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Social Organisation of Migration Processes - Immigration to Western Societies

A first consideration of current migration trends already indicates that international migration has become a phenomenon with a global dimension which can no longer be ignored - even if the expected mass emigration from the countries of the former Soviet Union has not taken place yet. An increasing number of countries of all continents are affected by immigration, emigration or both. Besides this globalisation trend an acceleration in the rate of population movements across national borders can be noted. The consequence of both trends is obvious: more and more people live - legally or illegally - outside the country of their nationality: depending on their view and migration motive, as immigrants, refugees from economic or poverty crises, labour migrants or asylum seekers as well as people who have been granted asylum status.

Western industrialised countries are also affected by the world-wide migration flows, regardless of whether they define themselves as countries of immigration or not. As islands of prosperity and security they are increasingly becoming receiving countries for migration flows from countries of origin in the poorer and more conflict-ridden "rest of the world". The rapid increase of immigration has become a dominant issue and the subject of migration grew into an important topic of national and international policies within a short period of time. As a reaction to the increasing migration pressure one can note that numerous western affluent societies are making potential access to their country increasingly difficult by erecting migration barriers.

Attempts by the western industrialised countries to refuse admission to immigrants are nothing new, they already existed in the past. For more than twenty years the British migration policy, for instance, has been aiming at reducing immigration and keeping it at an inevitable minimum level. In Germany, the so-called "recruiting stop" which was imposed in the seventies was the beginning of a migration policy which was oriented towards preventing further immigration. In retrospect one can state today that the attempts by the western industrialised states to refuse admission to migrants were only effective to a limited extent. According to D.A. Coleman the reality of the British immigration situation is a long way from the political objectives mentioned above, and it is well known that also in Germany the size of the non-German population has not decreased either in the past ten years, but has continuously increased. This discrepancy between political objectives and reality can also be noted for other western industrialised countries.

Obviously the underlying dynamics of the immigration processes into western industrialised countries can only be stopped or controlled politically to a limited extent. In this respect one could also speak of a relative autonomy of immigration processes: to a certain degree immigration takes place whether it is desired or not. Especially the enormous increase of "unwanted" migration to western Europe, as well as to other classical countries of immigration during the last ten years is a clear indicator of the inherent dynamics of migration processes mentioned above.

The subject of the research project would not be sufficiently described by limiting it to illegal migration. Another reason why immigration processes can not be entirely regulated is that actions by the state are subject to legal, social and economic commitments. The "rights revolution" does not only lead to humanitarian obligations to grant access to refugees or to allow a minimum standard of family reunification, it also makes it more difficult for industrialised countries to deport migrants who want to stay. Economic commitments arise due to pressure from interest groups who want cheap non-German labour in various segments of the labour market.

The transnational perspective, which is adopted by looking at "western affluent societies", assumes a similarity of national structures which are the basis for the inherent dynamics of immigration movements. Differences between "classical" countries of immigration and western European countries seem to be becoming less distinct, as the comparison of migration processes to Germany and to Australia suggests. The transnational perspective continues to be supported by the increasing political, economic and cultural interconnections of the countries named, as well as by the increasing homogeneity of certain aspects of the social structure, which led Bornschier (1980) to speak of western immigration countries as a whole, despite existing national differences.

The inherent dynamics of immigration flows cannot be understood without its most important driving force: people's motivation to migrate - caused among other things by the globalisation of means of communication - is so high throughout the world that people often find ways and means to get into a country which is attractive to them. This might be done legally or illegally, with the assistance of family and friends in the social network, with the aid of trafficking organizations, international marriage brokers or on one's own initiative. The social organization of migration processes is of considerable significance for the inherent dynamics of migration movements, because in many ways it aims at overcoming migration barriers. Migration has also become a global business and in this context one can even speak of of a booming "migration industry" which aims at making maximum profits legally or illegally from migration or international trade in persons. Jonas Widgren (1994) estimates that the global income gained from trafficking in migrants amounts to 5 to 7 billion US Dollars.

Due to increasing global migration, a sphere of social reality has developed which has been neglected in sociology to date. It seems to be worthwhile to extend the sociological research perspective beyond the problems of the integration of foreigners or the formation of ethnic colonies and to include aspects which are related more closely to the actual geographical movement: legal, political and social initial situation, transport, usage of means of communication, overcoming migration barriers legally or illegally, professionalisation of migration, market processes etc.

The thematic approach of the research project focused on aspects associated with current immigration movements into western affluent societies. The objective of the analysis was to understand the dynamics of these migration movements as well as to describe the associated migration phenomena and the forms of its social organization. Researching this subject is also worthwhile as the repeated demands for the development and implementation of political measures require an analysis of international migration which is as up-to-date as possible, thus making it possible to consider the limits of the scope for political action and the associated transnational problems.

The task of the research project was to describe relevant transnational and global conditions of the social autonomy of current immigration movements into western society, and to develop a phenomonolgy of these migration movements in connection with the forms of their social organisation. A further task is a discussion of the findings in the context of migration theory and global immigration movements.

Funding: DFG
Completed: September 1999
Researcher: Thomas Müller-Schneider
Müller-Schneider, Thomas: Wertintegration und neue Mobilität. Theorie der Migration in modernen Gesellschaften.. 104 pages (in German). efms, Bamberg 2003.
Müller-Schneider, Thomas: Zuwanderung in westliche Gesellschaften. Analyse und Steuerungsoptionen. Habilitationsschrift, 335 pages (in German) with 6 tables and 7 illustrations. Leske und Budrich, Opladen 2000.

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