequences for both origin and destination societies. It puts Europe and other advanced democracies into longitudinal and cross-national perspective with other regions.

  • Geddes, Andrew, and Peter Scholten. The Politics of Migration and Immigration in Europe. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016.

    DOI: 10.4135/9781473982703

    The authors analyze migration in Europe at three levels—immigration policies (regulation of territorial access), immigrant policies (state responses to integrating immigrants), and European Union (EU) integration policies (institutionalization at EU-level and its affects at the state level). Authors analyze horizontally across European countries and vertically to examine the institutionalization of the EU and its impact on member countries.

  • Hansen, Randall. Citizenship and Immigration in Postwar Britain. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Drawing on extensive archival research, tracing the evolution of immigration and citizenship policy since 1945, Hansen argues British immigration policy was not racist but both rational and liberal.

  • Hollifield, James Frank. Immigrants, Markets, and States: The Political Economy of Postwar Europe. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1992.

    This pathbreaking book identifies a central paradox for liberal democracies—immigration is essential for economic growth but politically costly. Cases of France, Germany, and the United States are used.

  • Messina, Anthony M. The Logics and Politics of Post-WWII Migration to Western Europe. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139167192

    Using a variety of sources, this book argues that post–World War II migration is primarily an interest-driven phenomenon that has historically served the macroeconomic and political interests of the receiving countries.

  • Peach, Ceri, and Steven Vertovec, eds. Islam in Europe: The Politics of Religion and Community. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2016.

    This volume provides insights into Muslim groups and activities, their histories, ideologies, organizations, and modes of representation.

  • Schain, Martin. The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain, and the United States: A Comparative Study. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.

    DOI: 10.1057/9780230616660

    Schain’s book provides a detailed, comparative look at the policies that drive and inform immigration politics in three Western countries and shows how immigration policy has political sources far beyond labor market needs.

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