Immigration and the welfare state in Western societies

Ethnic heterogeneity, redistribution and the role of institutions

Authored by: Xavier Escandell , Alin M. Ceobanu

Routledge International Handbook of Migration Studies

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415779722
eBook ISBN: 9780203863299
Adobe ISBN: 9781135183493


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During the first decade of this century, there has been increasing popular pressure for more restrictive immigration policies across the globe. While multiple issues have catalyzed the expanding ambivalence towards immigration world-wide, one important dimension of this unease stems from the perception that migrants pose a financial burden on the state. Debates over the type, extent, and timing of state-provided social services for immigrants reflect deep ideological divides in many countries. Those against the extension of welfare benefits to immigrants assert that programs attract immigrants (the “magnet hypothesis”), engender a “culture of dependency,” and are an unsustainable strain on the state (Borjas 2002). These studies focus on cost-benefit analyses and assess the impact immigrants have on specific social protection programs. In contrast, others recognize the importance migrants have on the host societies' economy and the future sustainability of the welfare system (Bean and Stevens 2003). Moreover, many Western societies see immigration as a viable solution to the demographic challenge posed by growing elderly populations requiring services and a shrinking younger population whose labor and taxes help subsidize such resources (Castles and Miller 2003). In this chapter, we examine the debates on the role of immigration and the future sustainability, coverage, and configuration of existing welfare state programs on both sides of the Atlantic.

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